For the Birds: Last looks at hummingbirds

Photo by Chris Bosak A Ruby-throated Hummingbird sips nectar from Canna flower in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016.
Photo by Chris Bosak
A Ruby-throated Hummingbird sips nectar from Canna flower in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016.

I almost hate to say it but summer 2019 is nearly over.

I say “almost” because fall is up next and who doesn’t love a New England fall? In the bird world, it’s pretty much fall already, so really the calendar is the only thing standing in the way of autumn.

With that said, this seems like an appropriate time to reflect on this past summer. I had several birding and other nature highlights, most notably a camping trip to Pillsbury State Park in nearby Washington.

I was lucky enough while canoeing to share the main pond with three loons bright and early one morning. No matter how many times I experience it, I will always be in awe of the scene: sun peaking above the hills in the east, mist rising off the water and loons starting their day with a slow swim around their pond. A yodel or two from the loons completes the scene.

Such was the case at Pillsbury this summer, only instead of the usual one or two loons, there were three. It’s easy to see why the common loon is such an iconic bird in New England.

The bald eagles at Bashakill National Wildlife Refuge in N.Y. were another highlight.

The backyard highlight of the summer, echoing the highlight of the past few summers, was watching the hummingbird family that split their time between the feeders and flowers. This year, I had salvia, fuschia, sunflowers and rose-of-Sharon to offer. They enjoyed them all.

But mostly they drank from the feeders, as usual. I had to put three feeders out this year to mitigate the bickering among the tiny birds.

Recently, however, the visits by hummingbirds have slowed and it is not because of the wasps and black ants that try to take over the feeders. It’s because hummingbirds migrate in late August and early September. The adult males take off for points south first, followed by the females and first-year birds. I still see hummingbirds at the feeders, but the frequency has fallen and the birds are likely not “my” hummingbirds, but rather other south-bound migrants.

Which brings up the age-old question: Is it OK to feed hummingbirds in the fall or will they stick around and migrate too late if food is available? Studies have shown that hummingbirds are triggered to move south by the shortening of the days, not the weather or availability of food. In fact, an argument may be made that it’s beneficial to continue to feed them as these tiny birds essentially have to double their weight as they make their journey to Mexico and Central America.

The vast majority of the hummingbirds will be gone by the end of the month. By then, even the calendar will have yielded and fall will have its run of New England.

Stranger Things: Hummingbird moth

Photo by Chris Bosak
A hummingbird moth sips nectar from a butterfly bush in New England, summer 2019.

I’ve been seeing a lot of photos and videos this summer of these fascinating creatures on Facebook and other social media. Many of the posts include the question: What is this???

No, it’s not a hummingbird, even though it resembles one, creates a humming sound with its wings and hovers around flowers like a hummingbird. It is a hummingbird moth, so named because … well, you can figure that out, I’m sure. Although it’s hard to tell without a side-by-side comparison, hummingbird moths are smaller than hummingbirds. A hummingbird moth is about two inches long and a hummingbird is a bit longer than three inches, but also much more bulky.

Look for hummingbird moths at the same flowers you’d expect to see butterflies and hummingbirds. Butterfly bush is a backyard favorite for hummingbird moths.

A hummingbird moth sips nectar with its long proboscis, a tongue-like sucking organ, which can be double the length of the moth. The photo below shows the proboscis rolled up.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A hummingbird moth sips nectar from a butterfly bush in New England, summer 2019.

Hummingbird Week, photo 7

Photo by Chris Bosak
A ruby-throated hummingbird perches on a thorny branch.

I’ll be venturing out of New England for a few days and don’t want the birds here to think I forgot about them so I’m instituting my own Hummingbird Week. Each day this week I’ll post a new or old photo of a ruby-throated hummingbird, the only hummer that occurs regularly in New England. There is no such thing as too many hummingbird photos, after all. Each day will also include a joke or fun fact about hummingbirds. This post will wrap up Birds of New England’s Hummingbird Week.

Fun Fact: Ruby-throated hummingbirds spend their winters in Central America or southern Mexico.

Hummingbird Week, photo 6

Photo by Chris Bosak A Ruby-throated Hummingbird sips nectar from Canna flower in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Ruby-throated Hummingbird sips nectar from Canna flower in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016.

I’ll be venturing out of New England for a few days and don’t want the birds here to think I forgot about them so I’m instituting my own Hummingbird Week. Each day this week I’ll post a new or old photo of a ruby-throated hummingbird, the only hummer that occurs regularly in New England. There is no such thing as too many hummingbird photos, after all. Each day will also include a joke or fun fact about hummingbirds.

Fun Fact: On average, hummingbirds beat their wings about 50 times per second.

Hummingbird Week, photo 5 (Happy Fourth of July)

Photo by Chris Bosak A Ruby-throated Hummingbird hovers near a feeder at the Errol (N.H.) Motel in the summer of 2015.
Photo by Chris Bosak
A Ruby-throated Hummingbird hovers near a feeder at the Errol (N.H.) Motel in the summer of 2015.

I’ll be venturing out of New England for a few days and don’t want the birds here to think I forgot about them so I’m instituting my own Hummingbird Week. Each day this week I’ll post a new or old photo of a ruby-throated hummingbird, the only hummer that occurs regularly in New England. There is no such thing as too many hummingbird photos, after all. Each day will also include a joke or fun fact about hummingbirds. This is one of my favorites because of its patriotic feel.

Fun Fact: There are more than 300 species of hummingbirds, all occurring in the Western Hemisphere. About 12 species may be found in the U.S. with the ruby-throated hummingbird the only one regularly occurring east of the Mississippi River.

Hummingbird Week, photo 4

Photo by Chris Bosak A Ruby-throated HummingAbird perches on a branch in Brookfield, Conn., summer 2016.
Photo by Chris Bosak
A Ruby-throated Hummingbird perches on a branch in Brookfield, Conn., summer 2016.

I’ll be venturing out of New England for a few days and don’t want the birds here to think I forgot about them so I’m instituting my own Hummingbird Week. Each day this week I’ll post a new or old photo of a ruby-throated hummingbird, the only hummer that occurs regularly in New England. There is no such thing as too many hummingbird photos, after all. Each day will also include a joke or fun fact about hummingbirds.

Q: What does a cat call a hummingbird?

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Hummingbird Week, photo 3

Photo by Chris Bosak A female Ruby-throated Hummingbird sips juice from a berry in Norwalk, Conn., summer 2014.

I’ll be venturing out of New England for a few days and don’t want the birds here to think I forgot about them so I’m instituting my own Hummingbird Week. Each day this week I’ll post a new or old photo of a ruby-throated hummingbird, the only hummer that occurs regularly in New England. There is no such thing as too many hummingbird photos, after all. Each day will also include a joke or fun fact about hummingbirds.

Fun fact: Their wings aren’t the only things that move fast as a hummingbird’s tongue can sip from a feeder at 13 times per second.