Where have the Northland's hummingbirds gone?
Duluth birder Laura Erickson has been hearing from lots of birders this year with the same question. "I get questions from people all over," Erickson said. "This year, I've definitely gotten many more inquiries about, 'Where are my hummingbirds?'...
Duluth birder Laura Erickson has been hearing from lots of birders this year with the same question.
"I get questions from people all over," Erickson said. "This year, I've definitely gotten many more inquiries about, 'Where are my hummingbirds?' "
People who value hummingbirds and who put out sugar water for them expect those birds to return to the Northland around Mother's Day. To be sure, lots of folks have hummingbirds this year, Erickson said. But she thinks weather conditions during the spring migration might have taken their toll on the tiny birds.
"I think there was definitely big mortality during migration," said Erickson, author of several birding books and a former writer for the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. "There were severe storms this year as they were passing through Texas and Oklahoma.
"Even though hummingbirds don't migrate in big flocks, they do time their migration so they arrive at the same time. You can lose a whole population for one single neighborhood in one storm."
Unfortunately, anecdotal reports are about the only way to gauge hummingbird numbers.
"It's not something you really can track and look at trends," said Jan Green, a bird researcher who lives just outside of Duluth."
Green said she visited someone at a lake home in early June.
"I've never seen so many (hummingbirds)," she said.
But several respondents to News Tribune reporter John Lundy's blog, "The Wannabe Birder," said they are seeing no hummingbirds or fewer hummingbirds than in the past.
Overall, hummingbird populations are in good shape, according to Lanny Chambers of St. Louis, Mo., who maintains the humming
"According to the annual Breeding Bird Surveys, all North American hummingbird species except rufous have stable or increasing populations, though their local distribution may vary from year to year," the website says.
The hummingbirds common to the Northland are ruby-throated hummingbirds. They winter in Mexico and Central America, crossing the Gulf of Mexico on their flight north.
"Migration is treacherous," Erickson said. "There's a lot of mortality for a bird that weighs 1/10th of an ounce. You can mail 10 of them for the price of one postage stamp."
Hummingbirds often are seen at feeders in May, but they are observed less through June, when more flowers begin to bloom, Erickson said. Adult females spend more time in June feeding from flowers.
"They go to a natural diet rather than a sugar-water diet," she said. "The babies need a lot of protein. She'll go to flowers where she can get insects as well as nectar. She eats them all, and it ends up as a slurry, which she regurgitates to the babies."
The males, meanwhile, are off on their own, Erickson said.
"The males do no child care," she said. "I don't think they even know where babies come from."
This time of year, hummingbirds should begin returning to feeders. Adult males and females both try to fatten up --if that's a term one can apply to such tiny creatures --for their migration south. Males begin migrating in July, females in August. The young of the year go last, when their flight feathers have fully developed and they have put on enough weight, Erickson said.
Weather patterns seem to be spawning harsher storms than in the past, Erickson said, and she's concerned about the effects of those storms on migrants such as hummingbirds.
"I think we are having increasingly worse weather because of climate change," she said. "It bodes ill for the future. But that has to be taken in context. There are going to be good times and bad times in an overall worsening of conditions."