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The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

Have You Seen Your Hummingbird Lately?

Have You Seen Your Hummingbird Lately?

Here in Maine, there used to be a beloved, family-owned restaurant that served–among many other edible delights–some of the best homemade biscuits in the state. Situated on a major route leading to Down east Maine and Canada’s Atlantic Provinces, the restaurant afforded spectacular views of the Penobscot Narrows and fed both long-haul truckers and generations of vacationing families. When the restaurant closed, there were countless disappointed travelers who had built their trips around refueling themselves at that particular location.

Fortunately for humans, there are other restaurants and resources for finding them. The same can’t be said for some of our feathered friends. Because the flowers they rely on for food are blooming earlier than they have in the past, in essence, many of their restaurants have closed. A growing body of research indicates that this early blooming phenomenon is one of the effects of global warming. It raises many questions about whether or not birds will be able to survive, and what impact this will have on bird breeding, migration, and other behaviors.

Due to their aerobatic abilities and speed, their bright, beautiful colors, and their diminutive size, hummingbirds are always fun to watch. They are particularly interesting to observe in the context of early blooming, because some species of hummingbirds have already changed their migratory patterns.

All hummingbirds rely on flower nectar for 90% of their food. Unlike ducks or geese, they are solo migrators. Their migratory patterns are tied to their breeding grounds and food sources. All hummingbirds are exclusive to the Western Hemisphere, and most live in the Caribbean and South and Central America. Of more than 300 species, only 16 migrate to North America and most come only to breed. One of these, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, migrates to breeding grounds east of the Rocky Mountains from the Gulf of Mexico to southern Canada, and is the only species that nests east of the Mississippi River.

It’s been documented that Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have changed their migratory patterns. One study compared data on the first arrival dates in North America from 2001 to 2010 with data from 1880 to 1969. Ruby-throated Hummingbird’s first arrival dates were earlier during the more recent period, and varied by latitude from approximately 11 to approximately 18 days, with less pronounced changes above 41°N (think Cleveland, Ohio).

The migratory pattern changes in the Ruby-throated Hummingbird have led bird-loving scientists and science-loving birders to examine the species more closely, and to begin to study other hummingbird species as well. Hummingbirds–and all other birds for that matter–are already at risk due to depletion of their habitat by development. Will they be able to adapt quickly enough to stay ahead of the effects of global warming? Or discover new habitats? Or keep their migratory patterns synchronized with the blooming of the flowers they need to survive?

Maybe global warming/climate change can’t be stopped, but there are ways for scientists, birders, and hummingbird aficionados to help. Do you want to be a hummingbird helper?

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12 comments

1 pam shively { 06.15.14 at 8:21 pm }

How can it be? Our hummers were here in San Antonio for a couple of weeks in May, but now seem to have left. I keep making and setting out new nectar, but no birds. Has anyone else found this to be true in South Texas? We not only have our feeder out, but all of their favorite plants.

2 guin Chapman { 06.04.14 at 8:06 pm }

Our hummers showed up later this year, when they come back they usually come to the glass door where we can see them and it is like they want us to know they are back. We usually put a feeder up in Apr. We didn’t put one up till May and the next day we had birds, was so glad, love to watch the little hummers.

3 vickie { 05.15.14 at 8:35 pm }

My husband spied ours two weeks ago here in central Missouri. On Mothers Day I put our feeder out and within 30 min. they were (two small hummers) were darting between hanging baskets and the feeder. We love watching them!

4 Shelly { 05.15.14 at 6:39 pm }

Havent set my feeders out yet waiting on my sweet hummingbird come to my window to let me know they are here. I sure enjoy Gods Beauty of wildlife and yes Praise Him!! He made our life Beautiful n precious…. Amen!!!

5 riri { 05.14.14 at 9:16 pm }

Matthew chapter 6 says it all !!!

6 riri { 05.14.14 at 9:14 pm }

God has decided he needs to adjust some temperatures and weather patterns for reasons only known to Him. He has given us plenty of food , water, and oil, natural gas. be thankful and praise His Grand Scheme He has for us .

7 Debbie { 05.14.14 at 8:11 pm }

May 14,hummingbirds are back but below 0 tonight-brr-feeders up-leaves not out on trees-not many flowers.Northeastern Ontario,Boreal forest.

8 Linda { 05.14.14 at 7:04 pm }

We live in the Tennessee Valley area. We had hummingbirds in April this year, but after the late cold snap they left and have not returned as yet. Normally we have enough to empty three feeders per day. Our neighbors are experiencing the same lack of beautiful hummers. Not sure why, but we will keep an eye out and hope they return before long. They are a pleasure to watch and listen to with their very shrill chirp.

9 Evelyn House { 05.14.14 at 3:09 pm }

Can you buy humming birds? Would like to have some.

10 Amil Baker { 05.14.14 at 1:56 pm }

We have a feeder out and normally start when we see the first bird about the last week in March. I will start keeping an exact date next year. These birds usually leave about the first week in October when my wife takes down the feed so that will migrate. We live in the Texas Hill Country about 50 miles north of San Antonio. Like the rest of the country we had a very cold winter and now spring continues to be cold. It was an unseasonably 54 degrees this morning with a north wind and a high of 72 degrees. Scientist say we are having global warming but this winter does not attest to that. I am 80 years old and been in outside in the weather all my life and I do not see a noticeable change in climate.

11 Dwayne Brindley { 05.14.14 at 1:54 pm }

I’ve got 3 feeders out and non- stop there on it from early afternoon to 8:30 pm. I live in Mooresville, Indiana. if my feeder isn’t up early enough, they will fly around looking for it.

12 Don { 05.14.14 at 10:16 am }

I’m confused, I thought we had now decided we’re having global cooling or is it climate change or maybe weather change (now there’s a new phenomenon). Can we assume that generations of animals have been through this before and will likely survive again.

13 Monique { 05.14.14 at 9:55 am }

“Our” hummers showed-up last week (at least when we saw them first), May 10.
Were ready with their nectar.
Spring is finally here!

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