For love of the hummingbird
Hummingbirds lead secretive lives. They dart among the flowers or perform amazing acrobatics at the feeders, but then they disappear in an instant. It takes a big leap of faith to put out that first hummingbird feeder, but Texas hosts several species of the tiny birds. The odds are pretty good you will have a visitor to your sugar-water cantina, especially during the fall migration between August and October.
Even though they weigh about as much as two dimes, hummingbirds have a tremendous range. All of the North American species migrate south for the winter over thousands of miles, with some enjoying Texas' mild winters. Most hummingbirds are just passing through as they travel from the East Coast or the Rocky Mountains on their way to Central and South America. Others like the black-chinned and the ruby-throated hummingbirds have a time-share arrangement with the Hill Country around Austin where they build their nests in different seasons.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds swarm along the Texas coast in September as they bulk up for the long trip to Mexico. "It's the only time to see them in large numbers," says Cecilia Riley, executive director of the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory southwest of Houston.
If cleaning a feeder every two or three days sounds like too much of a commitment to lure a hummingbird to your back yard, then there are other opportunities to see the animals, especially during the migration season.
The 32-acre Lake Jackson bird observatory is ideally located near the coast, across the Brazos River from a large natural area and between two nearby wildlife management areas. At the mouth of Buffalo Camp Bayou, the park is a mixture of open fields, dense forest, and wetlands. It is all a gourmet lunchroom for wildlife needing to build energy reserves. Riley says it's not uncommon for 300 species of birds to pass through the area during migration season.
Coming up on Saturday, Sept. 10, the GCBO opens the gate for the annual Xtreme Hummingbird Xtravaganza. It will be all birds, all day from 9am to 3pm with plenty of feeders to attract the guests of honor. Volunteers and scientists will be conducting research and answering visitors' questions along with giving tours of the observatory's hummingbird garden.
The Gulf Coast Bird Observatory is on FM 332 west of Lake Jackson. The preserve is ordinarily open from 8:30am to 4:30pm Monday-Friday and weekends by appointment for group tours. For more information, call the observatory at 979/480-0999 or check out their Web site at www.gcbo.org.
Another great place to spot hummingbirds is in the Rockport/Fulton area. Riley says that the birds congregate in the stands of live oaks because they like the sap produced by the acorns. On Sept. 15-18, the coastal town takes advantage of the area's abundance of trees and sponsors the Hummer/Bird Celebration at the local high school and at various bird watching stations around town.
The sleepy little fishing village becomes a beehive of activity when the birds begin to migrate through the area. Along with special boat tours, art shows, films, and other activities, the celebration hosts more than 14 speakers on topics ranging from gardening to butterflies. If you're looking for less formal activities, grab a self-guided tour map at the Rockport/Fulton Visitor Center, 404 Broadway, and explore the parks on your own. For information, call 800/242-0071 or 361/729-6445. Their Web site is at www.rockport-fulton.org.
Before you head out to find the 18 kinds of hummingbirds that frequent Texas, whether it is in your back yard or at an observatory, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department wants you to join their Hummingbird Roundup. The department recently confirmed a rare sighting of a white-eared hummingbird near Lubbock. State biologists want the public's help in their study of hummingbirds' feeding patterns, behavior, range, and distribution.
To join the program, you'll need a Hummingbird Roundup Kit that includes a survey form, an identification booklet, suggestions on plants for your garden, and instructions on the maintaining of a hummingbird feeder. To sign up, send your name, address, and county of residence along with a $6 donation to: Wildlife Diversity Program, TPWD, 4200 Smith School Rd., Austin, 78744 or call 389-4800 for more information.
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