The ruby-throated hummingbird breeding season is well under way, and the first youngsters will be leaving the nests any day now.
For the first few days out of the nest, the youngsters will follow their mother about, learning how to find food and survive in the wide world. Once they are able to fend for themselves, their mom will chase them from her immediate territory, where she will attempt another brood.
From the end of the first week of June onward, it can be difficult to identify/distinguish between the immature and female hummers visiting your feeders, as all young hummingbirds look like females when they leave their nests. It takes a while for males to begin to show any sign of what will become their colorful gorget (throat) feathers.
Young ruby-throated hummingbirds can be so similar in appearance to adult females that the only way to accurately discern the age and sex of the bird is to have it “in hand” to look at the shape of one particular flight feather and check for microscopic striations of the bill that help to determine whether or not the bird was born this year. Size is not an accurate indicator of hummingbird age, as young hummers are actually larger than their mother when they leave the nest (as is the case with most bird species). The additional mass of recently fledged birds gives them a bit of a survival “cushion” as they enter the period when they must learn to survive on their own.
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The next few weeks will see increased numbers of these miniature marvels throughout our area, and they will be seeking to avail themselves of all suitable resources. As the breeding season begins to wind down around mid-July, adult males will start relinquishing the territories they’ve guarded assiduously since their arrival in order to start gaining mass for their impending southward migratory treks.
As they become less attached to their breeding territories, adult males will begin to wander, generally in a southerly direction, and perhaps take up temporary residence in a resource-rich location. As their migration begins (females, then juveniles, migrate later than adult males), feeders and well-stocked plantings of hummer-favored plants attract more activity.
Remember to keep your feeders clean and maintained with a solution of one part sugar to four parts water with no other additives, including red food coloring, which is a known carcinogen and banned from use in food in many countries around the world.
Reach GARY PHILLIPS at 248-4595 or firstname.lastname@example.org.