Although the calendar shows we’re only halfway through summer, many of our feathered friends are already engaged in their annual “fall” treks to winter quarters in more tropical climes.
Swallow-tailed kites are making their way south, and while a few of these elegant birds of prey continue to be seen in our area, observers visiting Savannah National Wildlife Refuge last week reported numerous kites were plying their trade over impoundments adjacent to the Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive. Savannah NWR is an annual aggregating spot for southward migrating swallow-tailed and Mississippi kites. From the refuge, these elegant raptors will make their way to Florida, with aggregations at Lake Okeechobee often numbering in the thousands, before taking flight to South America and their customary winter sites. Please continue to report any swallow-tailed kite observations you may have at: http://www.thecenterforbirdsofprey.org/swallowtail-kite.php
The numbers of another long-distance migrant, ruby-throated hummingbirds, are currently increasing in our area. The first two weeks of August is typically the time when we see the bulk of these amazing avian gems pass through on their way to traditional sites in Mexico and Central America for their winter sojourns. These tiny treasures are among nature’s finest evolutionary products. They’re ecological marvels, serving as pollinators, predators and prey.
Hummingbirds’ efficiency as pollinators has driven the evolution of numerous flowering plant species to utilize them as primary or sole pollinators. While their intimate relationship with nectar-producing flowers is well-known, equally important is their role as predators on a multitude of tiny insects. Gnats, midges, tiny flies and beetles, mosquitos, etc., are all on the bill of fare for hummingbirds and are absolutely essential to the survival of our tiniest feathered friends.
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As these flying jewels make their way through our area, some may take up residence for a few days in yards with suitable flowering plants, well-maintained feeders and abundant insect prey as they seek to increase body mass for their arduous journeys. For those who make the more than 500-mile trans-Gulf flight, they may double their normal body mass in anticipation of a grueling 16 to 24 hour non-stop flight across open water during the time of year dominated by southerly wind flows and tropical weather systems.
So give our tiniest feathered friends a helping hand by keeping your feeders clean and maintained with a solution of one part sugar to four parts water with no other additives. Let me know of the hummingbird activity in your backyard.