As we move through mid-summer, most breeding bird activity in our area begins to wane.
However, many of our breeding birds, having satisfied their seasonal obligations, are now wandering about seeking to avail themselves of any resources in order to move into the next period of their life cycles.
That includes our tiniest feathered friends, ruby-throated hummingbirds. Several folks (myself included) have noted a decided uptick in hummingbird activity at backyard flowers and feeders.
Over the course of the next four to five weeks, the bulk of ruby-throated hummer activity occurs in the Myrtle Beach area as young leave their nests, adult breeding birds relinquish seasonal territories, and migrants from more northern breeding areas make their way through here as they begin their southward treks to more tropical winter destinations.
Numbers of these amazing avians generally peak though the first two weeks of August then taper off through September and October. A few will linger in the area throughout winter, and any hummingbird seen after Nov. 15 is likely to sojourn here until spring.
While the majority of winter hummingbirds found during winter in the Southeast are ruby-throateds, they are joined by lesser numbers of Western breeding species, most notably rufous, black-chinned and calliope. Along the Gulf Coast, as many as eight hummer species can be found each winter, while in South Carolina we see at least four species annually during that period.
These miniscule marvels are among the smallest warm-blooded creatures on the planet (the bee hummingbird of Cuba is the smallest, with adult males weighing less than a tiny shrew) and many biologists are of the opinion they represent the smallest sizeto which a warm-blooded creature can evolve. Their tiny size and highly active, energy-intensive lifestyle dictate a steady supply of appropriate food items are key to their survival.
While their fondness for sugar from natural or artificial sources is well-known, these avian gems require at least an equal amount of tiny arthropod prey to meet their dietary needs.
Tiny flies, beetles, aphids, midges, mosquitos, spiders and even prey from spider webs are on the hummingbird bill of fare; in short, anything small enough for them to handle with their highly specialized bills.
For the next several weeks, these jewels of nature can be attracted to most backyards by merely maintaining a feeder containing a solution of one part sugar to four parts water with no other additives. Keep the feeder clean and the solution fresh (change it every three to five days), and let me know of the hummingbird activity in your backyard.