the most hummingbirds in Missouri in late August to early September as they work their way south. By early October, most hummingbirds are gone.
Fall migration coincides with the blooming of late summer flowers, especially jewelweed (Impatiens sp.). Hummingbirds are especially hungry this time of year because of the energy demands of migration. Artificial feeders are undoubtedly a lifesaver for many birds.
Once they reach the Gulf Coast, they fatten up, increasing their body weight by 50 percent. When they decide to leave, they fly straight up, sometimes ascending so high that they can’t be seen. Many fly directly south across the Gulf of Mexico, while some fly along the coast. Their 500-mile, non-stop flight usually takes them about 20 hours or so from start to finish, depending on weather. The journey takes its toll. Some don’t make it, and those that do might lose about half their weight.
They continue the rest of their trip along land, eventually settling in the tropics, where they feast on the abundant food. A few months later, they’ll head back north. The first males usually arrive back in Missouri in early April, followed about a week later by the females.
The next time you see a ruby-throated hummingbird, think about everything that bird has gone through to survive. It’s a good thing they have oversized determination and endurance.
To learn more about ruby-throated hummingbirds, explore the links listed below, where you can get information about dealing with hummingbird-related problems.
Much of what we know about hummingbirds—their migrations, life spans and survival rates—is based on data collected by a small but dedicated group of hummingbird banders. They capture birds, note their age, sex, weight and other information and fit the birds with tiny, uniquely numbered aluminum leg bands before releasing them.
This enables biologists to track birds over time and learn about their population trends and life history. Troy Gordon, a Missouri-based bander, has banded approximately 2,500 hummingbirds in central Missouri. He has captured two birds that were 8 years old. The oldest age ever recorded for a ruby-throated hummingbird is 9 years old.
Putting out hummingbird feeders is an inexpensive way to enjoy and help out hummingbirds. Many different styles of feeders are available. Most anything with red on the base will work. You can make the “nectar” on your own by mixing one part granulated sugar (don’t use honey or any other sweetener) with four to five parts water, and boiling it. Adding red food coloring is not necessary. Promptly refrigerate any unused portion.
Hang your feeder in a somewhat shady spot and fill it with enough sugar water to last a couple of days. Change the water every few days, and be sure to rinse the feeder with warm water. Soak the feeder for an hour or so every month in one-quarter cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water solution to kill any hidden mold. Don’t use soap; hummingbirds don’t like the taste of it. Rinse thoroughly after soaking.
You can keep your feeder up as long as you like. Making food available won’t interfere with migration, and you may even help out a few stragglers. Mid-March through October is a good time frame to start with. Pay special attention to any hummingbird that you see after mid-October. It could be a rufous hummingbird, a rare western visitor that sometimes migrates through Missouri.
You can also attract hummingbirds by planting flowers that they like. Some native species that are hummingbird magnets include trumpet creeper, cardinal flower, jewelweed and columbine.