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You can help hummingbirds; April is time to put out feeders

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A female ruby-throated hummingbird feeds on lavender during her April migration.

Ozarkers will begin seeing ruby-throated hummingbirds this month as the tiny long-distance fliers return as part of their spring migration.

“Hummingbirds will be arriving soon and a few have already been spotted in southern Missouri,” says Sarah Kendrick, state ornithologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation. “It’s time to put out feeders! Their numbers will increase throughout the month of April.”

Hummingbird feeder sugar water does not need to be colored red, cautions Kendrick. The birds will find it and drink it without coloring.

She noted hummingbirds.net/map.html is a fun and useful web site to see when and where hummingbirds are migrating. The migration map shows locations where the birds have already been spotted this year as they migrate northward into the U.S. and Canada. The website also allows visitors to help out by submitting dates and exact locations of hummingbird sightings. Other online resources, such as eBird.org, also use birder-submitted information to track bird sightings as they move northward.

About 80 bird species breed in Missouri, but hummingbirds typically migrate south in early fall and migrate back north in the spring.

“Hummingbirds arrive in Missouri in April and May to nest and raise their young. They then make their fall southward migration in mid-August with most leaving by early October,” Kendrick says. “A few birds overwinter in extreme southern coastal states, but most overwinter from southern Mexico to Costa Rica. These tiny birds are so amazing. During migration, they fly non-stop for 600 miles from the Gulf Coast of the U.S. to the Yucatan Peninsula over the Gulf of Mexico and then back on their return trips. They can lose half their body weight during this 24-hour flight.”

Early spring arrivals rely on sap oozing from sapsucker-drilled holes and insects for food. With warmer weather, they soon switch to eating nectar from many different kinds of flowers later in spring. This gives them energy needed to catch insects all day long to feed their young.

Hummingbirds are more than just a delight to watch zipping around at your feeder, they also play very important roles in our ecosystem.

“Hummingbirds are important pollinators for many plants that require a long-billed pollinator,” Kendrick said. “And because of their small size, hummingbirds can end up as food for predators, such as large insects, spiders, other birds, and frogs.”

“Another great way to help hummers and other migratory birds is to grow native plants,” Kendrick suggests. “Native plants attract native insects, which are a vital food source for breeding birds. Great native plants for hummingbirds include cardinal flower, jewelweed, and trumpet creeper.”

You can learn more online about helping hummingbirds at Nature.MDC.Mo.gov.

Hummingbirds are found across Missouri throughout the summer and can be seen around nectar feeders outside homes and in parks and gardens. Hummingbirds nest in wooded areas on small tree branches 10-20 feet up, and are frequently observed near forests and streams. Learn more through MDC’s online Field Guide at Nature.MDC.Mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/ruby-throated-hummingbird.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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