By Bryan Stevens
Hummingbirds returned to the region the first week of April. If you’ve not yet seen one, and I am still waiting for my own first sighting of one this spring, take heart. Many people are already reporting the return of these tiny flying gems.
The date might have been Friday, April 1, but Amy Tipton’s first hummingbird of the year was no April Fool’s prank.
“Just saw my first hummingbird of the season!” Amy messaged me on Facebook to share her sighting, which took place on the first day of April at 7:15 p.m.
“It was a male feeding in the quince bush in our backyard,” she added. “I’m sure he’s just passing through, but I was so happy to see one.”
The Erwin resident reported the following day that the hummingbird had lingered overnight, which allowed her to get some photographs.
Ray Gorecki, a resident of the Dysartsville area in McDowell County, North Carolina, emailed me about his first hummingbird sighting this spring.
“I am happy to say that we had our first ruby- throated male arrive this past Monday (April 4),” Ray wrote. “We set the feeders out on Sunday. We have had a male at the feeders each day this week.”
Ray added that being from western New York and being new to the area, he was thrilled to see hummingbirds so early in the spring. “Looking forward to seeing many more,” he added.
Chris Amsbary in Marion, North Carolina, said he saw his first hummer of spring on the afternoon of Tuesday, April 5, at his home in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains east of Asheville.
Rebecca Morgan emailed me to report that she spotted her first ruby-throated hummingbird on Randolph Drive in Marion, North Carolina, on Wednesday, April 6, at 6:30 p.m.
Reflect for a moment on the epic journey each ruby-throated hummingbird must make in order to return to northeast Tennessee, western North Carolina or southwest Virginia each spring.
According to the website for Perkypet.com, a retailer of bird feeders, ruby-throated hummingbirds spend the winter months in Central America and southern Mexico. When the weather begins to turn warm, they will start to make their northern trip up to the United States. As the website points out, this can be a grueling journey for such a tiny creature, as many of them choose to fly over the Gulf of Mexico. This flight alone, the website points out, can take 18 to 22 hours of non-stop flight before reaching land on the other side of the gulf.
Simply crossing the Gulf of Mexico is only the first stage. Most of the hummingbirds must still travel hundreds of miles to reach locations where they will spend the summer. Males, after some time courting females, will not do much more than sip nectar and duel with other male hummers during the summer.
It’s the female hummingbirds that will work diligently all summer long as she constructs a nest, incubates eggs and feeds hungry young, all without any assistance from her erstwhile mate.
Hummingbird species number around 340, making the family second in species only to the tyrant flycatchers in sheer size. Both of these families consist of birds exclusive to the New World.
With so many hummingbird species, people have been hard pressed to give descriptive names to all these tiny gems. The term “ruby-throated” pales in comparison to some of the richly descriptive names that have been given to some of the world’s hummingbirds.
Some of the dazzling array of names include little hermit, hook-billed hermit, fiery topaz, sooty barbthroat, white-throated daggerbill, hyacinth visorbearer, sparkling violetear, horned sungem, black-eared fairy, white-tailed goldenthroat, green mango, green-throated carib, amethyst-throated sunangel, green-backed firecrown, wire-crested thorntail, festive coquette, bronze-tailed comet, black-breasted hillstar, black-tailed trainbearer, blue-mantled thornbill, bearded mountaineer, colorful puffleg, marvelous spatuletail, bronzy inca, rainbow starfrontlet, velvet-purple coronet, pink-throated brilliant, coppery emerald, snowcap, golden-tailed sapphire and violet-bellied hummingbird.
Knowing a little more about these tiny birds known as hummingbirds, I hope you’ll look upon them with increased admiration.