I’ve never seen anything like it here. The hummingbird feeders buzzed like those I saw in Ecuador, but here all the birds jockeying for position were of a single species, our ruby-throated hummingbird.
And it wasn’t just at our place. Many friends around the lake and elsewhere remarked on the unprecedented numbers of hummers attending their feeders this year. Some, including myself, had to refill two to three times a day to keep up with the voracious pace.
August, you know, is down time for most of our summer species. Although at the beginning of the month there are plenty of grosbeaks, blue jays and others bringing their young to feeders, activity always diminishes rapidly as the adults go into their post-breeding molt.
Hummingbirds, however, normally become much more evident by mid-month, as they are among the earliest of our nesting species to flock up and begin winging their way south to Mexico and Central America.
This year has been no exception, except for their extraordinary numbers.
At our place, they seemed to materialize out of nowhere on Aug. 17. When they tired of aerial acrobatics, I had as many as six sitting on a single feeder at once. I could only guess as to how many were in the immediate area – probably several dozen. And virtually all, on the basis of their plumage, seemed to be young birds.
Although large numbers persisted through Aug. 21, it was my impression that numbers decreased during the day when northwest winds were strong on Aug. 18 and Aug. 20 and then increased at the end of those days. So, I believe those birds that were well fattened up took advantage of those winds to migrate, and new birds from the north took their place at the end of the day.
By Aug. 23, populations were declining, and by the time of this writing on Aug. 27, numbers were very much reduced. So overall, a very quick, but impressive in and out.
I can only speculate that the fairly wet conditions throughout the summer resulted in a plentiful insect supply to nourish the young and enhance the survival rate of nestlings.
Also, it is very likely that most breeders nested twice this year, something that is normal in southern birds but less frequent this far north. Whatever the reasons, this August hummingbird spectacle has been a real treat for many of us who have had feeders out.
A final note: Late August and early September is also the time to be looking upward for migrating common nighthawks, another early mover which I wrote about last summer.
Early migrating warblers are beginning to show up as well – keep an eye out for mixed flocks of these birds moving fairly silently through the trees and in much drabber plumage than they exhibited in the spring.
Marshall Howe is a retired biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He specialized in bird population studies. Howe has been a Park Rapids resident since 2010.