Published in The Kansas City Star, Star Magazine, Story and Photos by Mary Schulte.
If the hummingbirds flitting around your feeders seem to resemble golf balls these days, it’s not your imagination. September is peak migration time for the tiny birds — they’re stocking up on nectar and small bugs to double their body weight.
That’s not saying much since they weigh only about 2.5 grams, but by the time they leave on their trek to Mexico, and Central and South America, they will weigh more than 5 grams or about an eighth of an ounce.
“I tell people they weigh as much as a penny,” says Sarah Driver, a certified master bander from Ozark, Mo. Although a master bander is a volunteer job, Driver has official certification from the US. Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Md., where she files her reports. Information from banders helps scientists track the migratory paths of the birds.
Driver says she needs about 200 pounds of sugar each summer to keep her 20 feeders stocked. During peak migration season — late August through mid-September — she puts out 3 gallons of sugar-water daily. The birds feed about every 15 minutes during daylight hours.
Hummingbird nectar is made with a ratio of 1 cup sugar to 4 cups water. It’s not necessary to boil the water; hot tap water dissolves the sugar well, Driver says.
“The hummers like it chilled,” she says. “They’re like anyone else, when it’s a hot day, they like a cool drink.”
The Kansas City area is a handy stopping place for hummers that travel from as far away as Alaska, as they head to more tropical climates for the winter.
“We have some nesting birds who are here all summer, but we also have some that migrate through,” says Alan Branhagen, director of horticulture for Powell Gardens. “The drought has been hard for them; they’ve been using our feeders a lot.”
Powell Gardens has several feeders and plants in their hummingbird and butterfly garden near the visitor’s center.
“We will have hummingbirds here through September and into October,” Branhagen says.