All spring and summer we have patiently filled our hummingbird feeders to take care of thousands and thousands of tiny, energized birds that chose to live in the Hill Country, and in particular, our back yards. Likely, ninety-nine per cent of these hummers are the same species – Black-chinned Hummingbirds. The black-chin’s eastern range limit includes the South Texas brush country, the Edwards Plateau, and the Rolling Plains ecoregions. Westward their range extends from the Desert Southwest states northward to the Pacific Northwest states.
In our area the black-chins arrive in mid-March and stay until the first week in September; most of the males begin to return to their tropical wintering grounds in early August. A few of them even spend the winter months here as well. East of the three ecoregions mentioned above is the summer range of the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. The ruby-throats exclusively occupy the entire eastern half of the country. At my home west of Fredericksburg, I typically have one or two breeding pairs spend the summer with my black chins.
If you do not pay close attention to your boarders around the first of September, you might miss the changing of the guard. The black-chins departs about the same time as the first wave of the migrating ruby-throats begin passing through our area to the coastal bend region of Gulf of Mexico. They ruby-throats congregate in this area for a few weeks to store enough fat to allow them cross the Gulf of Mexico to Yucatan Peninsula and eastern Mexico.
Since, the females and juveniles of both species are very similar, they are difficult to separate by species. Early in September the male ruby-throats will flash their brilliant red gorgets making their identification easy. One possible way to separate the females and juveniles is a behavioral habit of the black-chins to twitch and/or pump their tails while hovering and feeding. The ruby-throats’ tails do not move as much as the black-chins’ tails. If you can’t tell them apart, just enjoy having them visit your yard feeders.
In addition to the above two hummingbird species, you might have a few other species drop in for a quick sip of sugar water. The most common of this group would be the bright orange male Rufous Hummingbird and the orange-flanked female. They are very aggressive and make their presence known. If you hear a high pitched whistle coming from a passing hummingbird, it will be a Broad-tailed Hummingbird that looks almost exactly like the male ruby-throat. A lady in New Braunfels has had a Calliope Hummingbird spending time in her backyard for several months this year.
I have had the privilege to participate in the Rockport/Fulton Beach HummerBird Celebration for many years. The celebration runs from September 17-20 in Rockport. This year I will be giving my favorite talk, “Hummingbird Courtship: Flash! Zoom! Bang! and Done!” on Saturday (Sept.19) and Sunday (Sept.20). Hope you can join me there this year. Thousands of ruby throats stage in the Rockport area before departing on their 500 mile non-stop journey over the Gulf to the Yucatan Peninsula.
Back here in the Hill Country enjoy the ruby-throats until they leave the area. This point brings up the question as to when to take down your feeders? My stock answer is two weeks after your last sighting of a hummingbird at your feeders. Remember, a few hummers spend the winter in Kerrville, so you need to decide if you want to make the commitment to feed them all winter, or not. If not, take the feeder down before November 1.