Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Where have all our hummers gone?

Well, not all the hummers. I do have perhaps a dozen who are visiting my feeders, and the dry spell we've had has encouraged them to spend a lot of time squabbling over the food. Most years, though, I'd have at least 2 or 3 times that many. By mid-August I'm usually measuring my weekly nectar production in gallons, not quarts. The population does vary from year to year, but we've been in this house for a decade, and this is the slowest hummer season by far. This afternoon I finally got around to doing a quick Web search to see what other folks are saying, and sure enough, lots of people are noticing a dearth of hummingbirds.

This kind of population drop-off happens with a lot of bird species. A few years ago everyone was concerned about the reduced numbers of bobwhites, and I have certainly seen fewer of them here. The reasons for a species' decline are hard to determine, but it seems likely that the hummers are victims of last year's drought. I had a reasonable number of hummingbirds come through here during migration in 2007, but they had to get through a lot of drought-stricken territory on their way south, and there simply may not have been enough food along the way to sustain them all.

One consolation is that the hummingbirds I do have this year are very pushy and entertaining. The other day I was reading a book on the porch and two flew right up to me and hovered in front of my face. Another one harassed me while I was picking tomatoes. I love that. I hope they're all feisty enough to make it through their long journey, and come bug me again next year.

Photo of rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) from Wikimedia Commons.

(The rufous hummer is not considered native to Tennessee, but it does stray here pretty often. One was banded in my yard several years ago. Click here for this guy's page at the Cornell Ornithology Lab.)

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