Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
Most of the doves left early. The annual flight of blue-winged teal is running late. But the fall migration of ruby-throated hummingbirds is right on schedule. Urged south by shortening photo periods, tens of thousands of hummingbirds are currently passing through Iowa and there’s no better time to enjoy some close up viewing than right now.
Attracting hummers to backyard nectar feeders is one of the best ways to get a look. Those who opt to avoid costly commercial mixes can concoct their own by mixing one part table [white] sugar to four parts water. Simply stir, bring to a boil [kills bacteria and retards mold], cool to room temp, and add to feeder. If brushy habitats, flower gardens, or mature woodlands are nearby, the first hungry visitors should appear within hours; sometimes within minutes.
Arriving from as far away as Ontario and northern Minnesota, most ruby-throats will keep traveling, eventually spending the winter months in Central America. But getting there is no small feat. Guided by starry constellations and with wings churning in excess of 50 beats per second, they will leave the mainland and cross the Gulf of Mexico in a single nighttime flight — an incredible achievement for a bird weighing less than a quarter of an ounce and with a wingspan of a mere four inches.