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Whirring Dervishes: Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds know how to draw a crowd with their intense colors and high-speed antics.

Texas is well known for its large concentrations of birds, butterflies, Mexican free-tailed bats, and more, and a lot of travelers come to see them. Spring and fall bird migrations are phenomenal, with great birding spectacles occurring throughout the state. Most notable are the migrations of warblers and shorebirds and the great congregations of waterfowl and raptors. But a wildlife spectacle in miniature has captured the fascination of many people who ordinarily would not consider  themselves birdwatchers. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird delivers an economic punch to a community on the central Texas coast in an otherwise ordinarily slow tourist season and also brings pleasure and delight to thousands of people who show up to watch.

One of Texas’ most amazing avian spectacles is the annual staging of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds on the Coastal Bend of Texas near Rockport and Fulton. It is so impressive and unique that an annual festival was developed around the phenomenon in 1988, when the community noticed the annual occurrence of great numbers of birds and decided that their Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were worth showing off. Although not as readily visible as larger birds in migration, the Ruby-throated migration is just as spectacular in many ways, especially in the birds’ great numbers.

The Hummer/Bird Celebration, held in September in Rockport, is the longest-running U.S. hummingbird festival. In addition to indoor activities such as information booths and presentations, there are field trips to observe hummingbirds in the vicinity. Several other U.S. hummingbird festivals have since been developed and are great ways to learn more about these birds and to exchange information with other hummingbird enthusiasts.

Dan Brown’s Hummer House

When Dan Brown called the Hummingbird Roundup staff in 1994 and told them that he had used over 350 pounds of sugar for feeding hummingbirds during the previous five-or-so month hummingbird season, they scratched their heads in disbelief. That is more than two pounds of sugar per day during the hummingbird season, the greatest amount they had heard of anyone feeding. Brown also told them that the birds drained sixteen feeders daily and that he had hundreds of hummingbirds all summer. The amazed staff called back to make an appointment; they wanted to see firsthand.

What they witnessed was not only a marvel of nature but perhaps the most wonderful habitat anywhere for breeding Black-chinned Hummingbirds. From Austin they drove northwest about three hours to the small town of Christoval, south of San Angelo. There they found a wonderfully peaceful and beautiful environment and a man who obviously derived great pleasure from wildlife and birds. His family heritage included this beautiful West Texas ranch set along the banks of the South Concho River, a place that hummingbirds, if they could talk, might call Nirvana.

The setting was serene as the clear South Concho River meandered through thick groves of native pecan trees with shallow rivulets of water flowing effortlessly on top of the white limestone bottom. The sun was filtered through the deep shade, laying down golden light on the water and revealing a wealth of busy insects darting among wildflowers, low shrubs, and rocks. Small fish and water bugs scurried along. The tree canopy, about thirty feet above the water, provided just the right light for shade-loving species, such as American beautyberry and other plants. Painted Buntings and Northern Cardinals were singing in the trees, while resident white-tailed deer and wild turkey looked like sentinels guarding the ranch. This place is special just for its natural beauty alone, but it was also special because of its thousands of tiny bird inhabitants. This was the summer home to perhaps the largest concentration of breeding Black-chinned Hummingbirds in Texas or, perhaps, the world.

—Clifford E. Shackelford, Madge M. Lindsay, and C. Mark Klym

Hummingbirds of Texas

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