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Illinois hunting and fishing

Hummingbirds make their return

May 23, 2012 at 02:22 AM

The colorful spring air show is back.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are back to buzzing backyard bird feeders and orioles are chattering in the trees overhead.

“They are very different birds, but are attracted to feeders in somewhat the same way,” says Wade Kammin, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited, 1930 S. MacArthur Blvd.

Both birds like sweet nectar and feeders spread out away from other birds to give them their own space.

And both types of birds are fairly easy to attract.

Hummingbirds have become so popular that summer festivals have sprung up to celebrate them.

The Illinois Audubon Society hosts hummingbird banding events around the state each year, including one Aug. 4 at Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site near Petersburg.

“I think hummingbird feeding is popular for a couple of different reasons,” Kammin says. “One is the anticipation factor. When they first arrive back in the spring, people have been missing them so they really are happy to see them coming back.

“The other is their size and their unique flight patterns that make them different from other birds,” he says.

While many colorful songbirds migrate right on through, hummingbirds and orioles stick around to raise their families.

Attracting birds

People wanting to attract hummingbirds and orioles have to treat them differently.

“Keep in mind that they are different from other birds because they do not eat seeds,” Kammin says. Instead, both birds enjoy nectar and insects. Orioles also like fruit.

The key is making feeders stand out from the other feeders and keeping the food fresh.

“That is the biggest mistake people make,” Kammin says. “They don’t realize they need to change those foods at least two to three times per week.

“They are going to spoil. They are going to ferment. Much like we will not go back to a restaurant where we have had a bad experience, they are not going to come back as quickly (if the food becomes unpalatable).”

Change the nectar, fruit or jelly at least two to three times a week, so the food is still palatable to the birds. Give orioles and hummingbirds a feeder out in the open and away from others.

For hummingbirds, multiple feeders hung out of sight of each other can help cut down on competition.

“In nature, every hummingbird tries to defend a little spot of territory where the flowers they are feeding from have a continual supply of nectar,” Kammin says. “As they feed on one flower, they sort of drain it and move on to the next and on down the road.

“They don’t want another hummingbird coming back to the first flower before they get a chance to come back and visit it,” he says. “(In nature) it’s not really a never-ending supply.

“They don’t realize the feeder is full all the time.”

Hummingbird nectar recipe:

1 part table sugar (cane sugar)

4 parts boiling water

Note: Do not use food coloring, honey or artificial sweeteners

Stir sugar into boiling water and allow mixture to cool. Unused portion can be refrigerated up to two weeks. To prevent growth of mold and harmful bacteria, wash feeders two to three times per week.

Baltimore and orchard orioles:

  Both species can be attracted to feeders filled with jelly, fruit halves, mealworms or nectar.

  Jelly seems to be particularly popular with orioles.

  Feeders should be in open areas, not hidden from view in trees.

- Source: Wild Birds Unlimited

Ruby-throated hummingbird

Of the more than 325 species of hummingbirds in the world (the number varies by source), the ruby-throated hummingbird is the one most likely to be seen in the eastern United States.

They can beat their wings up to 75 times per second, according to Smithsonian Birds of North America.

They are the smallest bird found in Illinois, measuring about 3 to 3 3/4 inches long, and weighing one-tenth of an ounce.

They eat nectar, but also insects and spiders.

Baltimore oriole

The most common oriole in the east is the Baltimore oriole, measuring about 8 1/2 inches long. The male has brilliant orange and black plumage.

The orchard oriole is a similar species, but smaller.

Baltimore orioles create an eye-catching hanging nest woven together with plant fibers and other materials, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Orioles eat fruit, nectar and insects.

By contrast to the hummingbird, the Baltimore oriole weighs 1.2 ounces - still small but 12 times more than the hummingbird, according to the Smithsonian Birds of North America.

According to Cornell, the Baltimore oriole winters in the southern United States, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and northern South America.

2012 Hummingbird festivals


  June 9: 8:30-11:30 a.m., Hanft Park, New Athens
  June 23: 9 a.m. to noon, Happy Haven, Oakland
  June 30: 9 a.m. to noon, Hefley Home, Hillsboro
  July 7: 9 a.m. to noon, Siloam Springs State Park, near Quincy
  July 19: 4-7 p.m., Engel Farm, Jacksonville
  July 28: 9 a.m. to noon, Lewis & Clark Historic Site, Alton
  July 29: 1-4 p.m., Okaw Valley Orchards, Sullivan
  Aug. 2: 4-7 p.m., Sullivan’s Farm, Rushville
  Aug. 4: 9 a.m. to noon, Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site, Petersburg
  Aug 4: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Trail of Tears State Forest, Jonesboro
  Aug. 18: 9 a.m. to noon, Camp Sagawau Environmental Learning Center, Lemont
  Aug. 25: 9 a.m. to noon, Forest Park Nature Center, Peoria Heights
  Sept. 1: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sugar Grove Nature Center, Funks Grove

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