Spring in New Brunswick is just about ready to hum

·4 min read
A male ruby-throated hummingbird photographed at Jim Wilson's feeder in an earlier spring season. (Jim Wilson/submitted - image credit)
A male ruby-throated hummingbird photographed at Jim Wilson's feeder in an earlier spring season. (Jim Wilson/submitted - image credit)

In the birdwatching world, there are many arrivals that are a welcome sign of spring.

Waterfowl often show up in New Brunswick in early April, when ponds are still covered by a layer of ice.

The arrival of red-winged blackbirds at a backyard feeder, usually in the company of common grackles, is a good sign the spring migration is well underway.

But it's the appearance of the tiny, hovering ruby-throated hummingbird that seems to be the most endearing to backyard birdwatchers.

Submitted by Jim Wilson
Submitted by Jim Wilson

And, if Jim Wilson's meticulous records are any indication, the province's only native hummingbird species is due back very soon.

Wilson, a longtime birder and naturalist who lives in Quispamsis, said he'll be putting his hummingbird feeders out the first week of May.

"I've never seen one before the 1st of May," Wilson said, "The earliest was the 3rd of May. That was in 2011."

Wilson said early arrivals are rare, because the tiny birds are so reliant on flowers for the nectar and tiny insects they feed upon.

"They're day migrants and they feed as they come," Wilson said.

And their high metabolism means they need to feed every day.

"One day [without feeding] would do them out."

journeynorth.org
journeynorth.org

It makes their migration to and from Central and South America one of the most amazing feats in the natural world.

An adult ruby-throated hummingbird is about eight centimetres, or three inches, long. Their maximum weight is six grams, which means they weigh less than a standard wooden pencil.

Yet they fly as much as 7,000 kilometres to return to New Brunswick to nest, following the newly blooming spring flowers along the way.

Wilson said his records show the birds are making earlier arrivals at his feeders than they did two decades ago.

"I went back 25 years, 1997 to 2021. The last 10 years, the average was the 10th of May, the 6th of May was the earliest."

Wilson said the previous 10 years, the average arrival date was May 11.

Jim Wilson/Submitted
Jim Wilson/Submitted

And in the five years from 1997 to 2001, it was May 13.

Wilson said the growing number of backyard feeders likely is helping the birds make the trip faster.

He also suspects the warming climate is also having an effect.

Some may wonder what flowers are around for them to feed on in early May. Wilson said you have to look up to find them, and you generally have to head for low-lying intervale land near waterways..

"Silver maples are already in bloom, and so are willows," Wilson said.

He said he's observed dozens of hummingbirds buzzing around a large maple tree, feeding off its blossoms.

Jim Wilson/Submitted
Jim Wilson/Submitted

The birds will spend a month or more building up strength before nesting.

Females build small nests high up in hardwood trees, just two or three centimetres in diameter, which they cover with lichen.

Wilson said the nests look like tree knots and are exceptionally hard to locate.

The female lays two eggs, "no bigger than a white bean," he said.

The males play no role in raising the young, instead spending their time defending territory and fattening up for the migration south.

Jim Wilson/Submitted
Jim Wilson/Submitted

Despite the existence of several species that migrate north each year, ruby-throated hummingbirds are the only species that comes to northeast North America.

Wilson said scientists theorise it's because they're the only bird with the stamina to fly across or around the Gulf of Mexico.

But from time to time, other types of hummingbirds are spotted here.

Wilson said there have been reports of both a Rufous hummingbird and a black-chinned hummingbird in this region, both normally found in central and western United States and in British Columbia.

Grouse Mountain
Grouse Mountain

And, a number of years ago, someone living in a backwoods cabin near Elgin reported seeing a broad-billed hummingbird at his feeders, which was later caught and sheltered in a greenhouse over the winter.

The bird was a long way from its home in the Arizona-Mexico area.

"It was the first one ever reported in New Brunswick — maybe the only one in Atlantic Canada."

If you want to attract hummingbirds to your yard, Wilson recommends a feeder with a glass container, which is easier to clean than plastic.

Boil four parts water and add one part white sugar and stir until it is dissolved.

Let it cool to room temperature and fill your feeder.

Wilson said there is no need to add food colouring.

Hang it in a sunny place sheltered from the wind.

Once a week, discard any remaining sugar water to avoid it fermenting, clean the feeder with soap and water, rinse with a 10 per cent bleach solution, and then rinse well with water before adding more sugar water.

And Wilson said there's no reason to worry about leaving it out too late in the season.

"We've never had anything stay past late September. The migration instinct is strong."

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