Every year in late summer, hundreds of hummingbirds pass through the Land Between the Lakes area while migrating to South America. The Woodlands Nature Station's lead naturalist, John Pollpeter, speaks to Tracy Ross about the small, iridescent birds and opportunities to see them at LBL.
The Woodlands Nature Station in Land Between the Lakes has been a hot spot for hummingbirds and hummingbird enthusiasts for years. "For seven years, we participated in a study where we were actually banding them," Pollpeter explains. Banders place a small, thin, uniquely numbered band around the leg of a hummingbird for conservational and educational purposes. "The scientists that came and did that every year found that we had a population of about 200 to 250 a day in the months of July, August, and the beginning of September."
"Not only is our backyard at the Nature Station conducive to hummingbirds because it has a lot of native plants," Pollpeter continues. "Hummingbirds are pollinators. It's an edge habitat - a type of habitat between an open area and a forest - that hummingbirds like. We're kind of in the middle of their migration route, so we get a lot of hummingbirds that are coming from northern areas and migrating south to Central America. That makes us a nice little stop. I always say we're [like] the McDonalds on the interstate."
"It's quite a spectacle. The backyard garden is maybe an acre, acre and a half, and you have 200 hummingbirds crammed into that little area," Pollpeter says. "We usually have a festival at the beginning of each August to celebrate the hummingbirds migrating through. Because of COVID restrictions and safety, we're not having some of those things this year. Nobody told the hummingbirds that, so we still have all the hummingbirds that people can come and enjoy."
The Nature Station is offering socially distanced hummingbird-viewing programs during the weekdays. Early access is also being offered. "If you don't want to be around crowds of people, you can sign up for exclusive [appointments] to sit back and watch the hummingbirds or photograph them on Saturday mornings," Pollpeter explains. "We have a program called the Science of Hummingbirds that explains some of the numbers that we have, that's usually a pretty good one - particularly for kids to be able to grasp some of these concepts. We just encourage people to come and sit back and enjoy this unique spectacle of nature."
For those wanting to attract hummingbirds to their own backyard, Pollpeter warns against using any red food coloring and emphasizes the importance of maintaining the sugar water. Sugar water left too long in the heat can "mold [or] even ferment a little bit. That can definitely hurt a hummingbird, especially on migration." The red food coloring is also detrimental to a migrating hummingbird. "The red food coloring does not digest well in their metabolism. It has been shown to rot their feathers. The red on the feeder itself will attract them; you don't need it in the sugar water itself."
After the hummingbirds have made their pit stop in the LBL area, they will continue their migration to South America. "From Land Between the Lakes to where they stop in Costa Rica, it's 1,082 miles," Pollpeter explains. "Once they hit the Texas coast, they fly straight across there in a nonstop flight that takes about 18 hours. They're flapping their wings at 50 miles per hour across the Gulf of Mexico, and they're not stopping for food or anything. That's a pretty impressive migration for this tiny, little bird." An impressive feat indeed - male and female hummingbirds flap their wings 60 to 80 times per second. If a male is trying to impress a female, he'll flap his wings up to 200 times per second.
For more information on hummingbird-related programming at the Woodlands Nature Station, visit the LBL website.