Nature: Keep your hummingbirds happy

Warblers are arriving all over our island and the natural world follows its part in the web of life. Two geese have moved onto my pond for the first time in 50 years. I know geese can be a problem if they are around in large numbers. They are not liked on golf courses and at airports. They can be very dirty in some of their habits. Various schemes and methods have been devised for discouraging them from unwanted areas, but mostly the geese have won. Only in recent years have Canada Geese started to nest here and stay with us year ’round. It still remains to be seen how it all will work out. For some local water birds, it is a nesting problem since geese are quite aggressive. 

Hummingbirds arrived in my neighborhood the end of last week. I hope they all survived the drop in temperature over the following days. These tiny birds need to eat a lot to give them energy to last through the night. Some flowers are out for them to feed on, and they also feed on small insects. To survive the cooler or cold dark hours, their metabolism slows way down and they are in what is called torpor. Some call it “as deep as death.” The little bird is in a deep sleep, barely alive. During this torpor, the bird lowers its internal thermometer. This process keeps them from dying since they have no downy, insulating feathers. Waking up from this torpor takes about 20 minutes and the tiny bird shivers to make it happen about an hour or so before dawn.  

Have your hummingbird feeders ready for them with sugar water. To make a syrup to make hummingbirds happy, try this. Mix one part white sugar with four parts water and boil for two minutes. Boiling retards the fermentation of the mixture. Cool the mixture and place it in your feeders. Store the unused portion in the refrigerator. NEVER use honey instead of sugar! Honey easily ferments and can kill the birds. Plant flowers with red blossoms to attract hummingbirds especially. They seem to gravitate towards red. 

Loons at Echo Lake are checking out the location where their special man-made nesting platform, made last year, was placed floating near the swimming end. That platform nest was a big success last year for the birds and for those who saw them nesting. Normally loons do not like to be near people, but the fact that they were near people and the eagles could not easily grab them may have added to the loon’s success in raising a family successfully. 

Warblers and other tropical migrants have landed all over our island. Rose-breasted grosbeaks always attract your attention when they appear on your feeder. They are very beautiful with bold colors. Bold, brash and beautiful describe the male especially. He looks unreal! The male has a black back and head and a bright rosy-colored V-shape patch on its white breast. The male is shockingly beautiful. His mate is a modest, muted brown. Both birds have a thick finch bill. They are a devoted couple when nesting, and he even sings to her while she sits on the nest, and he will also bring her food. Both parents raise the young ones. If they nest near you, it is your lucky day! 

A flock of surf scoters was spotted off Bar Harbor by a friend who regularly birds in that area and who knows the birds well. Always have your binoculars with you along the shore. These birds are definitely sea ducks, spending their days and nights on or beneath the water in search of food. It is nice to see a ‘raft’ (several birds resting and feeding together) of surf scoters on the ocean. These surf scoters are more apt to be farther out from shore, so they are birds that you can see nicely when driving around the loop at Schoodic. I love to see them dive, as one, and then just disappear beneath the surface. Not one bird will be left in sight after they dive, and then they pop up, one by one, here and there. I think the best place to watch sea ducks is from the cliffs above them. A dear friend and I once watched a flock of eiders resting on the surface along the Ocean Drive. As we watched, the ducks all dove into the water as if a signal had been given. In a few moments, they all reappeared, a few at a time, from deep in the water, and broke through the surface in what appeared to us on the cliff like a beautiful white blossom opening. I will never forget it! The males have lots of white on them and it was absolutely beautiful! 

This is the best time of year to look for warblers, for they are in their breeding plumages and much easier to identify. Note everything about their appearance and behavior and keep your book handy. Also, take advantage of the wonderful sound recordings on your computer at such sources as Cornell University and you’ll have great help in identifying what you are hearing. They all are in their ‘best feathers and colors’ right now, and they may be too busy with family cares to be concerned about your presence. And since the leaves are not yet out, you can take advantage of the situation. 

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.  


Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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