FUNKS GROVE – Deanna Frautschi doesn’t deny her strong attraction to hummingbirds, the glittering gems of the avian world heading south right now.
“I am addicted to hummingbirds. I admit it,” said the rural Bloomington woman who has been feeding hummingbirds for more than 40 years. She has given 137 educational talks on ruby-throated hummingbirds and is the administrator of Hummingbirds Anonymous on Facebook.
There are about 25 species of hummingbirds in the United States, but the ruby-throated hummingbird is the only one regularly seen in the eastern part of the country.
When the sunlight hits them perfectly, ruby-throated hummingbirds have bright green, slightly metallic bodies. Only adult males have ruby throats.
Frautschi keeps track of the arrival of the first and the departure of the last.
The first arrival is usually the last week of April, although the first she saw at her feeders was April 12, 1998. The males arrive first, with the first females appearing about a week after the first males, a she declared.
The last ones usually depart the last week of September, but Frautschi said a young hummer stayed until October 16, 2002.
Right now, hummingbirds are fueling up for their journey to wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America.
“If you were to hold one in your hand at its normal weight, it would weigh about a penny,” she explained. “They’re going to go from a penny to a penny and a half to do the stealing.”
This is one of the reasons you see them making frequent visits to feeders and flowers at this time of year.
“I love hummingbirds because they are those magical creatures that God gave us so we could see that they can survive many kinds of obstacles,” Frautschi said.
Among those obstacles to survival are house cats, windows, bullfrogs and praying mantises, according to Vern Kleen of the Lincoln Land Association of Bird Banders.
Kleen has been a bird bander for 62 years and a hummingbird bander for 22 years. He banded hummingbirds during the Hummingbird Festival and Pollination Celebration at the Sugar Grove Nature Center on September 3.
The birds were captured in special cages that surrounded the feeding stations. Kleen took some measurements and recorded their sex and whether they were adults or young birds. Then he carefully tied a small strip of metal to one leg of each bird. The strips, which contain unique letters and numbers, are so small that twenty can fit on a safety pin.
Banding helps determine the success of a breeding season, and the recapture of previously banded birds provides information on lifespan and where they move, Kleen explained.
Some lucky people who “adopted” a hummingbird during the festival were able to have them placed in their open palm to release them after they were banded.
“It’s very light. You barely feel it,” Linda Stengel of McLean said after releasing her “adopted” bird. “You feel the heartbeat, though. It’s very fast.
Their heart beats about 1,200 times per minute, according to a fact sheet from the bird banding group.
“If humans were to consume food in the same proportion as hummingbirds, they would have to eat 250 hamburgers or more than a quarter pound each day,” the fact sheet states.
Rather than hamburgers, hummingbirds eat insects, flower nectar and sugar water from feeders. The standard solution for hummingbird feeders is 4 cups of water to 1 cup of white sugar. Do not add red food coloring, honey or artificial sweeteners.
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“People who feed hummingbirds need to know to keep it clean,” Frautschi said. “Especially in hot, humid weather, they need to change this nectar about every three days or if they see mold or it starts to turn cloudy.”
Although the hummingbird migration is ending, Frautschi said people should keep their hummingbird feeders on until at least two weeks after seeing the last hummingbird.
“Some of us fanatics keep ours until the first frost because we want to catch all the stragglers that come in,” she said.
Photos: Explore Sugar Grove Nature Center