Mean green flying machines: the hummingbirds are here!

Photo by JC Donaho. http://jcdonaho.com/

Photo by JC Donaho. http://jcdonaho.com/

What was that high pitched chirping and flash of iridescent green that just whizzed past at lightning speed? You just got buzzed by a hummingbird! The fall migration is passing through Houston, and these feisty little birds seem to be particularly abundant this year. Houston does not have (for the most part) any resident hummingbirds, but a few species pass through in spring and fall as they fly between their nesting grounds in the northern states and Canada, and their wintering ground in Central America.

The northward spring migration is much more diffuse than the fall event – you may hear a hummingbird or two in February or March, but they don’t linger. However, in late August through September and into early October, hummingbirds can be very evident in Houston. These marathon travellers will pass through our area for about 4 to 6 weeks, stocking up on fuel to take them over the Gulf of Mexico to their winter abode. They are particularly abundant on the Gulf Coast, where inclement weather can force them to stay put until a more opportune time comes to complete the migration. Rockport, Texas hosts a huge “Hummerbird Festival” every mid-September, with lots of talks on hummingbirds and other birds, butterflies, etc., and home tours to see gardens that are particularly full of hummingbirds. It’s over for this year, but put it on your calendar for future years and check it out!

Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Photo by JC Donaho http://jcdonaho.com/

Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Photo by JC Donaho http://jcdonaho.com/

Most hummers you see in Houston (and in Rockport) are Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Males are a metallic green with white bellies, and are named for the patch of dark feathers on their throat that glows a brilliant, iridescent ruby red when the sun hits it just right. Females and immature males do not have the spectacular throat coloring, and are white underneath. Some young males may have a fleck or two of red on their throat.

Two other species are sometimes seen here – the Rufous Hummingbird and the Black-chinned Hummingbird. Juveniles and females of these species are a little hard to distinguish from Ruby-throated females and youngsters, but the males are distinctive. Rufous males are a bright bronze color, with an orangey red throat. Black-chinned males are green with a black throat, below which, in the right light, a brilliant violet band will flash.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Photo by JC Donaho http://jcdonaho.com/

Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Photo by JC Donaho http://jcdonaho.com/

Farther west, in the Big Bend area and west into New Mexico, Arizona, and California, hummingbird diversity is much higher. About 15 or so species are known from the USA, and most of these occur in the western states. For the apex of hummingbird diversity, head to the highlands of South America (e.g., Colombia, with about 140 species), where dozens of different species can be seen, some of them truly spectacular. Most of these are residents in the tropics and do not migrate.

 

Male and Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds, slow motion, August 2010 from Hummer Lover on Vimeo.

All hummingbirds behave similarly. Masters of speedy, controlled flight, they can hover in place, move backwards and forwards, dive and soar with incredible speed and precision. They can reach speeds of up to 60 mph, their wings whirring at 80 beats per second. Males in particular are territorial and aggressive, cheeping furiously as they drive off rivals from a good food source.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Photo by JC Donaho http://jcdonaho.com/

Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Photo by JC Donaho http://jcdonaho.com/

Hummingbirds’ main food is flower nectar, so they are important pollinators of certain species of plants. They especially seem to gravitate to red flowers, although other colors are visited. Their long thin beaks and even longer tongues allow them to reach inside floral tubes that are much too deep for most butterflies and bees. Since birds in general have a poorly developed sense of smell, flowers pollinated by hummingbirds typically have no scent.

Hummingbirds also eat small insects such as fruit flies and gnats, catching them on the wing or finding them inside the flowers they probe for nectar.

Bottle feeder with ant-guard

Bottle feeder with ant-guard

Because they love sweet fluids, it is easy to provide feeders for hummingbirds, and several designs are available. Hummingbird food is simple to make; you just need sugar and clean water. DO NOT use any other sweetener – including honey or other types of sugar –just your standard white table sugar. Use four parts water to one part sugar. Bring the water to a rolling boil, add in sugar and stir until it dissolves, then turn off the heat. Do not cook it too long or it will start to caramelize. Let the solution cool and you are ready to fill your feeders. Keep extra sugar solution in the refrigerator.

IMPORTANT! If you want to feed hummingbirds you must commit to regularly changing their sugar water food! Sugar water ferments and/or grows mold quickly, and when spoiled it can make hummingbirds sick. Since you will need to clean the feeders about every three days, do not fill them too full or you will waste a lot of sugar solution. Fill them from between ¼ to ½ full, at least until you see how fast the hummers empty them.

DO NOT add red food coloring, and avoid commercial solutions with food coloring. Coloring is not necessary, as most feeders have red parts built in to attract the hummers’ attention. Like spoiled sugar water, food coloring is bad for the hummingbirds’ health.

Every three days, even if your feeders are not empty, clean them thoroughly with hot water and refill them with fresh solution. At the end of the season you should sterilize the feeders either in the dishwasher or using a dilute bleach solution before drying and storing them until next year. I prefer to use glass feeders as these are easier to sterilize.

 

Perky Pet feeder

Perky Pet feeder

A few guidelines on feeder placement – hummingbirds are not at all shy, so you can put feeders near your house where you can enjoy watching their activity. I put one right outside my kitchen window, and hang others around my back yard, especially near trees or bushes where hummingbirds can perch between bouts at the feeder. If you put out more than one feeder (I recommend this!), don’t put them too close, and ideally place them out of sight of each other to avoid their being monopolized by one dominant male.

Salvia leucantha, aka Mexican Sage

Salvia leucantha, aka Mexican Sage

In a good season, you will have dozens of hummingbirds – and the more feeders, the more hummingbirds! I usually put out from 3 to 9 feeders, depending on activity. Of course, hummingbirds also visit flowers for nectar. The classic hummingbird flower is red with a long floral tube, but many others also bring them in. Some good choices are salvias (many varieties), hummingbird bush, coral vine, trumpet creeper, and russelia.

Salvia guaranitica, or Purple Majesty Sage

Salvia guaranitica, or Purple Majesty Sage

Of course, if you have outdoor cats, you should not put out hummingbird feeders or any other kind of bird feeder!

Did you know?

  • Hummingbirds are only found in the Western Hemisphere.
  • Hummingbirds’ jewel-like, glittering colors do not come from pigments, but result from the refraction of light hitting special structures on their feathers.
  • The Bee Hummingbird from Cuba, less than 2.5 inches long, is the world’s smallest bird.
  • The largest hummingbird is the Giant Hummingbird, from Patagonia, Chile. It is about the size of a cardinal, but only weighs half as much (about .65 ounces, or about 1/20th of a pound).
  • The longest hummingbird is the Black-tailed Trainbearer from Colombia. The male’s total length is about 10 inches, including its 6.5 inch tail!
  • The Sword-billed Hummingbird from Ecuador has a 4 inch long beak, almost as long as its body!
  • Check out the PBS Nature special on hummingbirds, “Magic in the Air,” for some amazing footage of these incredible creatures!

Four Ways to give your kid a great birthday at HMNS

Planning a great birthday party for your little tyke can be daunting to say the least, that’s why we’re here — to make sure your kid AND their friends AND you can have a great time at their birthday party!

To top it off we’re running a special of $50 off all remaining 2014 parties* at both of our locations** (including Deluxe Packages!) booked between September 1st-15th, 2014! Don’t miss out!

“What’s a Deluxe Package?” you ask, why it’s only the best way to celebrate in the museum. Here are the four Deluxe Package options:

1. PARTYSAURUS

Party among prehistoric beasts in HMNS’ expansive new Hall of Paleontology and enjoy a spectacular view from above. Click here for more information.

Success Kid Meme - Dinosaur Birthday Party

2. WINGED WONDERLAND

The Cockrell Butterfly Center provides a stunning backdrop for the ultimate butterfly or insect fan! Click here for more information.

Success Kid Meme - Butterfly Birthday Party

3. GALACTIC GATHERING

You and your guests will enjoy an out of this world party in the Arnold Space HallClick here for more information.

Success Kid Meme- Space Birthday Party

4. HALL OF ANCIENT EGYPT

Kids will walk like an Egyptian after exploring the Hall of Ancient Egypt in this Deluxe party! Click here for more information.

Success Kid Meme - Egypt Birthday Party

 

BONUS ADD-ON: SHARK! EXHIBIT PRIVATE TOUR

For a limited time, you can add a private SHARK! exhibit tour (complete with shark touch tank) to any HMNS birthday package!

Success Kid Meme - Shark Birthday Party

 

With all of these great options it’s no wonder why parents and kids alike love HMNS Birthday Parties! Book your 2014 party by September 15 and receive $50 off! Email Birthdays@HMNS.org or call 713-639-4646 to reserve yours today.

 

*To receive the $50 discount, your party must take place in 2014 and must be booked by September 15, 2014
**Some birthday party options are not be available at the HMNS Sugar Land location, please contact one of our Party Planners for more information at Birthdays@HMNS.org or 713-639-4646

Meet Chris Fischer from Ocearch today at HMNS!

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Today at HMNS – meet Chris Fischer, Founding Chairman and Expedition Leader for OCEARCH who will be here today at the opening of our new special exhibition Shark!

Event Details:
Friday, August 29
2:00 – 4:00 p.m.
Glassell Hall in front of Shark! exhibit

Tickets:
FREE for members
Non-Members: Included with purchase of a ticket to our permanent exhibit halls.

About Chris Fischer:
Chris Fischer is the Founding Chairman and Expedition Leader for OCEARCH. Since 2007, he has led 20 global expeditions to advance science and education while unlocking the many mysteries surrounding the life history of white sharks and other giants of the ocean. He has facilitated millions of dollars in collaborative ocean research, supporting the work of over 70 scientists from more than 40 international and regional institutions, through his own financial resources and with the support of partners such as title sponsor Caterpillar Inc. Additional support comes from films sponsor Costa Sunglasses, Education Development partner Landry’s Inc., philanthropists and foundations, and the general public who make contributions through Rally.org.

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His work with OCEARCH has been aired on the National Geographic Channel and HISTORY in over 170 countries and has been documented in over 7,500 global media stories. The work, ranging from satellite tracking to biological studies is helping generate critical data required to better understand the health of our oceans by understanding the health of its apex predators. Fischer is an award-winning member of the Explorer’s Club with 10 flagged expeditions. His collaborative open-sourced approach has generated over 50 scientific papers in process to advance ocean sustainability through data-driven public policy while simultaneously advancing public safety and education.

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Chris’ ultimate goal is to explode the body of knowledge forward by enabling scientists and governments around the globe to generate groundbreaking data on the ocean’s apex predators in an open source environment. He’s also conceived a way to advance STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education through a free, dynamic shark-based OCEARCH K-12 curriculum available at OCEARCH.org, home of the Global Shark Tracker – which is also available as an iPhone and Android App.

Sunday Funday comes to HMNS with Mixers & Elixirs Pluto Pity Party

Extend your Sunday Funday to the Houston Museum of Natural Science August 24 and raise a glass to the infamously demoted Pluto at our Pluto Pity Party!

Come to Mixers & Elixirs and remember the good ol’ days when we had nine planets as you enjoy live music from the Space Rockers and drinks at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Planet or not – Pluto, you’ve stolen our hearts.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a… DWARF PLANET?!

Eight years later, the news of Pluto’s status downgrade from planet to dwarf planet still stings. We have an emotional connection to our solar system — as we should! This is our “cosmic neighborhood” and we are rightly very attached to our neighbors, all orbiting the same brilliant star.

But let’s look at it a different way, shall we?

Maybe this change for Pluto provides for us a way to celebrate how big and diverse our solar system really is! Not only do we have planets — big and small, gaseous and rocky — we have moons, rings, asteroids, comets, and yes, dwarf planets. So it’s not that Pluto isn’t a part of our solar system, it’s just in the outer reaches of the sun’s great gravity.

It’s like we thought Pluto lived in the heights, but then we found out it’s actually living outside the loop… It’s still a part of our community, just a little further away.

So no worries, folks, let’s keep our attachment to Pluto! It’s still cool (literally) and a testament to how much we can learn about our place in the cosmos.

 In that spirit, come down to HMNS Sunday, August 24 and celebrate Pluto!

Pluto’s demotion has been great for one thing though: the internet

 

And if you want some Pluto swag for the party, you’re all set with the Museum Store