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Master Naturalists: Birds adapt to their environments

By Paul and Mary Meredith
March 8, 2012 at midnight
Updated March 7, 2012 at 9:08 p.m.

Wintering birds are attracted to cover, such as this thornless native acacia, because it offers them shelter, protection from predators, and - in milder winters - a food source.  Small insects and small spiders are the primary source of protein for hummingbirds like this one.

In 1999, an extinct ivory-billed woodpecker was reported sighted in the Pearl River area of Southeast Louisiana. We've been told repeatedly no sighting was reported there. We learned of it because we lived somewhat west of there, and our newspaper reported the sighting. Now it's online - "the Pearl River sighting." Follow-up searches haven't yet publicly documented the bird's presence. But the sighting is listed in some respected birding sources. Since then, there have been other sightings, but none documented. Whether the bird is or is not extinct remains a mystery.

From that we've learned birds may understand better how to deal with their world than we do. After all, what would it gain if man knew it was in the Pearl River basin? It might lose.

Hummingbirds change their migration flyway

At a hummingbird celebration, a Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory staffer reported that one year no hummers appeared at their autumn hummingbird celebration. Later, they learned why. Arizona's dry weather that year left a 50-mile wide habitat in eastern Arizona with no flowers blooming. The hummers realized it and detoured east through northern New Mexico. That area had blooms for them to feed on. Once refueled for their long flight, they headed south again toward the warmer areas where they spend their winters.

Whooping cranes, Cajun Country birds

The whoopers this year remind us what happens with some birds when they cannot find enough to sustain them along their customary migration routes. Some winters, it also happens with geese and ducks in Cajun Country. At some point, it's change or die.

One of our special hummingbirds

Several years after we arrived in Victoria, a female hummer perched motionless three solid days in our bridal wreath bush - just 3 feet away from the breezeway we use frequently - while on her spring migration northward. She sat, then flew to one of our quieter feeders - 8 feet from the bush - to drink, then returned to her bush to perch again. After day three, she flew away; we didn't see her again. She resumed her migration north, once she regained some of her usual weight. Hummers eat more before migrating and weigh about one fourth above their normal weight when they start their migration across the Gulf's waters. They weigh about three fourths of their normal weight when finishing the across-water migration.

Changing migration routes

The newer edition of Shackelford, Lindsay and Klym's book, "Hummingbirds of Texas," reports updated sightings of hummingbird species in Texas. More recent hummingbird sightings indicate some species may be migrating along a flyway east of their route a few years ago.

Paul and Mary Meredith are master naturalists. Contact them at



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