As a boy, Bard Letsinger spent afternoons sitting on his grandfather’s back porch in northern Louisiana, watching hummingbirds flutter about.

These days, they visit Letsinger’s own home just north of Victoria, where he has hung three feeders and planted yellow bells and purple vitex trees to attract the tiny birds as they migrate through South Texas. Lately, he’s seen 40, 50, even 60 of them congregating on a regular basis.

“At this time of year, we’re getting literally flocks, bunches of hummingbirds coming in,” Letsinger said. “I’ve gone through three 4-pound bags of sugar in the last eight days.”

September marks the peak of the ruby-throated hummingbird’s annual southward migration. After breeding in a region spanning the Great Lakes, Midwest and southern Canada, the birds often gather in large numbers in Texas before completing their trip, which typically ends somewhere between Mexico and Costa Rica, said Clifford Shackelford, an ornithologist with the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife.

“Texas is like a gas station for refueling on their long journey,” Shackelford said.

Researchers believe that ruby-throated hummingbirds fly directly across the Gulf of Mexico in the springtime in order to reach their breeding grounds quickly, said Susan Heath, director of research at the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory in Lake Jackson. However, in the fall, the birds seem to stack up along the coast and travel around the Gulf — possibly because they’re in less of a hurry — which explains the large numbers observed during the September migration.

“In the fall, they take the safer, longer route,” Heath said.

Letsinger has already observed two migratory waves this month. A minor cold front drove the birds away in early September, but they soon returned in force.

The cooler weather arriving this week, with evening temperatures in the upper 50s, could drive the birds away again, but Shackelford said the hummingbirds are likely to continue arriving from farther north into October.

“It won’t push all of them out,” he said. “In fact, it will bring new ones to us.”

While some Victoria residents, including Letsinger, have been working to attract hummingbirds to their property for years, other residents said it hasn’t taken much more than patience, good fortune and a few bags of sugar to fill their porches and backyards with avian visitors.

JoAnna Powell, who lives in Quail Creek, has hung feeders for about four or five years, typically attracting a half-dozen birds at most. But this year, she’s routinely seen about 15 to 20. Her 5-year-old granddaughter has become enthralled with the birds.

“Yesterday, she stood up on a ladder, and one of them landed on her finger,” Powell said. “I didn’t think she would be that interested — they don’t keep their attention span too long — but she stood there for 15, 20 minutes.”

Any first-time backyard birders can purchase a decent feeder for less than $20, Powell said. While hummingbirds are known to compete over nectar, dive bombing each other to control a feeder, placing several feeders close together usually allows a flock of them to coexist.

The birds enjoy homemade nectar consisting of four parts water to one part sugar. Letsinger recommends bringing the water to a rolling boil before pouring the sugar in so that it dissolves properly. Cleaning your feeders regularly is a must to ensure the birds don’t get sick, he said.

“My two feeders, the 12-flower feeders, hold a quart each, and I will fill it up at night, because they’ll be there at first light,” Letsinger said. “By three in the afternoon, they’ve got both of them drained. By dark, they’ve got them drained again.”

While ruby-throated hummingbirds are the predominant species passing through Texas this time of year, the black-chinned hummingbird and rufous hummingbird can also be seen in Victoria, said Cheryl Johnson, a Victoria resident who has written a half-dozen children’s books on backyard birding.

Some of those birds spent the winter in Texas, which is why Shackelford recommends leaving feeders out even after the ruby-throated migration ends.

“We recommend year-round placement of feeders in case an overwintering individual sets up shop in your neighborhood,” he said.

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Mark Rosenberg reports on local, regional and breaking news for the Victoria Advocate as a Report for America corps member. He can be reached at mrosenberg@vicad.com or 361-574-1264 or on Twitter at @markrosenberg32. To support local journalism at the Advocate through Report for America, go to VictoriaAdvocate.com/report.

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Mark Rosenberg covers local, regional and breaking news for the Advocate as a Report for America corps member. Questions or tips? Contact: mrosenberg@vicad.com or call 361-574-1264.

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