Winged Wonders: Welcoming Hummingbirds to Galveston

Creating a safe haven and healthy environment for these tiny, winged wonders

By Donna Gable Hatch
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As the colorful hues of spring begin to appear, so too do the graceful wings of Ruby-throated hummingbirds, heralding their annual migration to Texas. 

 From mid-March to mid-May, these tiny avian marvels embark on a journey that transcends mere flight. Engaging in breeding activities from early April to early September, they paint the Texas skies with their aerial acrobatics, enriching the ecosystem with their presence. 

Nestling egg-laying takes place between April 14 and June 22. During this time, they nurture the next generation, ensuring the perpetuation of their lineage. 

 Regardless of individual interests, hummingbirds tend to resonate with people and can even help alleviate avian-related fears, providing a gentle entry point into bird appreciation. Their allure draws birdwatchers, photographers, and tourists to distant locales, where they bear witness to nature's spectacle.

 “Every year, we see them passing through the Upper Texas Coast on their way north,” said Galveston resident Jim Stevenson, a prolific author with 11 books under his belt, focusing primarily on bird-related topics. “In the peak of their migration, thousands [of hummingbirds] a day will pass by headed north.” 

 In the orchestration of the natural world, hummingbirds emerge as virtuosic performers, their influence echoing throughout ecosystems with profound resonance. 

 These pollination maestros are indispensable players that keep our ecosystem humming along, weaving vital threads that sustain the delicate balance of nature. Their diminutive frames belie their monumental impact. 

 Stevenson said the hummingbird flits from flower to flower with delicate grace, serving as nature's most efficient pollinator. 

 “They help cross-pollinate flowers, providing the same important work many bees do. They are not fed on often but will eat quite a few non-biting insects.” 

 Yvette Stewart, Outreach Coordinator for Youth Leadership Programs at Audubon Texas, said hummingbirds are designed to collect nectar.

 “From their ability to hover and fly backward, to their incredible spatial memory, they are beautifully adapted to visit many flowers during each feeding session,” Stewart said. 

 Placeholder image“As hummers move from flower to flower, collecting nectar, they’re pushing their long bills and sometimes their foreheads against stamens, collecting pollen from each flower, then mixing it with the next flower they visit.” 

 Their slender bills, perfectly adapted for sipping nectar, delve deep into tubular blooms, inadvertently becoming agents of pollination. As they partake in this floral feast, they unwittingly transfer pollen from one blossom to another, catalyzing the reproduction of countless plant species, she said. 

 The fruits of their labor yield succulent fruits and ensure the perpetuation of genetic diversity within our botanical realms.

 With each sip, they facilitate the cross-pollination of disparate plant species, nurturing the rich tapestry of life that defines our ecosystems. As seeds cling to their feathers or beaks, they embark on journeys to new territories, facilitating the colonization of uncharted landscapes and fostering biodiversity. 

 Attracting Hummingbirds People can help facilitate the biodiversity waltz by choosing to include native flowering plants that attract hummingbirds, such as red columbine, coral honeysuckle, Texas sage, trumpet creeper, firebush, and lantana. 

 “First and foremost, plant native [flora] and plant as wide of variety as possible. Just like humans, hummers need a variety of foods in their diet, which they get from foraging from different plants. Nectar supplied by different plants varies in sugar, fat, and protein contents,” she said, adding several studies show hummingbirds prefer yellow and red flowers. 

 “Folks who own property, whether small plots or large ranches, can help protect and preserve the hummingbird habitat by planting more appropriate natives for the type of habitat they own and reducing mowing so flowers have a chance to grow to their full potential and produce blossoms the hummers will feed from,” Stewart said. 

 “Also, hummers need insects. Leave [fallen] leaves in the garden, as those are often breeding and hiding spots of the types of insects that hummingbirds need for fuel.”

 For those lacking gardening skills or space, hummingbird feeders offer an excellent solution to attract these delightful birds to your yard. When considering which feeder to purchase, Stewart has a few recommendations. 

 She recommends that you choose feeders with yellow and red color schemes, as hummingbirds are drawn to these hues. Also, choose simple feeders with wide-mouth containers for sugar water, making them easy to clean with a bottle brush and minimizing mold growth in hard-to-reach areas. Look for feeders with perches and multiple feeding openings. 

 Once you have the feeder, the type of sustenance you choose to provide for hummingbirds is important.

Jean Lafitte 


 “It is imperative folks only use white sugar and water for hummingbird mix. The pre-made, red-colored food can be fatal to hummers. They cannot process red dye. Why people insist on selling it is beyond me,” she said. 

 “Anyone who cares for hummers should never use red dye in anything put out for birds. Also, hummers cannot process fake sugars, so if you don’t use real sugar in your house, you cannot substitute sugar in the food mix with stevia, Sweet’N Low, or anything else. Even brown sugar and honey are not good for hummingbirds.” 

 “Regular cleaning of feeders is crucial. They need to be cleaned regularly because when the sugar water goes bad, the mold can be fatal to hummers,” Stewart said. 

Jean Lafitte 


 Additionally, provide clean water for bathing by setting up bird baths with shallow ends or installing bubbling fountains with shallow pools. Taking these precautions ensures the well-being of hummingbirds and other birds in your area, she said. 

 To safeguard their habitats is to safeguard the very foundations of life itself, ensuring the perpetual harmony and balance of our shared biosphere, she said. 

 “The biggest threat to hummingbirds is indifference to our environment and feeling powerless to create change,” she said. 

 “One of the most important aspects of the Texas Leaders in Conservation program is the belief everyone can create meaningful change and our voices are powerful, regardless of what skills and interests we have.” 

 Helping Hummingbirds Thrive Hummingbirds serve as wonderful introductory birds to spark people's enthusiasm for bird watching and conservation efforts. Their stunning appearance and agile flight patterns make them captivating to observe. While male hummingbirds are easily identifiable with their vibrant colors, females pose a challenge, requiring keen observation skills to distinguish them based on subtle field marks. These birds thrive in various environments, from coastal areas to mountainous regions, and are commonly spotted in both rural and urban settings. 

 Their proximity to human habitation allows for the exciting opportunity to witness females raising their chicks, as males play a minimal role in the nesting process. Utilizing spider silk, hummingbirds craft intricate nests that expand as the chicks grow, highlighting their remarkable engineering abilities. Encouraging the presence of spiders and their webs can aid in this process, she said.

 Unfortunately, hummingbirds, like many migratory bird species, encounter various challenges. These include light pollution and collisions with buildings during migration, habitat loss, decreased food, availability in breeding and overwintering areas, and the unpredictable effects of climate change. 

 Additionally, the presence of feral and indoor/outdoor cats poses a significant threat to their survival. However, individuals can take personal actions and advocate for public initiatives to assist all migrating birds, with a focus on hummingbirds. 

 For those who want to be part of the solution, there are several ways to help. A good first step would be to engage in Lights Out Texas!, a campaign of education, awareness, and action that focuses on protecting the billions of migratory birds traveling through Texas. 

Building owners, businesses, developers and homeowners can help protect migrating birds by turning off all non-essential nighttime lighting on buildings and other structures from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. each night. 

 Galveston's active program encourages turning off lights during both spring and fall migrations, which are longer and more spread out than commonly perceived. Passerines typically migrate north from March to June, and south from August to November, with peak migration occurring from mid-April to the end of May in spring and mid-September to November in fall.

 You can use resources like Cornell's migration tracker and BirdCast, to monitor bird movements and contribute by turning off unnecessary lights. This conserves energy and reduces the risk of birds becoming disoriented by urban lighting, aiding their navigation without compromising safety standards. 

 You can also protect hummingbirds and other migratory birds by installing Acopian barriers, stickers, UV paint, or other bird-friendly glass deterrents to minimize bird collisions with windows. 

 Advocate for regulations in local communities requiring the use of bird-friendly lighting and glass in new and renovated structures. Prioritizing smart construction practices enhances the beauty of our communities while supporting bird conservation efforts. 

 Encourage responsible pet ownership by keeping cats indoors and out of parks. While this may be challenging, it is crucial as cats are non-native predators that pose significant threats to bird populations. 

 “Hummingbirds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which makes it illegal to purposefully harm these exuberant birds,” Stewart said. 

 “There are several conservation organizations working to protect hummingbirds, either because of the role they play in ecosystems, because they’re a migratory bird, or simply because they’re some of the smallest and most colorful birds in the western hemisphere - and arguably, the world.” 

 For more information about Audubon Texas, visit For a list of native plants good for birds, visit or Native Plant Society of Texas at 

 For more information about the Galveston Ornithological Society, visit, or email Jim Stevenson at 

 (BOX) How to clean a hummingbird feeder To maintain a hummingbird-friendly garden, establish a weekly hummingbird feeder cleaning routine and monitor nectar levels, especially during hot weather. The following steps will help keep hummingbirds humming along: Gather Your Supplies: You'll need dish soap, distilled white vinegar, a bottle brush, a microfiber towel, warm water, and a sink or a dishpan. Prepare the Cleaning Solution: Mix one quart of water with one-fourth cup of distilled white vinegar in your sink or dishpan. Disassemble the Feeder: Take apart the reservoir, base, and any other detachable parts to ensure a thorough cleaning. Clean the Reservoir: Use a bottle brush to scrub gently, paying close attention to crevices and hard-to-reach areas. Rinse Thoroughly: Rinse all parts with warm water to remove any leftover cleaning solution and debris. Dry with Care: Use a microfiber towel to carefully dry each component or allow them to air dry completely. Reassemble and Refill: Once everything is dry, put the feeder back together and refill it with fresh nectar.