The hummingbirds are back!

Katie Hatzfeld
A Rufous hummingbird arrives in Park City at the end of May. Many of the birds will be here for the summer, when they will feed, lay their eggs and raise their young. In the fall, they will typically undertake their great migration back south, to parts of Mexico and Central America.
Courtesy of Michael Flaherty

After a long migration from their winter homes in Central America or Mexico, hummingbirds have arrived at their northernmost breeding grounds. For some, like the Black-chinned, Broad-tailed, Calliope, Rufous and occasionally Costa’s hummingbirds, Park City is their summer home.

During migration, hummingbirds travel as much as 23 miles a day, flying low and stopping to feed. While traveling, a hummingbird’s wings flap an average of 58 times a second. This interactive map shows the Spring 2023 hummingbird migration patterns in the Americas through May 13.

They will remain here for the summer to raise their young, heading south in July, August and September for the start of their fall migration.

One way to gather data about hummingbirds and their migrations is through banding; the process of catching birds, placing a numbered band on their legs, collecting data about each one, then letting them go. Tonya Kieffer-Selby, the conservation outreach manager at the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, is working on banding projects here in Utah.

“We are trying to gather baseline data for conservation strategies,” says Kieffer-Selby about the banding projects. But research is limited. In Utah, “we do not have that many banders certified to band hummingbirds,” she says. Without the resources, it is difficult to gain more information about these birds, a challenge that Kieffer-Selby and her staff are working to address.  

Utah’s annual hummingbird banding event will be held this year on July 29 from 7-11 a.m. at Red Canyon Lodge. Stay tuned for registration at the end of the month on the DWR website.

“This banding event is a collaborative effort between multiple agencies that are interested in gathering more data on hummingbirds in Utah: U.S .Forest Service, BLM, UDWR, and Red Canyon Lodge,” says Kieffer-Selby. Banders Terry Tolbert and Lisa Young will be present to help educate the public about these unique birds.

Special emphasis this year will be placed on the Rufous hummingbird — recently placed on the “Yellow Watch List” according to Cornell’s All About Birds, the Rufous hummingbird species is at risk of extinction without significant conservation efforts.

Jody Giddings of the Park City Hummingbird Hospital will also be conducting a “citizen science questionnaire” to learn more about hummingbird populations in Summit County. While these visitors remain, locals are encouraged to share hummingbird sightings by texting the Hummingbird Hotline at (801) 228-0831 with any photos, noting the color, size and location of the hummingbird. These results will help gather a count for the area and will be posted to their facebook and instagram @hummingbirdhospital. Follow them for more details on hummingbirds and volunteer opportunities.

Rufous hummingbirds (with copper feathers and black necks) and Calliope hummingbirds (with green feathers and purple necks) feasting on sugar water from a feeder. Courtesy of Utah Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife Resources.
Courtesy of Utah Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife Resources.

As hummingbirds are helpful pollinators, the Park City Hummingbird Hospital encourages residents to skip the sugar water feeders and opt for native plants this summer. Its website states: “Native plants are a great way to attract Hummingbirds to your backyard and require less maintenance than feeders.” It lists 11 high altitude plants that attract hummingbirds, with a variety of sun-loving or shade plants, perennial or annual. These include lupine, catmint, honeysuckle and fox glove.

Sophy Kohler, owner of Park City Nursery, advises the community that “The key to attracting hummingbirds to your yard is to plant lots of flowers and provide habitat that will give them shade, shelter, water, and security from ground level to 10 feet.” The Park City Nursery plans to have hummingbird attractants available for purchase.  

If using feeders, sugar water must be a 4:1 ratio, four cups water to one cup sugar. “Sugar water ferments and can go bad,” says Kieffer-Selby, so feeders must be changed every few days and cleaned effectively.

Most importantly, “never include red dye,” warns Giddings. The birds don’t need the color to recognize the food source, she says. For the health and safety of these birds, make sure to read pre-made formulas and avoid any which include red dye.

Another risk to these birds, who will spend the summer perched on flowers and trees, are cats. “People’s cats are the biggest predator,” says Giddings, adding, “We most often treat cat attacks [at the Hospital].” The Hummingbird Hotline will respond to concerns or questions regarding hummingbirds and other local wildlife.

If you have a chance to see these tiny birds, consider yourself lucky. “Besides pollinating, legend says that [hummingbirds] bring good luck, and Native Americans believed they had the souls of warriors and brought healing powers,” says Giddings.


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