SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas (ValleyCentral) — As you gaze upon this diminutive Ruby-throated Hummingbird precariously perched on a tiny twig, you cannot help but marvel at the incredible journey of this intrepid traveler.
The thumb-sized bird, weighing less than a nickel, is resting and refueling in southernmost Texas, has just flown from perhaps Canada, and may continue on to Costa Rica to spend winter…a distance of some 4,000 miles one way.
While most ruby-throats will likely take a land route around the Gulf of Mexico on fall migration, the primordial urge of staking out breeding territory will spur them directly across the gulf during spring migration.
Launching itself at dusk with a tailwind from the coastal jungle of the Yucatan and flying in solitude for some 20 hours through the night, the diminutive dynamo will finally reach landfall on the shore of South Padre Island.
It is a perilous journey at best, but if the exhausted traveler encounters a late season norther while winging it across the treacherous 500-mile Gulf, it may never complete the crossing.
While fall does not feature the frenzied urgency of spring migration across the formidable Gulf, dangers lurk throughout the entire migratory journey.
This female ruby-throat that has been spending the past week in the backyard is missing all of her tail feathers.
As she flits from bloom to bloom, you might not notice at first glance that she’s tail-less, but when you slow her flight it becomes quite apparent that something snatched her rudder…perhaps a cat or bird of prey.
Hummingbirds do molt annually in summer, losing their feathers naturally, but that normally takes place prior to migration.
The good news is, she has plenty of blooms to nurture her as she gradually grows back those missing tail feathers and will hopefully be fully feathered to continue her remarkable migration.