Several of the women in my aerobics class queried me about their loss of hummingbirds. Yes, unfortunately it is the time that the tiniest of our avian buddies move on. It always amazes me that a minuscule creature, a little short of four inches in size and weighing less than one-eighth of an ounce, can migrate from the Vineyard all the way to Mexico and points south.

The Vineyard hummingbird is the ruby-throated hummer (the name given by birders). It is the only hummingbird that breeds east of the Mississippi River and also one of the few U.S. hummers that migrate. The migratory route for years of this tiny bird was determined to be across the Gulf of Mexico to Mexico and then points south as far as Panama. New research results show that a number of the hummingbirds actually fly around the Gulf of Mexico and then further south. The ruby-throated hummer has also been found in the Caribbean islands. It is presumed they arrive in those areas by moving down through Florida to Cuba and Hispaniola.

How can these small birds manage this incredible flight? First they pig out just before they start their trip. Unlike us humans who try to loose weight before a trip, these feathered friends eat twice their body weight daily. If you have had a family of hummingbirds in your yard, you probably watched as the female came to feed. Once fledged, she allowed the youngsters (with a bit shorter bill) to accompany her. At some magic point she felt fall coming on and chased her children away so she could consume as much sugar water as she could in preparation for her trip south. Oh how I wish I could get away with that!

All of a sudden our hummingbirds are gone. This usually happens in September or early October. Off they fly and although we usually clean the hummingbird feeder and fill it with fresh sugar water hoping to draw them back, our efforts are to no avail. The hummers have flown the coop. They headed south at about thirty to thirty-five miles per hour. It has been figured that it takes a hummingbird between eighteen and twenty hours to cross the Gulf of Mexico. Talk about a slow boat to China! So maybe it is time to wash out the feeder for the last time this fall and put it away until next spring.

Now there are exceptions to the rule, so don’t put that feeder away yet. A few years ago a late staying ruby-throated hummingbird appeared on Indian Hill Road that stayed until November, and in West Tisbury there was a rare black-chinned hummingbird visiting a feeder that remained into October of 2007.

Bird Sightings

Tom Rivers watched a chimney swift fly over his Tea Lane house on Sept. 24 and three days earlier he saw an eastern phoebe in his yard.

Lanny McDowell and Mary Dacey walked Squibnocket Beach on Sept. 23 and Lanny photographed a spotted sandpiper. The next day Lanny and Pete Gilmore birded Quansoo and spotted two dunlins, three greater yellowlegs, one lesser yellowlegs, an osprey and a peregrine falcon.

Rob Culbert and his birding group left the regional high school around 9 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 26 and birded several locations. They observed 20 species, including a belted kingfisher, both red-breasted and white nuthatches, both ruby-crowned and golden-crowned kinglets, wood thrush, Baltimore orioles, and pine, yellow-rumped and Blackburnian warblers at the State Forest.

Rusty Walton looked out on his front field on Sept. 26 and spotted an osprey with a fish. Moments later a black-backed gull arrived and the osprey fled and the gull took the fish. Later in the afternoon in the Pricilla Hancock Meadow, Rusty watched a very high flying northern harrier flying overhead. It was either a female or a young bird. At a lower level a young male harrier flew by.

Pete Gilmore and Lanny McDowell birded Aquinnah on Sept. 26. At the Gay Head Cliffs they spotted an American kestrel, a merlin, two Cooper’s hawks, three sharp-shinned hawks, four turkey vultures and a red-tailed hawk. The sparrows they saw were swamp and song. They counted seven dickcissels. Warblers seen included thirty yellow-rumped, two American redstarts, one magnolia, one prairie and two yellow-throats. Pete watched a young Cooper’s hawk playing with American crows in a field near Pete’s house on Sept. 28.

Laurie Walker and Katharine Colon found a clay-colored sparrow, a common yellowthroat and a late staying yellow warbler at Aquinnah on Sept. 24.

Larissa Landry called to say she had birded several spots on the Island on Sept. 25 and 26. Her best birds were great egret, osprey, northern harrier, whimbrel, short-billed dowitcher, eastern wood pewee, house wren and both black-throated green and black and white warblers.

Claudia Rogers reports that the American oystercatchers and greater yellowlegs are still around Little Beach in Edgartown as of Sept. 28.

I joined Douglas Stoltz and Pete Cruikshank on the 28th and we birded Aquinnah and Hancock Beach. Our best birds were peregrine falcon, common loon, red-bellied woodpecker, eastern phoebe, bay-breasted warbler and eastern towhee. Doug and his wife, Francie, and Pete and Alice Cruikshank had been birding hard Sept. 26 and as much as they could in the pouring rain on Sept. 27. The birds of interest they spotted included great cormorant, American wigeon, merlin, palm, blackpoll, Tennessee and magnolia warblers, at West Chop, sharp-shinned hawk and Swainson’s thrush in Oak Bluffs and Cooper’s hawk and red knot and an unidentifiable alcid at Long Point, clay-colored and white-throated sparrows, and yellow-rumped and prairie warblers at Gay Head. Doug noted that there were 110 black-bellied plovers at the Farm Institute on Sept. 27 and 340 laughing gulls at Katama the same day and 270 laughing gulls at Gay Head the day before. He counted 175 common eiders off Gay Head Cliffs on Sept. 26. It was a pleasure to bird with Doug who is a conservation ornithologist with the Environmental Conservation Program of the Field Museum of Chicago. I have learned a great deal from the book Doug, co-authored with the late Ted Parker, John Fitzpatrick and Debby Moskovits entitled Neotropical Birds: Ecology and Conservation.

Geoff Muldaur, Whit Griswold and I birded the Farm Institute, Bluefish Point and Edgartown Great Pond on Sept. 29. Our best birds were a Cooper’s hawk, a sharp-shinned hawk, a merlin and bobolinks.

Lanny McDowell and Bob Shriber birded Aquinnah on Sept. 30. They spotted four peregrine falcons, two Baltimore orioles, rose-breasted grosbeak, ruby-crowned kinglet, magnolia, Blackburnian, prairie, pine, American redstart and blackpoll warblers, yellow-rumped warblers, common yellowthroats and three house wrens. On Sept. 26 Bob spotted an American kestrel at Aquinnah.

Bill Post emailed me that he had a Carolina wren at his feeder at Kitt’s Field on Sept. 30.

Janet Norton had a strange duck in her pond in Edgartown on Sept. 30. It is smaller than a teal and we are going to try to find it and report back.


Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-627-4922 or e-mail to