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THE OUTDOORS ALMANAC | MIGRATIONS

Rush hour on the flyway

June 29, 2004

Feeders filled with sugar water draw hummingbirds, and hummingbirds draw people. Not manic birders out to pad their life lists, but ordinary folk who fall hard for the lightweight creatures. In July and August, thousands of hummers converge on more than 20 feeders at Audubon's Kern River Preserve near Bakersfield. "This is the major migration pathway for these birds that weigh as much as three or four paper clips," says Bob Barnes, outreach director for the preserve. "You realize they are on their way to Mexico or on their way to Canada. People come here and are just blown away." Even Barnes, who has been birding for 32 years, confesses he can't tear himself away from the "little puffs of life swarming the feeders like bees." About 2,000 to 3,000 buzz through in one day during summer; gawkers can expect to see 100 to 150 clustered on feeders, and more on wires or in trees awaiting their turn for a drink. (Hummingbirds' supersonic metabolism demands fuel every 20 or 30 minutes; the preserve goes through roughly 2 gallons of sugar water each day.) It's nearly impossible to distinguish between Allen's and rufous, two of the six species that show up here, in the wild. The licensed handlers who band about 100 hummers during the preserve's Hummingbird Celebration, from July 24 to 26, will look for subtle differences in tail feathers to identify the species. Visitors who rouse themselves from hummingbird stupor can also spot yellow-billed cuckoo and summer tanager at that time of year. Go to www.valleywild.org/hummer_fest.htm.

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