Each fall thousands of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds migrate from Canada through Mississippi to their winter home in Mexico and Central America. Moving like a river of birds, they traverse the fields and woods of Strawberry Plains Audubon Center, near Holly Springs, MS, just south of Memphis. Visitors to the Center September 5-7 will have a chance to see these tiny titans up close as the birds pause to fuel up for their daunting journey, which includes a non-stop 500-mile flight over the Gulf of Mexico.

Hummers are vital to our ecosystem because they are pollinators. According to Birdlife International, 48 species in the Hummingbird family are Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable or Near Threatened. (The breakdown goes like this: 9 species are Critically Endangered, 14 Endangered, 19 Near Threatened, and 6 Vulnerable, totaling 48 species worldwide.) 

Hummingbird habitat is being lost to development and fragmentation, as forests give way to logging, and crops. All of these changes can impact hummingbird populations. The status of the Ruby-throated population is robust, however, and bodes for a spectacular migration in Mississippi, where the little birds are already arriving.  

The September 5-7 celebration, one of the largest Audubon-sponsored nature festivals in the country, coincides with the peak of the Ruby-throated migration south. Nature enthusiasts of all ages are invited to the Strawberry Plains Audubon Center at 285 Plains Road, in Holly Springs, MS, described as an "outdoor lover's paradise" by The Tupelo Daily Journal.

"Hummingbirds may be small in size, but they are mighty in their impact as ambassadors for nature and conservation," said Madge Lindsay, executive director of Audubon Mississippi. "When you see one of these fragile looking birds up close, you can't help but be inspired by the amazing diversity of life on our planet. It is breathtaking to think that a creature weighing a tenth of an ounce can survive such a perilous, long journey." Indeed the non-stop leg across the Gulf of Mexico is only part of the birds' long voyage between Canada and South America.

People up and down the flyway help these birds along their way by providing fuel, sugar and water, at hummingbird feeders, or flowering plants that hummers prefer. Tips for attracting hummers to your backyard will be provided by Audubon staff at the festival, including Kristin Lamberson. For background see www.audubon.org/bird/at_home/hummingbirds/index.html

Renowned experts Bob and Martha Sargent of the Hummer/Bird Study Group will provide insights on the birds and their behavior. As each bird visits one of the Sargent's enclosed feeders, it will be caught, banded, and released. The Sargent's banding crew helps visitors see the birds in all of their colorful glory, an ideal opportunity for photographers. Some visitors will even have a chance to release banded birds back into the wild. [See the video ]

Banding is a way to unravel the mysteries of migration. The tiny numbered leg bands enable scientists to determine how far into Mexico or Central America the birds go for the winter, where they stop during their travels, how long they live, and whether they come back to the same sites year after year. At the 2007 festival over 250 individual hummingbirds were banded, a record for Strawberry Plains Audubon Center. Some birds banded return to this exact location the same time every year!

This year's festival includes a number of new programs, including Diverse Members of the Owl Family with Cliff Shackelford and "Four Centuries of a Mississippi Landscape" with author Hubert McAlexander, whose new book describes the history of Strawberry Plains Audubon Center. Popular returning presenters include Rob Mies, President of the Organization for Bat Conservation who will describe the conservation challenges for these often misunderstood mammals. Storyteller Brian "Fox" Ellis will recount the Adventures of John James Audubon, and there will be guided nature walks, wagon rides, and hummingbird viewing from historic Davis House. A market featuring regional vendors will appeal to early Christmas shoppers and anyone looking for special gifts for nature lovers. Native plants attractive to hummingbirds will be on sale.

For more information on the Ninth Annual Hummingbird Migration Celebration events, please visit www.msaudubon.org or call the Strawberry Plains Audubon Center, at 662-252-1155. 
Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors, $5 for children under 12; admission for 12-passenger vans and buses is $7 per person. All parking is free. 

photos for media use

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