HOLLY SPRINGS – Thousands of folks are converging with thousands of winged jewels this weekend at Mississippi Audubon’s Hummingbird Migration Celebration.
The festival, which takes place at the former plantation named Strawberry Plains, features hikes and hayrides, sights and seminars, flowers and feathers and more.
At Friday’s workshops and exhibits, one could pet an alligator, learn what scat reveals, find native plants to replace the aliens that rob birds of the insects most of them – including hummingbirds – need to survive.
Maera Elkins of Hickory Withe, Tenn., was fascinated with the Hummingbird Celebration’s guests of honor.
“I’ve just never seen so many hummingbirds at one time,” she said, watching the sipping, flying and battling surrounding the mass of feeders outside the plantation home’s sunroom.
Merdell Thomas of Sandersville had felt one’s heartbeat and said, “I never dreamed you could hold one in your hands.” Noting she has several feeders at home, she added, “I love my hummingbirds.”
Fred Bassett, a certified bird bander from the Hummer/Bird Study Group, demonstrated how tiny identifying bracelets are used to track the animals’ migration and lifespan. Noting that much of a hummingbird’s diet comes from insects and nectar, he dispelled concerns that sugar water hurts them.
“They’re stopping at your feeders to help them get fat,” he told the crowd watching him work. “Fat may not be good for you and me, but it’s good for them. They’re going to fly 18 hours nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico.”
People at the Hummingbird Celebration on Friday were retirees, toddlers, schoolchildren, young parents and middle-aged folks.
Harold Murphy of Holly Springs did the brickwork in the restoration of Strawberry Plains’ antebellum Davis Home, but Friday he was helping run Marshall Academy’s concession stand. Charlotte Icardi came from Corinth for the ninth consecutive year to be a volunteer greeter.
“I love birds, and I’ve been in National Audubon for 30 years,” she said.
Ann Miller was one of the New Neighbors group from Collierville, Tenn., that visited.
“We came to the pilgrimage in Holly Springs last spring, and they told us we need to come back for this,” she said. “We saw the publicity and everybody said, ‘Let’s go!’”
Morgan Williams, a 10-year-old Memphis schoolgirl, said she was most fascinated by the hawks and snakes that biologists shared with her classmates.
Gabe Martz, a home-schooled second-grader from Oxford, favored the bats, while his little brother, Jonathan, liked turtles, and their sister, Meg, admitted she liked the hummingbirds best.
“We loved it before and wanted to come back,” said their mother, DeDe Martz.
If the native plants and the birds themselves weren’t enough, the Audubon Society provides nature walks, wagon rides and a host of workshops and demonstrations – including several aimed specifically at children – as part of the Hummingbird Celebration.
One of the best-attended was Douglas Tallamy’s presentation on biodiversity. A professor of entomology and ecology at the University of Delaware, he emphasized the need for a mixture of native species from trees to groundcovers to provide food and habitat for birds and other wildlife.
Oaks, for instance, will support more than 500 species of caterpillars, and black cherries more than 400, while some alien trees support none at all.
“You may not care about caterpillars and other insects, but 96 percent of North American birds feed their young on insects,” he said. “If you want a lifeless landscape, use non-native plants. If you want birds, use native plants.”
Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal