Take a second look!
Trumpet Vine, Cuphea, Turks Cap and Salvia are putting on a show now. This means it’s almost time for Hummingbirds. But, what looks like a Hummingbird, hovers like one, but is not a Hummingbird? A Sphinx Moth. They’re so named because their caterpillars lift and arch their necks when disturbed, supposedly resembling the Giant Sphinx of Egypt. They are also called Hummingbird Moths because unlike moths that feed at night, they are active during the day, hovering over nectar-rich flowers just like a Hummingbird. At night you may see them feeding at flowers planted under very bright street lights.
The White-Line Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata) has a big round body nearly 3-inches long, with whirring wings that span up to 3-inches and a long proboscis — the extendable tube or “tongue” that looks like a Hummingbird’s beak. https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Hyles-lineata
Another diurnal (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/diurnal) Sphinx Moth that masquerades as a Hummingbird is the Tersa Sphinx, a sleek-looking moth that is tan and golden-colored. Its Latin name, Xylophanes tersa, refers to the Greek myth of Phanes, a primordial being that hatched from the cosmic egg, giving rise to the universe. A great story! Perhaps you have seen its caterpillar, a green or brown worm with big white eye-spots behind its head. It arches its neck when disturbed making the eye-spots look menacing to any would-be predator. https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Xylophanes-tersa
The real thing!
Donald Ray Burger, a local attorney and avid gardener, has been tracking Hummingbirds fall appearance, in the Houston Heights. From his notes they have shown up in August, sometimes very late in the month. He suspects it’s due to the recent drought. At RCW, being further north, we see them about late July to early August. They remember us for the Vitex, Esperanza, Texas Star Hibiscus, and other blooming annuals, perennials, and shrubs. These summer blooming plants bear the nectar-rich flowers they need to survive the trip to their winter grounds in southern Mexico, Central and South America, and the West Indies. This web site, https://www.learner.org/jnorth/ is a very cool thing your family can take part in. Create an account and log in to help track the siting and migration of several species of animals and birds. You can also help track the flowering and leafing out of certain plants. You and your kids can become citizen scientists and help real scientists collect the data they need. I joined this past spring and they have not flooded me with emails or spammed me.
It’s not too late to plant Hummingbird attracting plants. They’ll thank you for getting their roots out of the pot by establishing themselves quickly and blooming profusely. Just plant them either early morning or late evening when it’s cooler for you. You’ll enjoy a spectacular show of visiting Hummingbirds.
Other feathered friends
It’s hot out! The only thing one wants to do is to enjoy a nice cool drink while sitting in the swimming pool. Well, birds feel the same way. They seek out shallow areas of water to wash out the dust in their feathers, and quench their thirst. A subdivision’s lake or puddles on the driveway just don’t fit the bill (sorry for the pun). The lake is too deep, and the puddle doesn’t have enough water. So make sure that you have a shallow bird bath with sloping sides that can hold about 1 to 2 inches of water at its deepest point. If your bird bath is too deep and you never see birds in it, try placing a good number of small rocks (golf ball sized, give or take) into the bath to make it shallower. Refill it daily, whatever they don’t use will evaporate almost overnight. The birds will stay in your yard eating those pesky grasshoppers, mole-crickets and a host of other insect thugs. And don’t worry about harboring mosquito larvae, they prefer standing water. If you are still concerned about mosquito larvae, drop a small piece of a Mosquito Dunk into the water. https://www.summitchemical.com/mosquito/mosquito-dunks/ It will only kill the larvae. It is harmless to other animals…including humans.