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Check out these birds while there's still time

Spend a day watching and learning about hummingbirds before they fly south for the winter.

The second annual Reedy Creek Nature Center Hummingbird Festival will take place 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturday at Reedy Creek Park, 2900 Rocky River Road.

The center's visitors see one of the state's smallest birds during regular hours. The festival is designed to encourage support and conservation of hummingbirds.

Games, crafts, storytelling and other free activities will celebrate the start of the migration season, when the birds are here in great numbers.

Many won't survive to return to North Carolina next year.

“Birds that stay in one place are not as vulnerable,” said Staci Clark, environmental educator at Reedy Creek Nature Center.

Hummingbirds are a delight to watch for many reasons. The 3-inch, fast-flying birds have iridescent feathers that are unique to their species, and their love of sweet nectars makes them easy to attract.

They flap their wings about 50 times per second, creating a sound that often is the first clue that this curious bird is near.

“They're a very unique species,” said Susan Campbell, a hummingbird researcher and a featured guest at the festival. “They can do things that other birds can't. They can fly upside down and backwards. They're the only species that can hover.”

Although as many as seven hummingbird species can be found in North Carolina, the ruby-throated hummingbird nests here, often hatching two broods in a summer. That helps their numbers swell.

Males migrating from the North stop to feed on insects, which are in great supply here.

Reedy Creek Nature Center has 11 hummingbird feeders ready in its gardens. Visitors can see the birds there or from a bird-viewing area inside.

“If you stand in the garden, you can see 10 at a time, if you know what you're looking for,” Clark said.

But they'll be gone by September. Hummingbirds tolerate cold poorly, so they travel 500 miles or so nonstop to Central America and other places.

Yet hummingbirds, like hawks and falcons, often struggle to find suitable habitats that meet their needs for shelter, food and water.

Many Central American countries have cleared forests to make way for agricultural products such as coffee.

Hummingbirds also face challenges when they return. Pollution, predators and collisions with manmade structures take a toll on hummingbirds, which often fly at night.

In Mecklenburg, residents can grow native plants such as Carolina jasmine and cardinal flower to help feed the birds.

The festival will present these and other strategies for supporting and protecting hummingbirds.

“The purpose is to draw attention to conservation efforts,” Clark said of the festival. “It's to raise awareness of migratory birds and the pressures they face when they fly south.”

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