Hummingbird season is upon us, and local gardeners share their insight into how to attract these delicate visitors to your yard.
Anyone who has ever put out a hummingbird feeder knows the joys of watching these tiny birds flit from place to place. The smallest species of bird, the ruby-throated hummingbird is the most commonly seen variety in Central Virginia, appearing in mid-April after a winter migration to Mexico.
According to the National Park Service’s hummingbird information, North American hummingbirds average about 53 wing beats per second in normal flight. The incredible speed of their wings is what makes these birds so fascinating to watch, and they almost never stop moving.
Surviving on a diet of mosquitoes, fruit flies and gnats, the quick-moving birds need a lot of glucose to keep up their energy for all that flapping. They get much of this glucose from nectar found in flowers, but have also known to sip tree sap or fruit juice.
A hummingbird must consume approximately half its weight in sugar daily, and the average hummingbird feeds five to eight times per hour. Using long forked tongues to lick nectar out of trumpet-shaped flowers, the birds are most attracted to flowers that are red, orange, yellow or purple, according to Kip Cain of the Spotswood Trail Garden Club.
“Trumped shaped (flowers) are best,” Cain said. “Examples of these are honeysuckle, fuschia and calibricoa. They also love bee balm, zinnias and salvia, and as they search for flowers for nutrition they also help with pollinating.”
Hummingbird enthusiasts often purchase nectar to fill feeders on a patio or deck to attract the beautiful birds to come and visit, and since they come and go so quickly it takes patience to see them and even more so to catch a photograph of one in flight. They very rarely stop moving as their hearts beat approximately 1,200 times per minute (compared to 60-100 beats per minute for an average human heart).
“The proper recipe for nectar is 4 parts water to 1 part cane sugar,” Cain said. “Mix together and boil for 10 minutes, and use only white cane sugar, never honey or other sugars.”
While the bright food coloring found in many store-bought nectar varieties is not necessary or healthy for the birds, hummingbirds are attracted to bright colors—not scent—when choosing where to eat, so plant bright-colored flowers in your garden or use brightly colored feeders for your nectar to make sure they find their way to your feeder.
Hummingbirds can also be territorial, so it is important not to place multiple feeders too close together or you risk birds fighting over the feeders. Keep in mind that cats, raccoons and even bears may be attracted to the sweet smell of the sugary syrup as well and be mindful of where you hang the feeder in your yard.
Only found in the western hemisphere, most of the more than 300 species of hummingbirds live in Central and South America, with only around 26 of those species visiting the United States annually. Many make long-distance flights to migrate to Mexico in the winter and return to breed in North America when the weather gets warmer.
For more information about hummingbirds and the best ways to view and protect these beautiful little birds, visit nps.gov/articles/hummingbirds.htm.