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Hummingbirds return with summer approaching

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By Dennis Morgeson

 

One of the most loved creatures to exist in a garden has returned for another fun-filled summer of entertainment for us. I am talking about the hummingbird! I literally don’t know anyone that doesn’t get a little excited to see a hummingbird, especially a gardener. In this article I am going to let you know how to attract and how to feed hummingbirds, but first, a little trivia.

The hummingbird is the smallest species of bird in the world! They are capable of hovering, flying backwards and are the only avian species that can fly upside down and backwards. Most people think there are several different types of hummingbirds in Kentucky, but actually there is only one, the Rubythroat that lives east of the Mississippi River. The male Rubythroat is the one with the large, red spot on its neck and breast. The male Rubythroat weighs only 3.03 grams, or as much as 2.5 paper clips.

Hummingbirds routinely cruise at 27 miles-per-hour but can reach up to 60 miles-an-hour while mating (now that’s dangerous). The hummingbirds wings beat 53 times per second. They have little or no song. A female Rubythroat can eat 2,000 insects per day. They have to eat 100 percent of their body weight in nectar per day just to survive. They cannot smell, find food by sight, feed every five minutes to one hour, based on food source, and often migrate over 500 miles in a single day!

Rubythroats generally arrive in Kentucky by mid-April. Hummingbirds’ favorite foods include nectar from all kinds of flowers and insects. Favorite native plant flowers include native iris, pinks, columbine, and phlox. Mating usually takes place in May, with young arriving in June, with females building the nests and rearing the young.

By late July, migration southwards begins, starting from the north downward. Usually, they don’t leave Kentucky until late Sept. Hummingbirds over winter live in Mexico and the Caribbean Islands. Male hummingbirds generally only live 2.5 years, while females live 3.5 years. Over 50 percent of all young will not survive until adulthood.

Attracting hummingbirds is relatively easy, as long as you feed them and have flowers near by. Feeders should be set out by mid-April to attract the first comers. You may need more than one feeder because each male will defend a feeder. Place feeders out of sight from each other to attract more hummingbirds. Hummingbird feeders don’t have to be elaborate, however red is their favorite color.

When feeding hummingbirds, store-bought nectar mixes are fine, however not needed. You can make your own. A basic recipe consists of four parts water, one part sugar (don’t mix it any stronger), boil the water and sugar for two minutes to kill any harmful bacteria.  Cool the solution in the refrigerator and fill your feeders. Don’t add any dyes or coloring to your feed. It’s not needed and some of them can actually harm the birds.

With all of the sugar water out in the elements, your feeders will need to be cleaned regularly, weekly or bi-weekly. Wash it with a mild soap, rinse with bleach and rinse thoroughly with water. Insects can become a problem, but don’t ever spray insecticides near your feeders. If you follow the recommended mixing rates, bees may not like it. If they do, mix a double strength amount in another feeder and the bees are likely to go to that feeder and leave the one for the birds alone. For ants, just rub petroleum jelly on the wire hanger and the ants can’t get to the feeder.

Hummingbirds need fresh water, so fill baths up daily. They really like fresh nectar, so plant many types of flowers. They also need trees and shrubs to nest and rest in.  An open, sunny area for flying is also preferred.

If you want to plant flowers for attracting hummingbirds, several plant families are the best, such as: the mint family, which includes salvia, bee balm, and hyssop; the honeysuckle family, wild or tame, with the native trumpet honeysuckle as a favorite; the columbines, wild or tame; the bignonia family, which includes trumpet creeper and cross vine; the penstemons; the lobelias, which includes the native cardinal flower, as well as cultivated species; the mallow family, which includes hollyhock, hardy hibiscus and Rose of Sharon; the morning glory family; and woody species, such as buckeye, clethra,  Carolina Silverbell, native and cultivated azaleas and rhododendrons and weigela.  Other particular plants that hummingbirds prefer are nicotiana (flowering tobacco), zinnia, Mexican sunflower, snapdragon, obedient plant, foxglove, cleome and canna.

If you don’t have some of the hummingbirds favorite plants, then now is a good time to plant some. You will get a multitude of benefits, such as beauty, butterflies, and most of all, the summer-long excitement of hummingbirds in your garden!  If you have any questions call 336-7741. Happy gardening!