Hang up the feeders, hummingbirds are here
By By Steve Strong / area horticulture agent
April 2, 2003
Like clockwork around the final week of March, the winged wonders known affectionately as hummingbirds began to arrive from the coast. First described by early Spanish explorers as "joyas voladores," or flying jewels, hummingbirds in various sizes and colors will visit your garden this spring in search of food and shelter.
Hummers are likely to be especially hungry this year, with the late cold snap possibly reducing some of their early season flower-food sources. Sugar-water feeders provide nourishment when natural food is in short supply, and a homemade solution of nectar is as simple as 1 part white sugar to four parts water.
You should clean out old feeders each spring before using them again, and clean them regularly every few days during hot weather to prevent mold from growing in the solution. Be sure to boil the sugar solution each time for a couple minutes to remove bacteria and chlorine from the water.
Hanging feeders are an easy way to supply food for migrating hummers, and they can also make the viewing more enjoyable when placed near windows or patios. Keep in mind that pet cats or other household threats may shy birds away from feeders (that goes for bird seed feeders, too), so place feeders in an open and safe location where birds feel protected.
Partly shaded areas keep the sugar-water cooler and fresher, prolonging the shelf-life and reducing mold growth. It is a myth that hummingbirds will refuse to leave the feeders when they should be migrating south for winter, and it actually helps the late traveling hummers from north if you leave the feeders out even during periods of frost in the late fall (year-round is ok, too).
You should not add red food coloring to the sugar-water solution, as the birds can easily figure out how to use the feeder without the additives. Also, never use honey or a sugar substitute in the solution.
Some interesting facts are that hummers can fly in any direction, even upside down, with wings beating 50 times a second. These avian acrobats must feed every 15 minutes just to keep up their strength, and consume the equivalent of 150,000 calories a day (of the 340 known species all native to the Western Hemisphere, 21 regularly visit North America, with the ruby-throated hummer as the most common in our area).
Hummingbirds are attracted to most any brightly colored flowers with a tubular shape that might contain nectar or insects, not just red ones like cypress vine, honeysuckle and petunia. Other garden favorites that offer a myriad of colors include monarda (bee balm), lantana, hibiscus, salvia, butterfly bush, begonia, impatiens, phlox, cardinal flower and mimosa.
Although often battled as a noxious weed, the bright orange blooming trumpetcreeper, properly called campsis radicans (sold in catalogs as hummingbird vine), is a hummer's delight. Like many of the other plants listed, trumpetcreeper blooms for several months during the growing season, providing food and added flowering beauty to enhance your hummingbird hacienda.
Contact the county Extension Service office at 482-9764 to learn more about attracting hummingbirds to your garden, or visit us online at www.msucares.com. The local Okatibbee Creek chapter of the Audubon Society, another great resource for hummingbird lovers and other bird watchers, can be reached at 681-9558.
Until next week, happy hummingbirding everyone.