Invite hummingbirds back next year

Hummingbirds are one of our most beautiful and interesting feathered friends. A Ruby-throated, our one and only common resident hummingbird, weighs about 3 grams and about 1/4 of his body weight is pectoral muscles (flight). Their heart beats 1260 times a minute, except when food is scarce and then they can attain torpor, usually at night and then their heartbeat slows to 50 beats per minute. Their eggs are 1/2″ long.

They consume half their body weight in sugar water each day, feeding five to eight times per hour, spending 30 seconds each time. At migration they can increase their body weight up to 50 per cent enabling them to make the long flight across the Gulf of Mexico, a distance of about 1000 kilometres. A hummer’s wing beats 78 times per second and males can substantially increase this speed during courtship displays or territorial bickering. They can fly forwards and backwards and do somersaults. During courtship the male Ruby-throat executes a large U shaped flight that reaches 20 to 40 feet off the ground at incredible speed. We have had them hovering at our living room window looking in at us. The average life span for a Ruby-throat is 4 years but some live as long as 12 years. At nesting time the female usually lays two eggs. The nest is covered with lichens and just fits the contours of the females’s body, so as to keep all of the warmth inside the nest as the female incubates. While males may go into torpor at night to conserve energy, incubating females generally do not.

Start in early May
We place our feeders out during the first week in May. Ruby-throats arrive in Southern Ontario usually around the second week in May when wildflowers can still be scarce. According to our bird journal, in 1991 we saw our first hummingbird at 10.45a.m. on May 10. Then in 1993 had first sighting on May 7th. In 1997 on May 10th saw female. This year we did not have a hummingbird at feeders until May 14th. The last time to see a hummer at feeder in 1994 was September 17th. Then on September 24th of 1996 we still had a bird coming to feeders. We remove feeders when there is no longer any activity. This does not encourage the birds to hold back on their migration.

They all do not depend on feeders or flower gardens to survive though. One reason they do manage is often due to the Yellow Bellied Sapsucker. Long before the hummers arrive the sapsucker has drilled rows of small holes in Aspen, Birch and fruit trees, this establishes a dependable flow of sap that will sustain the little hummingbirds when they first arrive in May. Ornithologists believe that the range of the sapsucker determines the range of the Ruby-throats. The composition of floral nectar is very close to tree sap, sucrose comprising between 15 and 25 percent. This sap also attracts insects which other birds as well as hummers feed upon.

Plan plants to attract birds
They can be attracted to your garden by planting flowers, shrubs and vines that produce nectar for these birds. This is a good time of year to plant additional perennials to your garden to enhance the probability of attracting hummers next spring. Such things as honeysuckle, bee balm and delphiniums seem to capture their attention. Indigenous plants are excellent. Quinte Conservation has lists of native trees and shrubs, while most nurseries can also be helpful. Herbaceous plants such as Cardinal flower, Fuscia, Lupine, Nasturtium and Sweet William are readily available in spring while shrubs such as butterflyfly bush, currant and weigelia, also wildflowers such as phlox, mallow, mint and lily add to the attractiveness of your garden.

Commercial feeders are excellent, not only because they are well used by the hummingbirds but also one can place them in a strategic spot, preferably where the birds may be regularly observed. A mixture of sugar and water comprised of 1 part sugar to 4 parts water, boiled for 2 minutes and then placed in the refrigerator in a jar to cool and store. When filling feeders one must be sure to warm the refrigerated solution to about 70 degrees. It is not necessary to add red colouring as it may be harmful. Most feeders have red to attract the birds. The solution should be changed and cleaned every 2 days in hot weather, not as often in cooler weather, as the liquid is susceptible to mold and fermentation which could risk the health of the little birds. A little vinegar can be used to clean the glass and fittings, then rinsed well. Should mold develop a solution of bleach and water may be used and again thoroughly rinsed. Hummingbirds are very territorial so it is advisable to place more then one feeder but not close together.

If you would like to attract hummingbirds next spring and summer, consider adding perennial plants and flowers to your garden this fall in preparation for months of entertainment.