Attracting Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds

Wildlife
Agriculture, Natural Resources, & Community Development Home Page

Norma Jean Venable
Program Specialist: Natural Resources
December 1999

Many people are interested in attracting the colorful and interesting ruby-throated hummingbird to their yards. This article describes the hummingbird and offers suggestions for attracting them.

Description: The male ruby-throated hummingbird has a throat patch or gorget that flashes ruby-red, although in some lighting conditions the gorget may appear black. The female lacks a throat patch. Both sexes have metallic green backs and white undersides, and are 3 inches long. This is the only species of hummingbird that lives and nests east of the Rockies.

Migration and Biology: The birds fly north in late February to mid-May, and fly south to their wintering grounds in southern Mexico and Central America in late July to late October. Ruby-throats fly 500 miles nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico during migration. The male breeding territory is about -acre. The nest is located on a small limb 10 to 20 feet above the ground, and can be made of spider and insect silk, plant down, bud scales, and lichens. There are two white, small -inch long eggs per nest. The incubation period lasts about two weeks, and there are one or two broods per summer. In the nestling phase a young bird is out of the nest, but fed by parents for about a month.

Interesting Facts:

Ruby-throats can be detected by the hum of their wings, which beat 78 times per second during regular flight, and up to 200 times per second during a flight display dive. Hummingbirds can fly forward, backward, and even upside down for short periods.

An average hummingbird consumes half its weight in sugar each day, and feeds five to eight times each hour, up to a minute at each feeding.

Ruby-throats usually live 3 to 5 years, but can live up to 12 years.

The hummingbird has a long bill. When drinking nectar, it extends its tongue and licks it up at the rate of 13 licks per second. The bird's tongue has grooves along the side to help it take up nectar and fringed edges that help the hummer catch insects.

Hummers eat nectar, but they also catch insects from the air, leaves, and spider webs. They also consume tree sap from holes drilled by sapsuckers, a species of woodpecker.

PLANTS FOR A HUMMINGBIRD GARDEN

Hummingbirds are especially attracted to brightly colored red and scarlet flowers. Pink, rose, orange, and purple also entice them.

Flowers to plant: bee balm, begonia, bleeding heart, butterfly-weed, canna, cardinal flower, century plant, columbine, dahlia, delphinium, fire pink, foxglove, fuchsia, geranium, gladiolus, hollyhock, impatiens, lantana, lily, nasturtium, petunia, phlox, sage, snapdragon, spider flower, sweet william, verbena, zinnia. These flowers can provide a nectar supply from May to frost, the period hummingbirds are in West Virginia.

Vines, trees, and shrubs that attract hummers include honeysuckle, morning glory, trumpet creeper, albelia, butterfly bush, flowering quince, rose of sharon, weigela, flowering currant, rosemary, buckeye and horsechestnut, black locust, flowering crabs, hawthorns, mimosa, and tulip poplar.

FEEDING HUMMINGBIRDS

Feeding hummingbirds will bring them to where they can be observed. Commercial nectar mixes are available where feeders are sold, but you can also prepare a mix from sugar and water.

Four parts water to one part sugar most closely matches the sugar content in nectar. However, 5 to 1 and 7 to 1 ratios are also appropriate. Boil the solution for 2 minutes, cook, and store extra in your refrigerator. Stronger sugar solutions may not quench the bird's thirst. No color is needed.

It is very important to clean your feeders. Use a bottle-brush. In hot weather, never let the nectar spoil as this could injure the bird. Changing sugar-water every two or three days in hot, humid weather is usual. Do not use honey in your feeders. Honey ferments easily and can cause a fungus affecting the birds' tongues, possibly leading to death. Do not use artificial sweeteners as they have no food value.

You should take your feeder down when you are sure all the hummers have migrated and are no longer visiting the feeder. This may be as late as October, although some birds migrate in September. Leaving your feeder up will entice the birds to stay around, and they may get caught in winter cold. The birds know when to go south.

A feeder does not need a perch. Hummers will hover and sip nectar from it the same way as they take nectar from flowers. Perches may encourage orioles to use the feeder. If you only want hummers, you should remove the perches.

Bees are also nectar lovers and will visit your feeders. Bees are beneficial insects necessary for pollination. You can use bee guards on the feeders and can locate your feeders away from your doors. You can try putting out dishes of nectar for such nonhummers as bees and finches; this may keep them away from your feeders. Hawk or sphinx moths are also attracted to feeders. These harmless moths resemble hummingbirds. They have a tan or grey body color with darker horizontal stripes across the back and are also beautiful to watch.

Check out these sites:

Electronic Resource on Ornithology http://www.ofn.cs.dal.ca/~aa051/bird.htm/

Hummers Home Page http://www.inlink.com/~creative/hummers/welcome.html/