Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Gardening for hummingbirds

Yesterday I posted a message about creating butterfly gardens, complete with lists of butterfly species for the area. But today, I would like to talk about hummingbirds! I love hummingbirds and I believe that the more people who garden for them, the more we will begin to see hummingbirds hanging around the area! So I hope that I can encourage you to plant a few hummingbird favorites in your garden this Spring.

Although there are more than 338 known species of hummingbirds in the Americas, only about sixteen of those are found in the United States. Of those sixteen, the ruby-throated hummingbird, is the only one that is common in the Mid-Atlantic region and it is the one that you will most likely be able to entice to your yard if you provide a habitat that they find inviting. Avid bird enthusiasts have also reported sightings of additional species in the area, including the Rufous and Allen's hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds begin visiting the Metro DC area in late March or early April and stay till August or September. According to the Virginia Department of Game and Fisheries, they also breed in the area. Like butterflies, if you want to attract these little winged beauties to your yard, your best bet is to plant their favorite plant species.

Catching a glimpse of one of these jeweled acrobats is enough to fill anyone with awe. What other creature can amaze us with feats such as flying backwards or upside down?

The ruby-throated “hummer” is only about 3 inches long and weighs about one-quarter of an ounce (about as much as a penny). For their size, hummingbirds have among the largest appetites in the bird world. Hummingbirds feed about every ten or fifteen minutes from dawn to dusk, consuming more than half their weight in food every day.

Hummingbirds are said to be most drawn to tubular flowers that are either large and showy or in drooping clusters of red, orange and pink. However, there are many other flowers that attract these hungry little scavengers. Therefore, it is best to plant a variety of species, choosing native plants when available for ease of maintenance. Since hummingbirds are very territorial, space your hummingbird plants in separate groupings around your yard and at varying heights, starting at about 18” above the ground.

Nectar feeders can also be used as a supplemental food source for hummingbirds. A simple nectar can be made by combining 1 part granulated sugar to 4 parts water in a saucepan and boiling for two minutes. Let the mixture cool completely before filling feeders. Be sure and replace the mixture every couple of days because heat from the sun can cause rapid bacterial growth in the nectar solution which is potentially fatal to the hummingbirds.

Eliminate the use of pesticides in your yard if you plan to garden for hummingbirds and keep cats indoors!

For more information about hummingbirds in the DC area, read:

Plants to Attract Hummingbirds

The Natural Capital: Look for Ruby throated Hummingbirds

Hummingbird Tidbits - Virginia Department of Game and Fisheries

The Hummingbird Garden (pdf)- Virginia Cooperative Extension Prince William County

Creating a Wild Backyard: Hummingbirds, Butterflies & Bees, Maryland Dept. of Natural Resources

Hummingbird Handout - Virginia Cooperative Extension

Attracting Hummingbirds - Penn State

1 comment:

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