Friday, March 9, 2007

Hummingbirds Arrive

I knew it was summer when I was buzzed by a hummingbird, flying low, close to the top of my head. The teensy female hovered close to my face as if to say, "Hello, I just finished my trip from Mexico, and would like you to put up my feeder, please!" She was so close, I could feel a gentle breath of air from her rapidly moving wings touch my cheek. She flew backward, and perched on a tulip tree to keep an eye on me. Seeing no movement from me (because I was so fascinated watching her!} she spied the statuesque hollyhocks along the back brick wall and began to explore them.

I went inside to find my new hummingbird feeder and to set out a fresh batch of sugar water for my smallest guests. The type of hummingbird in my neck of the woods, the Central foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, or Archilochus colubris.

The ruby-throat weighs 1/10 of an once and is 33/4 inches long. They have a long bill to fit into flowers, a green back with a whitish belly. The male has an iridescent red throat that can look black in some lights. The female has a whitish throat. There are sixteen species of hummingbirds in the United States, with only the ruby-throated in the East, and black-chinned, rufous, and Anna's hummingbirds west of the Mississippi River. Eight species of hummingbirds have been reported in Canada, with three being rare. Some hummingbirds you may find in Canada include the ruby-throated, the black-chinned, Costa's hummingbird, calliope, and the rufous hummingbird.

All hummingbirds can fly like helicopters, which is one of the reasons attracting them to your garden is so exciting. They can fly sixty miles/hour and endure 500 mile migrations. They have a high metabolism and need to eat a huge amount of food to fuel themselves. They love nectar. They can eat half their body weight in sugar every day. They will also eat spiders and small insects for proteins and fats.

How can we help feed our tiny friends and attract them to every year? I have found a combination of flowers and feeders helps bring the them back every summer. For a feeder, I prefer my simple glass bottle screwed into a plastic base with small holes every inch around the parameter or so, with a circular perch and little yellow petal-like shapes surrounding the holes. The plastic base is red.

For food, you can make your own mixture of 1 part sugar to 4 parts water, boil for two minutes the cool and store in the refrigerator. DON'T use commercial mixes with artificial colors and flavors, and don't use honey. Don't put food coloring in the mix. Rely on your feeder having some red to it. You need to clean and change the feeder every one to three days, with a bottle brush and hot water. Put the nice cold fresh water in when done cleaning. Don't use detergents to clean it out.

Plants that attract hummers often have red flowers. These include cardinal flowers, red gladiolus, hollyhocks, coral-bells, lantana, geraniums and begonias. They also like honeysuckle, azaleas, and weigela.

I keep my hummingbird feeder away from my other bird feeders because my little friends are ferocious. They will defend the area around their feeders and even dive bomb big blue jays if they get too close. I like to put the feeder close to plants I know they like, so they will be attracted to both.

My day's work is done. The hummingbirds are happily perched on the feeder, licking the cool, sweet, sugar water. When they are done, they fly past me with little squeaks of thank you. They make me smile to see their antics and beautiful colors. Won't you try to invite these tiny guests to your backyard?