As if sunshine and rising temperatures aren’t enough to signal the start of summer, hummingbirds have returned to the island! With their shimmering ruby-red and emerald-green feathers, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are perhaps the “crown jewel” of summer birds in our area.
Watch for the eye-catching, bright-red throat of the adult male as it sparkles in the sunlight. These dazzling jewels are the smallest birds in our ecosystem. They are so small that you could put about eight hummingbirds on a card or letter and only need one first-class mail stamp!
Hummingbirds can be easy to attract to your backyard, balcony, or office window. Hummingbirds search for native flowering plants with tubular flowers. In our yard, you will always find salvia, which hummingbirds love. (Purple salvia has worked really well for us for about 10 years). Another favorite is an easy-to-grow, drought-tolerant lantana of any color. Butterflies love it as well. If you have a balcony, just add hanging or potted plants.
An easy and fun way to attract hummingbirds is to provide feeders for them filled with sugar water. It is important to provide clean, fresh nectar, which you can make easily at home.
To make the nectar, add a quarter-cup of refined white sugar to one cup of boiling water and stir thoroughly until the sugar is dissolved. You can store any extra sugar water in your refrigerator. Resist adding more sugar than this 1:4 ratio, and never use honey or artificial sweeteners. As noted by Audubon, “Do not substitute honey because it can promote dangerous fungal growth.”
In addition, always avoid organic, raw, and brown sugar. Do not use red food coloring, which can be harmful to hummingbirds. It is not necessary to have red sugar water to attract them. Remember that your fresh homemade nectar does not need any additives.
There are many types and sizes of hummingbird feeders on the market today. Because of the heat and humidity in our area, try using a small feeder, perhaps 4 to 8 ounces. You will need to freshen the nectar every couple of days, so filling a large feeder will prove wasteful.
Providing fresh nectar and keeping your feeders clean are important to the birds’ health. When you replenish your nectar, be sure to wash your feeder. (You can check the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions. There are sturdy feeders which are dishwasher-safe.)
Hummingbird feeders come with or without perches. Perches are not required, but you will enjoy seeing the bird sitting and enjoying your homemade nectar. Sometimes you may even catch a glimpse of their long tongue.
To get a close-up view of your hummingbirds, use a small window-mounted feeder. Window feeders are awesome for classrooms, offices, and balconies. They will brighten the day of someone you know who is convalescing at home or someone in long-term care. These feeders usually attach to your window with small suction cups.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds are very territorial, so you may have a chance to see an aerial battle just outside your window. Sometimes they cross their bills like swords with intruders.
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have emerald-green heads and backs. Females have white throats. Males have spectacular, iridescent red throats known as gorgets. They all have forked-tails, long bills (to fit into blossoms), and long tongues. Their wingspan is approximately three-and-a-half inches, but those tiny wings are capable of beating so fast that their movements are a blur to our eyes. Even modern cameras have trouble “freezing” the movement of a hummingbird’s wings in a single frame.
For more information on hummingbirds or other species, always use a reputable website such as www.allaboutbirds.org or www.audubon.org.