On the afternoon of 25th, we had just refilled our newest hummingbird feeder when while cooking dinner a little whirr appeared at the window. He made several trips around the garden, alternately sipping sweetened sugar water at the feeders and nectar from the Japanese flowering quince ‘Toyo-nishiki.’ Like clockwork, for the past several years the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have arrived to our garden in April, while the quince is in bloom.
Hummingbird feeder recipe: To one cup warm water add 1/4 cup pure cane sugar (4 parts to1 part). Dissolve thoroughly. Please don’t put up feeders if you don’t have the time to change the water frequently, and even more frequently in warmer weather.
Over the past few days there has been a burst of Hummingbird sightings coming from around the state. Hang your feeders if you haven’t already done so and remember to change the sugar water often, every few days. Hummingbird feeders are a terrible idea if you are not willing to provide fresh water frequently. Hummingbirds get a fatal fungal infection on their tongue, called hummers candidiasis when folks don’t change the water, or when honey, or any sweetener other than pure white cane sugar is used. And never add red food coloring. The bird’s tongue becomes terribly swollen, they can’t retract it, and without medical attention will starve to death.
Japanese flowering quince ‘Toyo-nishiki.’
I love this newest feeder and purchased it with Charlotte in mind. It’s positioned at her eye level and suction cupped to the window she likes to stand at to look into the garden. The small feeder was modestly priced and bought at Smiths Hardware in Rockport.
Hummingbird feeders serve the purpose of providing sustenance especially during the time of year when there is a lull in blooms however, the very best gift you can give hummers is to provide their favorite plants, and there are many, including trees, shrubs, vines, perennials and annuals.
A Ruby-throated Hummingbird’s diet is comprised of nectar and insects. In early spring there isn’t much to offer in the way of flowering sustenance or insects. Around the first of April, we take our feeders out of storage, give them a good wash with vinegar, soap, and water, fill with a sugar/water mixture, and hang them throughout the garden.
Sugar water recipe: 4 parts water to 1 part sugar. Stir to dissolve thoroughly. Never add red dye or replace the sugar with honey. Provide fresh sugar/water every 4 – 5 days. The water will need to be changed more frequently in hot humid weather. Discard water that has black mold and clean feeders throughly.
You can keep hummingbirds coming to your garden throughout the growing season by providing nectar-rich tubular-shaped flora in shades of primarily red, orange, and yellow (although I see them drinking nectar from a rainbow of hues), along with flowers comprised of small florets that attract small insects (the florets at the center of a zinnia plant, for example).
If I could only grow one plant to attract the Ruby-throats, it would be honeysuckle. Not the wonderfully fragrant, but highly invasive Japanese honeysuckle, but our beautiful native Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) that flowers in an array of warm-hued shades of Spanish orange (‘John Clayton’), deep ruby red (‘Major Wheeler’), and my very favorite, the two-toned orange and red ‘Dropmore Scarlet.’
Lonicera sempervirens ‘Dropmore Scarlet’
Trumpet Honeysuckle has myriad uses in the landscape. Cultivate to create vertical layers, in a small garden especially. Plant Lonicera sempervirens to cover an arbor, alongside a porch pillar or to weave through trelliage. Allow it to clamber over an eyesore or down an embankment. Plant at least one near the primary paths of the garden so that you can enjoy the hummingbirds that are drawn to the nectar-rich blossoms. We practically bump into our hummingbirds as they are making their daily rounds through the garden flora.
Did you know Ruby-throated Hummingbirds make a funny squeaky sound? I began to take notice of their presence in our garden, when at my office desk one afternoon in late summer, with windows open wide, I heard very faint, mouse-like squeaks. Glancing up from my work, fully expecting to see a mouse, and was instead delighted to discover a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird outside my office window, nectaring at the vines. Trumpet Honeysuckle not only provides nectar for the hummingbirds, it also offers shelter and succulent berries for a host of birds.
The following are several posts written over the years to help readers attract Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to their homes and gardens.
Harbingers of spring, flowering Quince, both the vivid ‘Texas Scarlet’ and less common Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Toyo-Nishiki’ are wonderfully attractive to hummingbirds.
A question written awhile back from my friend Kate:
Where do you place the feeders? Are they okay out in the open and, if so, do the hummingbirds become too nervous to feed if they can be seen by birds of prey?
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds prefer feeding at a station where they perch and observe the landscape, and then zoom in. Hang feeders on the lower limbs of trees and on shepherd’s hooks close to shrubs and above perennial wildflowers, about five to six feet off the ground. I haven’t read or heard too much about birds of prey in regard to hummingbirds; they move too fast, however, bluejays are said to attack nestlings. House cats and praying mantis pose a more serious threat to hummingbirds.
Eye-catching Red Riding Hood tulips, although not a good source of nectar, will attract by the sheer brilliance of their color, are a wonderful species tulip that reliably returns year after year, and multiplies. We plant Red Riding Hood tulips beneath the boughs of flowering and fruiting trees and shrubs, in hopes, that they too will lure the hummingbirds to our garden during their northward migration. And then, again with high hopes, that the hummingbirds will nest in our garden. For the past nine years, it has been our great good fortune to host throughout the nesting season female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and then later in the summer, their fledglings!
Mallows provide nectar in later summer and Red Riding Hood tulips attracts by their color. Both are perennial.
The later blooming annual vine, Cardinal Climber, provides nectar for southward migrating RT Hummingbirds.
A chance encounter with the brilliant emerald green feathered female Ruby-throated Hummingbird, drinking nectar from the Wild Sweet William growing in the sand at the base of the Welcome Good Harbor Beach sign.
She is drinking nectar from the wildflower Saponaria officinalis. The plant’s many common names include Soapwort, Bouncing-bet, and Wild Sweet William. The name Soapwort stems from its old fashioned use in soap making. The leaves contain saponin, which was used to make a mild liquid soap, gentle enough for washing fine textiles.
Saponaria blooms during the summertime. Although introduced from Eurasia, you can find this wildflower growing in every state of the continental US.
The hummingbird in the clip is a female. She lacks the brilliant red-feathered throat patch, or gorget, of the male. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are all around us, you just have to know what to plant to bring them to your garden. Mostly they eat tiny insects but if you plant their favorite nectar-providing plants, they will come!
With the unseasonably low temperatures, the hummingbird exodus from the north will soon follow. Keep your feeders full of sugar water to help sustain the southward migrants on their long journey to winter destinations.
Our resident female Ruby-throated Hummingbird was spotted yesterday, making her rounds nectaring at the Rose-of-Sharon, native honeysuckle, hibiscus, and jewelweed.
Hummingbird Feeder Recipe: 1 Cup water to 1/4 Cup pure granulated sugar. Do not add red food coloring or substitute honey for sugar. Replenish frequently, especially during warm weather.