The return of the hummingbirds
Even though it’s mid-April, it’s the time of year I prepare for the annual return of New York’s smallest nesting bird, the ruby-throated hummingbird. By the time this blog appears, I’ll be closely watching for them. Seeing the first hummingbird of the year, after all, is important stuff. Hummingbirds usually return to more northern climes such as ours here in the Southern Tier by mid to late May. Given the bird’s susceptibility to cold weather, however, it is important for the birds not to arrive too early.
Feeders are very important to hummingbirds for the first few weeks after they return to their northern range. Feeders, provide high-energy food that replenishes the hummingbirds from their long migration north from Central and South America. In addition, because of the limited availability of flowering plants at this time of year, the feeders fill a void as a source of hummingbird nourishment.
As hummingbirds return, some head to locales they’ve been using for years. Others, and especially yearlings, are looking for territory they can claim as their own. Yards with plenty of edge habitat, spring-blooming flowers, or hummingbird feeders usually have the best chance of attracting these small birds as warm-weather tenants.
As far as hummingbirds are concerned, a yard can never have too many red flowers so, if you’re interested in attracting hummingbirds, make sure there are plenty of those colors around.
The birds also are attracted to pink, purple, blue, and yellow flowers. Specific flowers regularly attracting hummingbirds include begonias, salvia, gladiolus, coral-bells, jasmine, or scarlet morning glory and paintbrush. Hanging fuchsias also are particularly effective at attracting hummingbirds.
Hummingbird feeders should be hung from a tree branch and placed in a somewhat shaded area near a flowerbed. As a deterrent to ants, I like to smear a bit of petroleum jelly on the hanger rod to keep them from reaching the feeder. If the feeder fails to attract birds, move it or, place a few more feeders in the yard.
The feeder should be filled with commercial nectar or a solution containing one part granulated sugar and four parts water. Wildlife professionals say not to add food coloring to your homemade mixture. The mixture should be boiled and cooled before filling your feeder reservoir. I store any unused feed mixture in the refrigerator until it’s needed. Never use honey in your feeder because the tiny birds could become ill from consuming it.
Feeders should be cleaned at least once every two weeks in cool weather – once a week in hot weather – to ensure they don’t become a breeding ground for fungus that could cause infection in birds. Wash the feeder in hot water and dish-washing liquid, wiping all surface areas. In addition, be sure to wash all remaining soap residue from the feeder before refilling it with the sugar water.
Once hummingbirds set up shop in your yard, they’ll probably nest somewhere nearby. Females, the dull-colored ones, build their half-dollar-sized nests with soft plant fibers and spider web, usually among the twigs or branches of deciduous trees. Hummingbirds typically lay two, white, pea-sized eggs which hatch after about two weeks of incubation. The hatchlings are under their mother’s care for about 25 days then the young birds are on their own.