Ruby-throated hummingbirds have begun their return to Virginia for breeding season! The brightly colored males have been here since mid-April and have already established their breeding territory before the females arrive the first week of May. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only species of hummingbird that breeds in eastern North America, and we are lucky to have them nesting in our neck of the woods. Once the females arrive from their migratory flight (which began in Mexico or Central America), they will start building tiny nests (approximately 2” across) from grasses, spider webs, and plant fibers. These nests are lined with down from dandelions or thistles, and camouflaged with lichen, moss, or dead leaves. Nests are usually built on top of a slender branch in a deciduous tree, such as an oak, poplar, or hackberry. However, some birds have also been found nesting on loops of chain, wire, and extension cords. In Mid-May the female hummingbirds will lay 2 tiny white eggs. She incubates them for 10 – 14 days and the chicks leave the nest when they are 18-22 days old. Ruby-throated hummingbirds can raise up to three broods each year.
Their summer habitat includes deciduous woodlands, forest edges, meadows and nearby streams. They are also common in orchards, old fields, gardens, parks and even backyards. They remain close to the trees they nest in, so Ruby-throated hummingbirds have been known to take full advantage of human created garden habitats for feeding, shelter and nesting. Here are some recommendations to attracting these beautiful birds to your garden:
- Dwarf trees, flowering shrubs (Rose of Sharon), and vines like the cardinal vine, trumpet vine and honeysuckle can all be used to create an ideal tiered habitat from ground level to 10 feet or more.
- Provide lots of space between plants to give hummingbirds enough room to hover and navigate from flower to flower.
- Hummingbirds love water, especially if it’s moving. A gentle, continuous spray from a nozzle or a sprinkler hose is perfect for a bath on the fly.
- Brightly-colored flowers that are tubular hold the most nectar, and are particularly attractive to hummingbirds. These include perennials such as bee balms, columbines, coral bells, cardinal flowers, daylilies, and lupines; biennials such as foxgloves and hollyhocks; and many annuals, including cleomes, impatiens, salvia and petunias.
Hummingbirds do not have a keen sense of smell and rely on bright colors to find their food. They are particularly fond of red and are often observed investigating feeders with red parts, red plant labels, and even red clothes on a gardener. However, do not use red dye in a hummingbird feeder; there is concern that it may harm the birds. Instead, use plain, clear sugar water (1 part white sugar mixed with 4 parts water). The birds love it! If your feeder does not have red on it, attach a red label or other item to attract them. In order to keep hummingbirds healthy, remember to change the water before it becomes cloudy or discolored and especially in hot weather to avoid fermentation. Hummingbirds also will eat and feed their young the small insects in your yard, such as mosquitoes, gnats, fruit flies, small bees, caterpillars, and aphids. So not only will you enjoy hours of entertainment by watching these fascinating creatures, you will also reap the benefits of all-natural pest control!