Early mornings in the yard and garden are a special time. Each day provides new marvels as the flowers burst open. The songs of the many birds fill the air. Listen carefully. No, not just for a bird song, but the hum of a tiny little creation. A hummingbird just darted by.
It is fun to research and follow the arrival of the ruby-throated hummingbird to the Golden Triangle. Usually, they arrive by the end of March and visit until November before they head home to Central and South America for the winter.
There are over 300 species of hummingbirds in the world. Of the 21 species of hummingbirds found in North America, the ruby-throated hummingbird is the only one that breeds east of the Mississippi River.
This tiny creature weighs less than a nickel and is 3 to 5 inches in length. It can travel at the speed of 60 miles per hour. Our human heart beats 60-100 times per minute, while a hummingbird’s heart rate is about 1,260 beats per minute.
The smallest of migrating birds does not travel in flocks and is usually traveling alone for up to 500 miles at a time. It is the only bird able to fly backward, up and down, side to side, upside down and hover as it has a unique ball and socket joint at the shoulder that allows the bird to rotate its wings 180 degrees in all directions.
Hummingbirds do not walk or hop. Their tiny legs are used for perching and moving sideways.
Hummingbirds have no sense of smell, so they cannot sniff out the feeders or the flowers. They do have great color vision. They like bright red or orange colors. Most hummingbird feeders have red on their structure.
The simple solution of one part plain white sugar to four parts water is best. It is close to actual flower nectar. Boil to dissolve the granules and cool before filling the feeder. They drink from the feeders by moving their tongue in and out. A hummingbird can consume up to double their weight in a day.
DO NOT add red food coloring, brown sugar, powdered sugar, honey or artificial sweeteners. These additives cause fungal spores to develop on the tongue of the hummingbird, and they are not able to retract the tongue and feed.
Change the feeder often especially during hot weather as the nectar solution will spoil. Clean the feeder with warm water, soap and a drop of bleach to prevent bacteria growth. Rinse well and refill. Locate the feeder outside a window so you can enjoy the antics of this tiny bird. Hummingbirds are pollinators, which are critical in the functioning of ecosystems. As they drink nectar from flowers, they transport pollen grains as they move from spot to spot. Add flowers to your flower beds to attract the hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees to your landscape.
Plant a variety with various blooming cycles and plentiful nectar to naturally feed. Favorites are bee balm, cardinal flower, zinnia, salvia, bleeding heart, butterfly bush, lupines, impatiens, lantana and petunias.
Hummers are a delight to watch!
Former elementary teacher and avid gardener Olivia Sansing lives in the New Hope community and shares timely tips on behalf of the Lowndes County Master Gardeners.