In mid-August, the Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds are back in our area for their fall migration! Since you can expect to see increasing numbers of them, stock your feeders and yard with plants to attract & fuel them for their long journey south!
The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, the East Coast’s most common hummingbird, is certainly one of the most fantastic creatures in Gulf Coast gardens. These garden jewels will stay with us until they begin to migrate further South, usually in mid-October. To understand why we see so many hummingbirds in spring and fall, and very few or none in summer or winter, let’s learn a little bit about these fascinating friends.
Considered the acrobats of the natural world, hummingbirds are an endless source of amazement. Not requiring forward thrust to maintain flight, the peerless hummingbird can hover in place, perform somersaults, or even fly backwards and upside down! Their behavior is also quite spirited. Hummingbirds are extremely active, territorial, and even aggressive, behaving much like tiny little warriors, competing for the best food and shelter. And all this from the smallest feathered animals on earth.
The metabolism of a hummingbird is extraordinary. Their hearts beat a staggering 1,200 times per minute, whereas in full flight – up to 50 mph – their wings may beat as many as 200 times per second! You can clearly hear a hummingbird in flight, oftentimes before you ever see it. This astounding capability helps to explain their diminutive size – a larger bird would never be able to power such thrust. They hold virtually every record on being tiny, from lightest bodyweight to shortest beak-to-tail length to lightest eggs, all in support of that Olympian speed and endurance.
It is a wonder that such tiny things can explode with such energy, but there is at least an easy answer as to how that’s possible – hummingbirds are voracious eaters. They are so territorial over food resources because their very lives depend on a steady intake of calories to maintain that movement. Seeds are simply too heavy and slowly digested to do the hummingbird any good. Hummingbirds will feed up to ten times per hour on straight sugar – in the form of plant nectar, of course – just to keep themselves in the air. Insects & spiders are also an important source of protein and minerals. The plant in turn gets pollinated by the hummingbird, so the act of feeding is mutually beneficial, and is one of the most fascinating relationships in nature. The showy petals exist exclusively to attract insects and birds to the plants; otherwise we would not have any beautiful flowers at all.
Hummingbirds are so dependent on a steady diet of nectar that they are particularly attuned to the seasons. The places on earth that provide a food source year round are few, so they migrate vast distances (4,000 miles for the west-coast Rufous Hummingbird) to follow the sequential spring and fall bloom of plants, from tropical Central America all the way up to Canada and back. They cannot afford for a plant to stop blooming before moving on to find more food, so they probably use the duration of daylight to determine when it is time to start moving south.
Their lean build comes at the expense of sparse reserves of fat. It is impossible for hummingbirds to endure times without a food source. Another hardship of the hummingbird is that its short, stout wings are not made for gliding flight. They flap their wings for every inch of the 25 or so miles per day they may travel. In fall, many Ruby Throats congregate along the Gulf Coast to store up enough energy for one final burst across the Gulf of Mexico or across arid portions of Mexico before reaching the rainforests of the equatorial zone. When we have mild winters, it is becoming more and more common for some hummers to stay along the coast instead of braving ahead to Mexico, including some western species we would not otherwise see! Winter sightings in Louisiana have included the Rufous, Black-Chinned, Buff-Bellied, Calliope, and Allen’s and Anna’s hummingbirds.
So, what can we do to get more hummers in our yard every year? The main ways to attract them to your garden/landscape are to accommodate them with food and water. Of course, hummingbird plants are a must! The aptly named Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii) hits a peak bloom in the fall, but any variety of Salvia will be a hummingbird favorite. A number of other tubular blooms are great nectar plants for hummingbirds, from Porterweed to Cigar Plant to Mexican Fire Bush to Cat’s Whiskers. Bottlebrush is a shrub that blooms in spring and fall and is another favorite. If you have a large area for a big, woody vine, Trumpet Creeper is an absolute hummingbird magnet! See an associate at the Garden Center for a more planting ideas!
Of course, hummingbird feeders provide an easily maintained source of nectar – stir 1 part white sugar into 4 parts hot water, and always let it cool before filling your feeder. Don’t want to make it yourself? We sell already made, pour and go nectar! Always keep hummingbird feeders clean and free of mildew with a pipe cleaner. Hummingbirds, with their high metabolism, also like a place to perch nearby for frequent breaks. Small trees or large hedges are ideal, but a metal or wooden perch can be hung on a shepherd’s hook, as well. Bird baths should be kept clean and full for hummingbirds and other migratory birds, especially at this time. Last but not least – please do not spray your hummingbird plants with chemicals or systemic insecticides. If insecticides are needed, use horticultural oils or insecticidal soap!
An amazing fact is that a hummingbird that feeds in your yard one year will return to that food source every year! So, if you’ve seen them in your yard before, make sure to keep up your supply for them. If you don’t get as many or any, come over and let us help you change that for this season!
If you use nectar, it’s important to always keep it clean and fresh. Hummingbirds stay clear of fermented nectar, which supports deadly mold growth. Feeders should be cleaned twice once a week in our hot weather. This prevents harmful microorganisms from forming.
Summer Plants to Attract Hummingbirds
Want to appeal to hummingbirds? Consider these flowers they love to visit during their fall migration:
For further growing information on each one, come visit us! We’d love to tell you all about these, and send them home with you!
Compact Fire Bush
Hummingbird Fun Facts:
- During their migrations, they fly 500 miles nonstop over the Gulf of Mexico! To make that journey, they need to weigh 1.5x their usual weight. Bring on the nectar!
- Flying speeds can reach up to 60mph! They can fly forward, backward, up, down, upside down briefly, and even sideways! However, flying is their only mode of transport- they cannot walk.
- Hummingbirds beat their wings 78 times per second! When diving, it more than triples to 200 times per second!
- Their heart beat 1,260 times and they take about 250 breaths per minute.
- Their tongues can reach out over 2-3’’! Perfect for trumpet-shaped flowers!
- They live an average of 3-5 years.
Come see us to stock up on everything you’ll need to supply our quick-winged friends for their journey! Good luck viewing hummingbirds in your own back yard!