Hummingbirds are amazing creatures! They have long beaks, are tiny, and flutter their wings 60 to 90 times per second! They are even more amazing birds because of their migration pattern.
In fall, the hummingbirds from Kentucky travel south down to Florida along the Gulf coast. They spend about a week here and gain about 40-50% of their weight. This is the amount of fat they need to cross the Gulf of Mexico, which takes them about 32 hours! They can barely make it to South America where they spend the winter.
Only about 20% of hummingbirds make it back to their summer house in North America. Some can’t make it, sometimes there are storms, or other accidents. One big issue is the highway system that runs along the coast lines of the southern US. After crossing the Gulf back into the US, they barely have enough energy to fly very high. Thousands are killed by trucks and cars because they simply cannot cross the highway system along these coastlines.
At home we can do our part to help out hummingbirds. We can create great habitat in our own yards so they can continue building their families and populations.
#1: Hummingbirds do eat insects! It gives them fat and protein. Nectar is like gas, it’s the carbohydrates that gives them energy to catch bugs. The bugs they eat are tiny, like gnats and small flies. With our own eyes we can’t even see this happening. One way we can attract insects they eat in our yard is to place a hanging basket in a tree and put our citrus peels in it. Another way is to eliminate pesticide use.
#2. Hummingbirds also need fluff and spider webs for their nest. They use fluff from seeds (and our dryer vents!) to build their nests. They then use spider webs to hold them together. Leave spider webs in your yard to help them find material to build their nests. Plant flowers that have fluffy seeds like milkweed (or leave some dandelions go to seed!)
#3. The third way to help out hummingbirds is to provide nectar. It’s easy and very inexpensive to make nectar, just dissolve 1 part pure cane sugar into 4 parts water. For example, one cup water and 1/4 cup sugar. Or 1 cup sugar and 4 cups water. You don’t need to boil it, just dissolve the sugar. You can heat the water slightly to quickly dissolve the sugar. Tap water is fine to use.
Do not use the mix from the stores, most of it contains the red dye. This chemical is actually causing hummingbirds to loose their sight! It’s also a lot cheaper to make it at home, and you probably already have water and cane sugar on hand.
If you have more than one feeder, place them out of sight from one another. Males will claim one feeder, and ward off any other males. But only as long as they can’t see it! The males allow all the females in the area to feed from the feeder.
If you have a feeder, place it out every year. Hummingbirds have master memories, and they will return to your yard every year looking for that feeder. Generally, place your feeders out when your frost date is clear. You can put them out even months earlier however if it’s warm out!
#4. You can also plant flowers that they are attracted to. They generally like flowers that are tubular in shape or are red. I’ve seen them get on tall phlox, bee balm, and the annuals pineapple sage, zinnias, and Mexican sunflower.
#5. Create habit. Hummingbirds create tiny nests. Having more trees and shrubs will draw them to want to nest in your yard.