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Hummingbirds in the Garden - A Perfect Jewel
by Jayne Rushin

Ruby-throated hummingbirds provide many hours of enjoyment for backyard birders. After spending the winter in Central America and Mexico, these iridescent gems arrive in Alabama during March, following a non-stop flight over the Gulf of Mexico. Both male and female birds have metallic green backs, but only the adult male has a dazzling red throat. The male has a forked tail, and the female has a blunt tail edged with white.

While many Ruby-throated hummingbirds will migrate through the state and breed in northern states and in Canada, they also nest in Alabama. You may be lucky enough to have nesting hummingbirds near your home and feeding in your backyard during breeding season. The female hummingbird builds her tiny nest, which is about the size of a walnut, with spider’s silk, lichen, and mosses.

If hummingbirds are attracted to your garden, you will notice a dramatic increase in their numbers when migration begins in mid to late July. As "ruby-throats" move south and prepare for fall migration to the tropics, you can easily entice them to feeders in your yard. A combination of feeders and flowers is always the best way to coax hummingbirds into your garden. Feeders are available in an array of shapes and sizes. Hummingbirds get all the vitamins, minerals, and protein they need from natural nectar and insects; therefore, it is not necessary to purchase ready-made fortified nectar. Although, we associate hummingbirds with nectar and flowers, a substantial portion of their diet consists of insects, which supply crucial nutritional elements.

The preparation of homemade hummingbird nectar is simple. Completely dissolve one part granulated sugar in four parts hot or boiling water. Allow the solution to cool before refilling feeders. Do not use honey in your feeders. It can kill your birds. Experts advise against using red dye to color hummingbird food. If hummingbirds do not find your feeder quickly, strips of red ribbon hanging nearby will help attract their attention.

Clean feeders are important to the good health of hummingbirds. If the birds are not emptying feeders, only partially fill them. When the weather is hot, change the sugar water solution every three to four days, using a bottlebrush and hot tap water to clean feeders. At least once a month, thoroughly clean feeders with a mixture of cup bleach and a gallon of water. After soaking them in a bleach solution for an hour, scrub feeders with a bottle-brush. Rinse thoroughly with running water and dry well before refilling feeders.

Dr. JB's Feeder is your best choice.
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 To keep ants away from hummingbird feeders, purchase an ant trap, or try wrapping a pipe cleaner dipped in vegetable oil around the wire from which the feeder hangs. Be sure to re-oil the pipe cleaner from time to time. Note: Pipe cleaners are not easy to find nowadays. Check the arts and craft section of Wal-mart or other retailers. Look for "fuzzy sticks".

The many flowering shrubs, vines, and plants that are attractive to hummingbirds will appeal to butterflies as well. Visit your local nursery or home improvement store and ask about plants with "hummingbird-appeal." Among the many plants favored by hummingbirds are: perennial and annual salvias, Turk’s cap, butterfly bush, coral honeysuckle, cardinal flower, lantana, pentas, red buckeye, and cypress vine.

Although the Ruby-throated is the hummingbird found in Alabama during its breeding season, research in recent years has shown that small numbers of eleven other hummingbird species have spent the winter in Alabama rather than migrating to the tropics. If you leave hummingbird feeders up year round, you may have a beautiful hummingbird spend the winter at your home. Contrary to popular lore, a full feeder in winter will not mislead hummingbirds into staying where they cannot survive.

Hummingbirds are a bright treasure to enjoy for the backyard birder. The colorful sight of the iridescent little birds is a lively reward for the time spent filling feeders and planting a few appropriate shrubs and flowers.

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