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 spiders 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
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 ¼ 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.
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
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, Turks 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