Ruby-throated Hummingbirds: How to Attract Them

Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Coral Honeysuckle, a GREAT native spring nectar source that often reblooms all summer long

Hi Gang,

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are on their way! As of today, they’ve been seen as far north as the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

You can monitor Ruby-throated Hummingbird migration north (AND enter your own sightings) on Journey North  and on Hummingbird Central.

They are surging north from their wintering grounds (northern Panama and Costa Rica, north to southern Mexico). They will steadily move north with each good migration weather day, the opening of important nectar plants, and warm enough days with insect life.

The first sightings are often scouts, well ahead of the rest. When I learn of the 1st sightings in MD, DE, and PA I hang my feeders . . . so pretty soon.

Why Feeders?

You might wonder why I recommend putting out a hummingbird feeder, which is obviously an artificial nectar source. When hummingbirds arrive, my garden is still dirt! Without well-maintained feeders, “on-the-move” Ruby-throated Hummingbirds will keep going.  Nothing much is in bloom.

Why More Than 1 Feeder?

I hang 7 feeders scattered around our yard, so that returning males (they migrate first) can’t take control of our whole yard. I want females to settle in too and consider nesting in our yard. I’ll space the feeders out. I put one feeder on each end of my front porch (and enjoy them from the front porch rockers). I hang one from a shepherd’s hook on our back porch, easily viewed from the kitchen and sunroom. I hang one from the arbor into our perennial garden. I hang one from a tree limb at the back of our garden. I hang one outside my office window. And I hang the last one in the back of our woods. This way females will have options, places to set up their own territory and nest in our yard, away from bossy, territorial males (who DO NOT share, even with females they’ve mated with).

The Proper Solution for a Hummingbird Feeder

The solution I use (that is most like nectar) is 1 part sugar and 4 parts water. I make a quart at a time and refrigerate what’s left. I’ll only put two ounces into each feeder in the spring (and in late fall) because use is light and the last thing any of us want to do is waste sugar water (sugar cane fields are gobbling up important habitat). I mark my calendar so that each week, like clockwork, I empty and clean the feeders with hot soapy water, then rinse them with boiling water, and then put in 2 ounces of fresh solution. NO red dye is necessary; the feeders have enough bright red parts to attract hummers and red dye is cancer causing (and outlawed in many countries).  Hummingbirds have long tongues and can easily reach the 2 ounces of solution.  I don’t fill the feeders with more solution until activity gets crazy once young are on the wing and during migration when so many birds are tanking up and moving through our habitat.

Keep an eye on Journey North’s Ruby-throated Hummingbird MAP (be sure to enter this year: 2020) and on Hummingbird Central’s MAP to see their movement north so you are ready for them.

The site I recommended for 23 years, Hummingbirds.Net, is still available.  On this site you can view 23 years of spring migration maps (1996-2018) for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, but there is no live 2020 map. The creator of this great website is no longer able to maintain it because of technical (and expensive) changes (his explanation can be read at the top of the page HERE).

If you are a new wildlife gardener, be sure to also provide:

  1. a pesticide-free property (since hummingbirds also feast on soft-bodied insects and spiders)
  2. a habitat filled with native perennials, trees, shrubs, and vines that provide nectar attractive to hummingbirds from spring thru fall!

Some Sources of Native Plants in 2020

A number of native plant sales and nurseries are gearing up for 2020.   Go to my recently updated list of Some Sources of Native Plants in 2020 to learn of reputable nurseries and sources of native plants. With the COVID-19 Health Crisis, before visiting a nursery or attending a sale CALL FIRST and/or check their WEBSITE FIRST to learn (1) if opening dates, special sales, etc. have been postponed or cancelled, (2) of special arrangements for social distancing (prepayment, curbside pickup, MAIL-ORDER options). Normally I try to feature “fund raiser” special spring sales first, but since so many have been postponed or their dates are TBA, I’ve listed nurseries with MAIL-ORDER options first.

All About Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds

When the website “Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens” was active I (and many others around the country) wrote posts for it. The website Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens is no longer, but our posts have been hosted at another site and are still available. Here are two posts I wrote about Ruby-throated Hummingbirds full of additional helpful information:

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds – Part One: They’re Back – Originally written in May 2013; includes information about:

  • my favorite hummingbird feeder (Amazon sells them, and once the Coronavirus quiets and nature centers are open, they often do too)
  • spring nectar that have worked for me in the Mid-Atlantic Regiion to lure hummingbirds to settle in and nest in your yard. Some additional spring native nectar plants for the Mid-Atlantic Region, not mentioned in this 2013 post, include: Lyre-leaved Sage, Highbush Blueberry (a shrub), Red Buckeye (a shrub), and azaleas.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds – Part Two: Summer Nectar – Originally written in late July 2013; focuses on:

  • summer nectar for the Mid-Atlantic Region including many natives and a few non-natives (that are not problematic).  Some additional summer and fall native nectar plants for the Mid-Atlantic Region, not mentioned in this 2013 post, include: Blazing Star, Foxglove Beardtongue, Garden Phlox, Swamp Azalea (a shrub), Turk’s Cap Lily, Horsemint, Obedient Plant (though beware, this plant is a thug and may overwhelm all other plantings in its spreading path), and Turtlehead.
  • [proper feeder maintenance during the heat of summer
  • the importance of insects
  • places to bathe

In this “new normal” with the Coronavirus news escalating every day, please stay safe, stay home if you don’t feel well, practice social distancing, remain healthy, enjoy your wildlife gardens and spring unfolding. I know the natural world is helping keep me sane right now,


Blizzard of Hummingbirds – Rockport, TX – September 13-16, 2018

HummerBird Celebration in Rockport, Texas (don’t miss it)!

Hi Gang,

Clay and I have been very fortunate to have been invited to festivals and conferences around the country (over the years) to present our programs and workshops.

One of my all-time favorite festivals is the HummerBird Celebration in mid-September, when thousands upon thousands of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are migrating through Rockport, Texas, on their way to southern Mexico or as far south as Costa Rica and northern Panama where they winter.

It is an amazing show of HOPE that Rockport, Texas, is going to host their:

30th Anniversary HummerBird Celebration
Rockport, TX
September 13-16, 2018
for full details go to the event’s website


This year’s Keynote Speaker is good friend and amazing mentor, high school science teacher, and nationally recognized educator, Martha McLeod.  On Thursday, September 13 (at 6:30 p.m.), don’t miss Martha’s Keynote Presentation, “Harvey, Hummingbirds and Hope,” based on her experience in Rockport, Texas, where she lives, when Hurricane Harvey hit and destroyed much of the town on August 26, 2017, just prior to the peak of the hummingbird migration.  Martha was chosen as Birdwatcher’s Digest “Birder of the Year” for the piece she wrote about this experience (featured in Bird Watcher’s Digest’s March/April 2018 issue).  Clay and I won’t be able to be there this year, but please give Martha a “Hello Hug” from both of us if you should go!

We’ve been to the HummerBird Celebration 4 times and loved every single visit.  My favorite part of this festival is the opportunity to explore and linger in dozens of “Hummer Home gardens” (private back and front yard wildlife habitats with dozens and dozens of well-maintained hummingbird feeders) that are open to attendees of the HummerBird Celebration from dawn to dusk, September 13 (Thursday) to September 16 (Sunday).  The numbers of hummingbirds in sight in each of these gardens is beyond belief!  Hundreds in view in every direction you look!  If you don’t believe me, GO!!!  I was speechless with wonder the first time we went and continued to be amazed with each of our visits.  Seriously consider a road trip (or a flying trip) to experience this amazing concentration of our beloved hummingbird, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.  I promise you that you won’t regret it and you’ll probably want to make an annual pilgrimage to the HummerBird Celebration each year in mid-September to drink in the Ruby-throated Hummingbird’s amazing migration and how they benefit from all the stopover habitat in this town.

The HummerBird Celebration is packed with non-stop events (boat birding trips, speakers, banding demonstration, vendors, hummer home guided bus trips (I did this the 1st year, not realizing that I could go on my own and spend as much time as I wanted in each garden or my favorite gardens), bird photography classes, and more!

The fact that Rockport, Texas, is hosting this 30th Anniversary HummerBird Celebration is another sign of hope, hope that this town (devastated by Hurricane Harvey only a year ago) can continue to rebuild and thrive once again!

To hope, hummingbirds, and the revival of Rockport, TX!

Saw my FIRST Ruby-throated Hummingbird on April 12, 2014 !

003 - Ruby-th Humm w-sig


Yesterday, Saturday, April 12, was a good day! Hope you got out to enjoy it too. Clay and I went to Cape May Point to join Tom Reed in his SPRING WATCH.

The highlight for me was when Tom called out: ” HUMMINGBIRD ! ! ! “

At 8:55 a.m. Tom spotted a Ruby-throated Hummingbird migrating north across Delaware Bay, heading for the tip of the Cape May Peninsula. It was at the top of a cloud bank, higher than I would have expected. I was scanning like mad low over the choppy waves of Delaware Bay.

According to the first NJ sighting was on Friday, April 11. I hung 3 feeders (with only about 2 ounces in each) earlier in the week, seeing that they were already as far north as across the Delaware Bay.

We haven’t seen one in our yard   Y E T, but expect a feisty male to find our feeders and settle in by the end of this coming week or next. Our gardens are not much yet, so feeders are crucial if you hope to entice hummingbirds to settle in. Then be sure to have a jam packed garden and habitat full of native plants that bloom from early spring through fall. Too, maintain those feeders so they offer something as fresh as nectar . . . hence why you don’t fill them to the brim (since you’ll be dumping the solution at least once a week, cleaning, and partially filling with fresh solution). Oh, and NO RED DYE! It’s cancer causing, so DUH . . . who wants to do that to hummingbirds?


Join me for the following fun and informative program that I will be teaching for NJ Audubon’s Nature Center of Cape May,1600 Delaware Avenue, Cape May, NJ 08204; 609-898-8848.

All About Them and How to Attract Them
(with Pat Sutton)
Saturday, April 19, 2014
1:00 to 3:00 p.m.

Learn where Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have they been all winter. Will more than one settle into your backyard garden? Where is the nest? What does the female use to build her tiny nest? Is bottled nectar (or red dye) needed for a feeder? What are the two reasons hummingbirds like spiders? Even if you think you know everything about these winged jewels, expect to be surprised by what you learn during this presentation by Pat Sutton, naturalist and long-time wildlife gardener. Sutton will show off an actual hummingbird nest and share essential tips on how to ready your yard so that you can be entertained by a blizzard of hummingbirds for the next five months. Before this program, download, print, and read the NJ Audubon articles by Pat Sutton: “How to Create a Butterfly and Hummingbird Garden” and “Recommended Plantings to Attract Hummingbirds, Butterflies, and Moths.”
Limit: 20 participants. Preregistration is required (through NJ Audubon’s Nature Center of Cape May, 1600 Delaware Avenue, Cape May, NJ 08204; 609-898-8848)
Cost: members $15, nonmembers $20
(includes handouts and FREE Tropical Salvia seeds)

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

To get you jazzed, you might want to read several of my hummingbird posts from Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens:

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

T H E Y ‘ R E   B A C K  !

Ruby-thHumm(male)-4-18-09-on feeder

Hi Gardening Gang,

Thel Brown wrote to let me know that she had a Ruby-throated Hummingbird visit her West Deptford garden yesterday (Saturday, April 2) in Gloucester County, NJ (up near the Delaware River).

Don’t know about you, but I worked feverishly last night to get ready for them in my own yard. I boiled up a quart of solution (1 cup sugar & 4 cups of water), let it cool down in the refrigerator, and this morning filled and hung 4 feeders, hither & yon. I stored the extra solution in my refrigerator. This time of year you don’t need to fill your feeders, since activity is minimal (1 territorial male and maybe 1 female a week or so later, if you’re lucky). I only put 2 ounces in each feeder & will empty them, clean them thoroughly, & refill with 2 ounces of fresh solution once a week (unless the weather turns HOT & then clean & refill more frequently. I don’t fill the feeders with 4 ounces each until activity picks up in late June (when the first batch of young are “on the wing”).

Our Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have spent the winter in southern Mexico (and as far south as Costa Rica). They arrived in the U.S. in late February and have been moving north, keeping pace with the opening of their favorite flowers.

So far all my garden has to offer is the first few flowers on my Flowering Quince shrubs and budding Red Maple trees. My Coral Honeysuckle vine recently leafed out, but I don’t even see buds yet. SO feeders are crucial now to newly arrived hummers.

Keep track of their movements by following this terrific website

I’m looking forward to teaching a program all about Ruby-throated Hummingbirds for NJ Audubon’s Nature Center of Cape May on April 16 (Saturday). Consider joining me! The more you know about these winged jewels, the better your chances are of attracting hummingbirds to your own garden & holding on to them by knowing and practicing wildlife-friendly gardening. Details follow:

Ruby-th Humm on Cardinal Flower by Pat SuttonApril 16 (Saturdays) — 1 to 3 pm

“Hummingbirds 101 — All About Ruby-throated Hummingbirds & How to Attract Them — with Pat Sutton”

at NJ Audubon’s Nature Center of Cape May, 1600 Delaware Avenue, Cape May, NJ 08204 (609-898-8848)

Get ready, get set, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are coming. Where have they been all winter? In the Tropics! Why leave a tropical area to return to New Jersey? Will more than one settle into a backyard garden? Where is the nest? What does the female use to build her tiny nest? Do I need to buy bottled nectar for my feeder? Is red dye needed in feeders? Did you know that hummingbirds like spiders (for at least two reasons)? Even if you think you know everything about these winged jewels, expect to be surprised by what you learn during this presentation by Pat Sutton, naturalist and wildlife gardener. She will show you an a actual hummingbird nest and will share essential tips on how to ready your yard so that you can be entertained by a blizzard of hummingbirds for the next five months. Before this program, download, print, and read the NJ Audubon articles by Pat Sutton: “How to Create a Butterfly and Hummingbird Garden” & “Recommended Plantings to Attract Hummingbirds, Butterflies, and Moths.”

Limit: 30 participants; preregistration is required. Cost: $15 member of NJ Audubon Society, $20 nonmember (includes handouts).

Take advantage of the following great opportunities to add additional hummingbird nectar plants to your garden:

April 30 (Saturday) — 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Backyard Habitat Plant Swap

at NJ Audubon’s Nature Center of Cape May

1600 Delaware Avenue, Cape May, NJ 08204 (609-898-8848)

This year’s theme is caterpillar host plants! Now is the perfect time to thin out the perennial garden and share some of your garden success with others. Admission to the swap is one plant and a new or used garden tool. The new or used garden tool is your “shower gift” to help the nature center stock up on equipment to use in educational gardening programs. For your admission, you will be entitled to take one “swap plant” home with you. Bring additional plants to swap on a 1:1 ratio. Plants may be dropped off on Friday, April 29th, and you will be given a credit voucher to use on your return on Saturday. Please check out our Web site for a list of caterpillar host plants at NJ Audubon’s website. Admission: One plant and one new or used garden tool.

May 6-7 (Friday-Saturday)

Native Plant Sale & Native Plant Swap at the

Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Jersey Shore

in Pomona, NJ (Atlantic Co)

organized by fellow wildlife gardener Jesse Connor. Lots of excellent hard-to-find natives will be available, including Black Cherry and Red Cedar trees (in the plant swap). Even if you live outside of Atlantic County, it will be worth the drive. April 1st was the deadline for orders for the Plant Sale (but Jesse may have ordered a few extras of certain goodies). To learn full details about the Plant Sale and the Plant Swap download all 4 documents at the UUCSJS website under the header — UUCSJS Annual Native Plant Swap & Sale.

May 21-22 (Saturday & Sunday) — 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

ORDER BY April 30th for pick up May 21 & 22

10th Annual Plant Sale (for Wildlife Gardens)

at NJ Audubon’s Nature Center of Cape May

1600 Delaware Avenue, Cape May, NJ 08204 (609-898-8848)

Your gardens will be the buzz, tweet and talk of the neighborhood when you get off to a good start with top-quality plants. We emphasize the use of New Jersey native plants, which benefit wildlife and have a strong ornamental appeal for the backyard landscape. Some non-native (but non-invasive) perennials and annuals, which offer an added boost to butterfly gardens, will also be available. For an order form, call the nature center at 609.898.8848 or go to the NCCM’s 10th Annual Plant Sale Order Form.



Ruby-throated Hummingbirds Have Arrived in the US

Hi Gang,

I’ll bet you’re as eager as I am for spring. Well, it is happening. Heard a Wood Frog calling from one of our Dragonfly Ponds in yesterday’s rain.

Our Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have spent the winter in southern Mexico south to Costa Rica. They’ve begun their migration north and have been arriving along the Gulf Coast this past week. They’ll continue moving north, keeping pace with the opening of their favorite flowers. By late March and early April they near NJ, often settling in by mid-April.

Keep track of their movements here.

Happy Spring!