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,

Pat

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