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, April 6, 2021, the bulk of the sightings have occurred as far north as Berlin, MD, with a few outliers north of that (Little Egg Harbor Twp, NJ; Brooklyn, NY; Danielson, CT; and Hyannis, MA).

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.  With the 1st NJ sighting on April 4, 2021, I’m going to get my feeders hung today!

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 8 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  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 have been no LIVE maps since 2018. 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 2021

A number of native plant sales and reputable nurseries are gearing up for 2021.   Go to my list for last year to get websites and contact info (because I’ve not yet had a chance to update this page for 2021): Some Sources of Native Plants in 2020. With COVID-19 and so many unknowns still on the horizon, before visiting a nursery or attending a sale CALL FIRST and/or check their WEBSITE FIRST to learn of special arrangements for social distancing (prepayment, curbside pickup, MAIL-ORDER options). 

All About Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds

To read more about Ruby-throated Hummingbirds check out my additional post below.  You may also want to print my Ruby-throated Hummingbird Fact Sheet (the reverse side covers Hummingbird Feeder maintenance and gardening for hummingbird info).

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds – Part One: They’re Back

  • my favorite hummingbird feeder (Amazon sells them as do nature centers that have come up with safe ways to be open during Covid)
  • spring nectar plants that have worked for me in the Mid-Atlantic Region to lure hummingbirds to settle in and nest in your yard.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds – Part Two: Summer Nectar – COMING SOON:

  • summer nectar for the Mid-Atlantic Region including many natives and a few non-natives (that are not problematic).
  • proper feeder maintenance during the heat of summer
  • the importance of insects
  • places to bathe

In this “new normal” with Coronavirus in the mix, please stay safe, get vaccinated so you are not a threat to yourself or others, practice social distancing, remain healthy, enjoy your wildlife gardens and spring unfolding. I know the natural world has been key to my sanity through this,

Pat

MISTER for Wildlife Garden

001-mister-1-w-sigIn nearly all my programs and workshops I recommend adding a MISTER to your wildlife habitat.  This suggestion is often met with some confused looks, so I thought I’d follow it up here with some photos that can help walk you through it and understand how simple it can be.  NO ELECTRICITY needed, just a hose connection.

Why a mister, you may ask?

A mister can serve a dual purpose: (1) offering a place for songbirds, including hummingbirds, to bathe, and (2) moistening an otherwise dry part of your garden where you can plant goodies under it that like wet feet, like Cardinal Flower, Swamp Milkweed, Turtlehead, etc.

Misters are especially crucial during rainless summers when everything is bone dry.  To a hummingbird, a bird bath is like the Atlantic Ocean and they’ll never use it.  Instead hummingbirds need rain showers, garden sprinklers (which few of us use because we’ve planted NATIVES which need little pampering), or A MISTER!

007-mister-humm-3-w-sig 006-Mister-Humm-2-w-sig 005-mister-humm-1-w-sig 008-mister-humm-4-w-sig

Set up properly, a mister mists down from a nice height over leaves and plants beneath it, drawing in hummingbirds that will fly through it to take a bath or roll around on wet leaves below to bathe, as will warblers and other songbirds as well.  We’ve seen some of our neatest garden visitors at the mister!

009-mister-AmRedstart-w-sig
American Redstart (a warbler) bathing under our mister
010-Mister-GrCatbird-w-sig
Gray Catbird bathing under our mister
011-mister-chickadee-w-sig
Carolina Chickadee bathing under our mister
012-mister-YellowWarbler w-sig
Yelow Warbler bathing under our mister on all the wet Pokeweed leaves. We happily let Pokeweed flourish in the shade under our pines where nothing else easily grows – it’s an incredible bird food and a stunning native plant

Do I need Electricity?  NO!

002-attachment-w-sig
NO electricity needed . . . just a hose connection
003-Mister w-sig
Be sure that you buy a mister that has 50-60 feet of tubing so you can wind it up a tree and out a branch.
004-Timer-w-sig
Simply turn your hose on in the morn and off at dusk or set up a hose faucet timer to accomplish that automatically

 

You can set your mister up on a hose faucet timer so that it comes on in the early morning and goes off at dusk (or whenever it suits you), or you can simply turn the hose on that is connected to your mister when you want it to come on and turn that hose off when you want it to stop misting (as we do).  We turn ours off at dusk.  Obviously, on rainy days we don’t turn it on.

Where Oh Where Can I Find a Mister?

Misters are sometimes sold at Nature Centers.  Be sure you find one that has 50-60 feet of 1/4 ” black tubing (along with the special mister unit at the end); that way you can easily snake it up into a tree and out to the end of a branch so the mist mists out over a nice-sized area.

On line, a few places I found them available were:

  1.  AMAZON, called “Birds Choice Leaf Mister.”
  2. And HAYNEEDLE, called Backyard Nature Products Leaf Mister

Another product I’ve been told about, but not yet tried is a Fan Mister, like the average person might use around their swimming pool.  Wildlife gardeners can adapt one and use it as a bird mister.  Here’s one (and apparently they’re available at places like Lowes and Home Depot when all the summer stufffffffffffffffff is out):

  1. AMAZON, called Outdoor Fan Mister

It’s fun to place a bench somewhere nearby so that when the wind drifts the mist out over the bench, you’re cooled on a hot summer day.

Happy Gardening,

Pat