Calling all hummingbirds

Published 10:43 pm Thursday, April 22, 2010

While there are many pesky garden guests people work hard to keep out of their gardens, hummingbirds usually find happy homes designed by gardeners wishing them welcome.

For those looking to attract hummingbirds, which should be making their annual appearance any day now, there is more than one thing you should do to make your garden more appealing.

“The first (hummingbirds) usually come about April 15,” said Steve Maier, north Suffolk resident and a previous owner of a bird store. “I’ve had my feeders out since April 10 but haven’t seen any yet. I have a suspicion that this recent weather pattern may have brought some up though.”


Email newsletter signup

Right now, the ruby-throated hummingbird, the species widely seen in Virginia, is flying up from Texas and the Gulf of Mexico, which it’ll return to in around late October.

While their delay can be attributed to several factors, Maier said one of the reasons they may not be at your feeder is because there are plenty of natural resources at their disposal.

“They don’t feed on feeders straight away often because nature is providing them a lot of food,” Maier said. “Tulip poplars are blooming and have plenty of nectar, and the bark on trees cracks during the wintertime and sap is coming out. They’re drinking plenty of that. They are also bugs crawling around, and they’re getting plenty of protein.”

Soon after arrival, the male and females will mate, the females will make a nest, lay their two eggs and then wait for the babies to hatch.

“After they hatch and get out of the nest, they’re on their own,” Maier said. “They’ll be out in late May to early June, but August is the premier time for hummingbirds to be out in large numbers.”

To be ready for the early birds though, there are a few things you can do to make your feeder more appealing to them.

“Use a red feeder,” Maier said. “It’s their favorite color.”

But be careful about the traditional red feeder with yellow flowers.

“A lot of people would always come in complaining about bees,” Maier said. “Bees are attracted to the yellow.”

Additionally, if you have a red feeder, there is no reason to have red dye.

“Nectar is normally clear,” Maier said. “There’s no reason to have red dye in it if your feeder is red because they’re already attracted to it. It used to be, before there were plastic feeders, people dyed the solution red to attract the birds. You really don’t have to do that anymore.”

Maier’s special recipe for making a tantalizing nectar solution is four parts of water to one part of sugar — it’s the closest to natural nectar.

“Boil the water so the sugar will dissolve,” he said. “Then add the sugar. Don’t boil them together because it’ll turn to a syrup.”

Along those lines, using Jell-O, honey or artificial sweeteners can kill hummingbirds, so stay away from them, he warned.

Keeping the feeders clean is also essential.

“(Hummingbirds) are like we are,” Maier said. “If the restaurant is dirty they won’t ever come back.”

When the weather is in the 60s and 70s, feeders need to be changed once a week. Once it reaches 85 degrees, Maier recommends changing the solution every three days. At 90 degrees, it needs to be changed every two days and when temperatures are 95 degrees or above it should be changed every day.

“Don’t fill your feeders up or you’ll waste nectar,” Maier said. “Just keep it in the refrigerator. It’ll keep for two weeks.”

If you’re looking to go the extra mile to draw the birds to your home and garden, having the right plants around is key. Hummingbirds are especially attracted to brightly colored red and scarlet flowers. Pink, rose, orange and purple also entice them.

Some vines, trees and shrubs that attract hummingbirds include honeysuckle, morning glory, trumpet creeper and butterfly bush.

While the whole process is “a fair amount of maintenance, it’s fun and incredible to watch,” Maier said.