By Marilyn Busch
Hummingbirds, those tiny jewel-like creatures that beguilingly hover while feeding on flower nectar, are probably the most welcome visitors to New England backyards. The lovely, iridescent hummingbird is a fascinating garden guest, flying from bright flower to flower, feeding – and pollinating – as they go.
The most common of hummingbird species in this area is the Ruby-throated hummingbird. According to the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, attracting these “delightful flying jewels” to your garden is a simple matter of first choosing the right flowering plants to catch this tiny traveler’s eye.
Filling your flower beds with high-nectar blooms will tempt hummingbirds to choose your garden as their spring and summer home. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are particularly attracted by red tubular-shaped blooms, such as red columbine, bee balm, foxglove, bleeding heart, cardinal flower, impatiens and coral bells. The blue flowers of the morning glory will attract hummingbirds and provide a good vantage point if planted to wind up around a post or porch. Petunias are particularly appealing to hummingbirds, and their raised hanging pots can also provide ideal viewing. Flowering azalea shrubs with their bright pink flowers as well rhododendrons also attract these birds’ attention.
Another option is to hang nectar feeders for an additional food source. The basic recipe for boiling your own hummingbird nectar starts with a simple ratio mix of one cup table sugar to every four cups water. Bring the mixture to a boil to dissolve the sugar and cool to room temperature before adding to your feeder.
Wild Birds Unlimited in Warwick recommends putting your feeder out by Tax Day on April 18. “That way it will be ready for the earliest migrants that really need the food when flowers may be scarce.” They advise cleaning the feeder and replacing it with fresh nectar every 2 – 3 days for most of the season. In the high heat of midsummer, be warned that the sugar is prone to fermenting in the sun and should be changed out more often, even daily. In addition to nectar, these tiny birds will also feed on small insects, so it is recommended to stay away from the use of pesticides in your garden.
Common Name: Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
Scientific Name: Archilochus colubris
Scientific Family: Trochilidae
Hummingbirds by the Numbers
Of the 325 hummingbird species in the world, only eight types breed regularly in the United States.
Among the tiniest of birds, they average only about 3.5 inches long.
The ruby-throated hummingbird weighs 0.1 of an ounce on average, which is equal to the weight of one penny. It would take 160 hummingbirds to weigh in at a full pound.
Depending on air conditions a hummingbird can flap its wings up to 200 beats per second.
A hummingbird is able to fly at a maximum speed of 30 miles per hour. When performing courtship diving and flying, males can fly up to 60 mph with the right conditions.
An average hummingbird egg is 0.5-inch long, which is the size of a jelly bean.
A hummingbird has a very fast metabolism and must feed an average of 5-8 times an hour.
They regularly consume about half their weight in sugar often visiting hundreds of flowers in the span of one day.
The ruby-throated hummingbird flies 500 miles nonstop over the Gulf of Mexico during its migrations.