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Ruby-throated Hummingbird

 

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are a familiar and cherished site and sound, in my backyard. My garden chores are always lightened by having the little, glittery green, squeaking & twittering, hummers zooming around after each other.

The majority of their diet consists of nectar, but they also consume insects and sap when they are available. Their northward migration doesn't exactly coincide with the blooming time of many flowers so hummers drink tree sap that is dripping from holes that sapsuckers have drilled.

A carefully planned garden can provide hummers with a nectar source throughout the year. Remember to plant gobs of flowers that bloom at different times of the year. One male hummingbird requires the amount of nectar in 1,000 blossoms every day to maintain its body weight. Do not contaminate your flower's nectar with pesticides!

The insects in a hummer's diet consist of such things as gnats, winged ants, fruit flies, small beetles, weevils, aphids, moths, mosquitoes, leafhoppers and spiders. Most of these are caught on the wing, but some are ingested inadvertently while drinking nectar, or sap.

A supplementary food source of sugar water can be supplied. However, great care should be taken to keep a supply of fresh nectar in the feeders at all times. Use a boiled solution of four parts of water and one part of white sugar. I add 2 cups of boiling water to 1 cup of sugar and stir for at least 2 minutes to dissolve thoroughly, then I add 2 cups of cold water. Making it this way allows me to refill the feeders right away without having to wait for it to cool. I have two feeders, so I have 2 cups left over that I put in the fridge for the next refill. This way I only have to make it once a week. Just make sure you bring it to room temperature before you put it in the feeders. In the Florida heat the solution must be changed at least every three days to avoid spoilage. Clean the feeders with hot water and vinegar, and rinse thoroughly. Do not use honey as it will produce a fungal disease that is fatal to hummers.

Do not place feeders or flower beds too close to windows. Hummingbirds can travel up to 30 miles per hour and an impact with a window is usually fatal.

Hummingbirds tend to become very territorial over 'their' flower patch or feeder and will want to rule over it with an iron claw. By providing perches you can give them a throne to rule from. Next time you are gonna trim off the tip of a branch that has tiny dead twigs on it - leave it for the hummers to perch on. Hummer's always pick the littlest branch of all. You will be rewarded with an opportunity to watch them preen, lick their beaks, and posture towards intruders. They will chase anything that comes into their area including butterflies, bees and other species of birds. They really are very big for their little, tiny, britches.

Males prefer woodland edges, orchards, thickets, and hedgerows. Mated females prefer woodland streams and riparian areas. If the food source that you provide for them is abundant (remember that feeders are only supplemental) and the habitat is right you may be lucky enough to have them nest on your property.

Hummingbird courtship occurs immediately after spring migration in April and May. The male displays for the female by flying a pendulum-arc. The male makes a loud buzzing or humming sound following the path of a narrow arch in front of the female. They do not pair for any length of time. After copulation the female goes off to build the nest and raise the young by herself.

A hummingbird nest is so camouflaged that many times it is overlooked because it resembles a knot on a tree limb. The female generally chooses a limb protected by overhead foliage and overhanging a brook. She starts with bud scales attached to the limb with spider silk. She then adds lichens on the outside and plant down on the inside. She shapes the nest with her body as she adds material. The inside diameter is no larger than a penny.

The pair of tiny eggs are not laid at the same time, and an interval of a day may pass between each egg. Incubation begins after the last egg is laid, and takes up 60 to 80% of her time. The eggs hatch after about 16 days. The pea sized hatchlings have just a few downy feathers, are dark gray and have short yellow bills. They are fed a mixture of insects and nectar that is regurgitated by the mother one to three times an hour. The nestling phase can last anywhere form 14 to 31 days depending upon the weather and the abundance of food.

A few days before they are ready to leave the nest they begin to exercise their wings. They anchor themselves to the edge of the nest and vibrate their wings rapidly. They generally stay in the vicinity of the nest for several days. The young explore flowers on their own, but are still fed by the mother for up to 34 days.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds spend their winters in Mexico and Central America. They begin their migration in the fall (late September to October in our area) stopping at food sources along the way. Their tiny bodies are able to store enough fat to fly non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico.

Here are some native plants for hummingbird gardening in Florida:

Native trees & shrubs for hummers

Latin Name

Common Name

Flowering Time

Aesculus pavia

Red buckeye

spring

Cephylanthus occidentalis

Buttonbush

spring, summer & fall

Erythrina herbacea

Coral bean

spring

Hamelia patens

Firebush

spring, summer & fall

Hibiscus coccineus

Scarlet hibiscus

spring, summer & fall

Liriodendron tulipifera

Tulip tree

spring & summer

Rhododendron austrinum

Flame azalea

spring

Rhododendron canescens

Wild azalea

spring

Rhododendron serrulatum

Swamp azalea

summer

Sophora tomentosa

Necklace pod

spring & summer

 

Native wildflowers for hummers

Latin Name

Common Name

Flowering Time

Asclepias tuberosa

Butterfly milkweed

spring, summer & fall

Ipomopsis rubra

Standing cypress

summer

Lobelia cardinalis

Cardinal flower

spring, summer & fall

Penstemon multiflorus

Beardtongue

summer

Physostegia purpurea

Obedient plant

spring, summer & fall

Salvia coccinea

Scarlet sage

spring, summer & fall

 

Native vines for hummers

Latin Name

Common Name

Flowering Time

Bignonia capreolata

 Cross vine

spring

Campsis radicans

Trumpet vine

spring & summer

Ipomoea coccinea

Scarlet morning glory

summer & fall

Lonicera sempervirens

 Coral honeysuckle

spring & summer

by Sharon LaPlante

 

Eastman, John. Birds of Forest, Yard & Thicket. Stackpole Books: Mechanicsburg, PA. 1997

Huegel, Craig. Hummingbirds in Central Florida. IFAS Publications

Rule, Marcy. Songbird Diet Index. Coconut Creek Publishing; Coconut Creek, FL. 1993

Stokes, Donald & Lillian. A Guide to Bird Behavior, Vol. III. Little, Brown & Co.: New York, NY. 1989

Taylor, Walter Kingsley. The Guide to Florida Wildflowers. Taylor Publishing: Dallas, TX 1992

 

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