Among garden visitors hummingbirds are our darlings. The world’s smallest bird is not unusual in Carolina gardens, but it is always a joy to see.
There are 338 hummingbird species. They occur only in the western hemisphere -- from southern Canada south through the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America and South America.
The tiny birds which weigh only a few grams are migratory. Amazingly they fly solo, not in flocks, as they migrate between their summer breeding grounds in the north and overwinter in Central America. They arrive in South Carolina in mid- March and fly south in mid-October.
The ruby-throated hummingbird is the only species that breeds and nests in SC. Nineteen hummingbird species are regular in the U.S., eight of these in addition to the ruby-throated have been sighted in the state
The males are first to arrive in March, followed a week or so later by the females. Some birds continue north, others spend the breeding season locally. Arrival and departure time across the country corresponds to bloom time and availability of food plants.
Hummingbirds fly close to the ground. As they travel they look for food sources along the way. They need nectar rich plants to fuel their long journey. The blooms in our gardens aid them during their multi-thousand mile migration in early spring and fall.
The tiny birds need nectar and pollen continuously during their summer breeding and nesting season. In particular they need plants with a long bloom season. They consume more than 50% of their body weight daily in sugar. The sugar fuels a wing speed of about 50 flaps per second and a heart rate of nearly 1260 beats per second. However, hummingbirds need protein, too. They get that from pollen and eating small insects, especially fruit flies, spiders, gnats and leafhoppers.
You can attract hummingbirds to your yard with agapanthus, agastache, agave, aquilegia (columbine), buddleia, butterfly weed, Carolina jessamine, cypress vine, kniphofia, lonicera (honeysuckle), monarda, penstemon, salvia, trumpet vine, and yuccaóthey all have brightly colored trumpet-shaped flowers. The birdsí primary response is to bright red and orange trumpet- and tubular-shaped flowers, but they are attracted to vivid pink, purple and yellow blooms, too.
Hummingbirds have memories that allow them to remember sources of nectar from year to year. Be patient. Once a hummingbird discovers your garden or feeder he will remember the location and return in following years. Their lifespan is 3 to 5 years.
Bees and wasps can be a problem at hummingbird feeders. Donít react by using an insecticide. Bees and wasps are pollinators, too. Treat them like the good guys they are by giving them their own feeding station nearby the feeder. Fill a jar lid with sugar water and place it close by. They will choose it instead of the hummingbird feeder because it is easier for them to drink from the jar lid.
As with other pollinators it is vital to keep the flowers hummingbirds visit free from chemical pesticides and herbicides.
Shorter days and an internal compass prompt our hummingbirds to head south by October 15th, but sightings are possible throughout the winter. Keep your planter up through the winter for the rare visitor if you choose, but remember youíll need to maintain its cleanliness and the freshness of the sugar water the entire period. Without your feeder the tiny birds will find the flowers on camellias, sweet olive (osmanthus frangrans), viburnum and other winter blooming plants.
Reach Debbie Menchek, a Clemson Master Gardener, at firstname.lastname@example.org.