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Preparing for the hummingbirds

Ruby-throated hummingbirds will soon be returning to claim territories for the breeding season.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds will soon be returning to claim territories for the breeding season. Gary Phillips

Attracting hummingbirds to one’s backyard can be as simple as merely hanging up a hummingbird feeder containing the appropriate one part sugar to four parts water solution (no coloring or other additives, please.) However, depending on the quality of the available habitat, some enhancements to your landscape may be required to entice a hummingbird to claim your yard as its territory.

Hummingbirds spend most of their waking hours perched (as is the case with the majority of our bird species.) Trees and/or tall shrubs that provide cover for perching also provide places for hummingbirds to forage for an essential component of their diet, namely tiny insect prey. Studies show that approximately 50% of a ruby-throated hummingbird’s diet is comprised of insects (and as much as 70% of a rufous hummer’s diet is tiny arthropod prey.) Tiny gnats, flies, mosquitos, even tiny spiders (along with prey from spiders’ webs) are among the bugs hummingbirds need to consume in order to survive. Breeding hummingbirds are almost always found very near wetland areas, especially forested wetlands, and the availability of suitable insect prey is a primary reason for their choice of location. This is especially true for nesting females, as they must capture copious amounts of tiny prey in order to successfully raise offspring.

If there is appropriate cover for perching and suitable insect prey available, filling your landscape with hummingbird-favored flowering plants will certainly make your yard more attractive to Nature’s flying jewels. Hummingbirds have co-evolved over time along with a number of flowering plants. In fact, hummingbirds appear to have driven the evolution of flower shape in many plant species due to the tiny birds’ efficiency and effectiveness as pollinators. Most plants native to the Western hemisphere with a tubular-shaped blossom have a close relationship with one or several hummingbird species. Some flowering plants have evolved to be solely or primarily pollinated by hummingbirds. For example, tropical plants in the Heliconia genus have blooms that are pollinated by hummingbirds in the hermit family, as those hummer species’ long-curved bills fit the shape of the plants’ blossoms. The sword-billed hummingbird of South America, whose bill is longer than the length of its body, is the primary pollinator for plants in the genus Datura (often called Angel Trumpet.)

If you’d like a list of hummingbird-attracting plants that do well in our area, send me an e-mail and I’ll be happy to provide one.