Hummingbirds make for a fun and fascinating summer

Published 3:04 pm Monday, August 3, 2009

One of the joys of summer is watching hummingbirds as they dart and swoop around the yard.

Hummingbirds are a useful and fascinating addition to any yard as they aid in pollination. They are also mesmerizing with their amazing wingspans and acrobatic skills.

They are not only fun to watch, but also relatively easy to attract. All it takes is planting the correct plants or putting up a feeder.

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The most common hummingbird in Alabama is the rubythroat. The male has a deep red throat patch and a dark green back. The female has a lighter back and lacks the red throat patch. Occasionally, some other type will be seen at a feeder, but this is rare.

Hummingbirds are attracted to many types of plants that bloom profusely and provide nectar. Hummingbirds prefer red flowers, but they will visit other colors as well. I know that they love the petunias in my deck rail boxes, which are red, but they also like the purple Mexican petunias and bleeding heart in the yard.

You will also find that they love snapdragons, morning glory, pinks, impatiens, day lilies, cardinal flower and trumpet vine. Woody plants that attract hummingbirds include butterfly bush and summersweet.

We also put up hummingbird feeders each spring, usually in April. We place them near windows so that we can observe the birds as they feed and chase each other from the feeders.

There are many types of feeders available in all price ranges. We have found that many of the cheaper plastic ones work as well as those costing much more. You will do well to get a feeder with a bee guard. If too many bees are around the feeder, the hummingbirds stay away.

You can buy nectar for the feeders or make it yourself; they work equally well. To make your own hummingbird nectar, do the following:

Dissolve one part white sugar in four parts hot water.

Boil the water if you plan to store the nectar in the refrigerator.

Never use honey, which ferments easily, or artificial sweeteners, which have no food value for the birds.

Red food coloring is not recommended.

Let the solution cool to room temperature before putting it in the feeder.

Once you fill your feeder, don’t forget to empty, rinse and refill it every two or three days (especially in warm weather) to prevent spoiling. If the liquid becomes cloudy, empty it and wash the feeder.

If ants are attracted to your feeder, coat the monofilament line used to handle the feeder with vegetable oil. The oil keeps the ants from climbing down the line.

In the fall, leave the feeders up as long as the hummingbirds use them. They will leave when it is time to leave, whether you have feeders up or not. They know when it is time to leave for their winter quarters.

In the late summer or early fall, just before migration, a lot of hummingbirds may use the feeders and then disappear overnight.