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After wintering in Mexico and Central America they are going to be hungry by the time they reach our shores – very hungry!, especially those who have just completed the 20 hour, 450 mile non-stop trip across the Gulf of Mexico. They go on an eating binge before they make the flight, increasing their body weight from 25 and 40 percent. Normally they eat between 3 and 5 times an hour, just to maintain their weight and stay alive. By the time they arrive here they will have used up that surplus of stored energy and be more than ready to eat again.

 

The first to arrive will be those who spend the summer in the southern states where the flowers they depend on for survival are already in bloom. During the next few months they will keep coming, not in waves, but one at a time. Hummingbirds do not migrate in flocks. They are solitary flyers. If you look up at the right time and have excellent vision, you will see them flying low, at about treetop level, stopping frequently to feed. The last to arrive will be those who spend the summer in the northernmost states and Canada.

 

By May they will have returned to all their summer homes throughout North America, usually returning to the same gardens and feeders they left in the fall, when their autumn migration began. Hummingbirds who survive their first precarious year have a life span of between 3 and 4 years, so you can expect to see your old friends returning year after year.

 

The expansion of civilization into urban areas has reduced the hummingbirds feeding grounds, so it is important for those of us who have a garden area, or space to hang a hummingbird feeder, to hang a feeder and plant the right flowers in anticipation of their return.

 

Bees and hummingbirds take nectar from the same flowers. They return the favor by pollinating the flowers. The flowers preferred by hummingbirds have a sugar content of about 25%. They do not feed from those with a sugar content of 10 to 15%. Most of the flowers that hummingbirds pollinate are red, bright pink and orange in color. For this reason, the best hummingbird feeders are bright red. When choosing a feeder, remember these points:

  • A ‘bee-proof’ feeder with a red base is preferable to all others. If your feeder is not bee-proof you may attract more bees than hummingbirds.

  • Your feeder should have a perch. Hummingbirds will feed while flying, but offering a perch saves them valuable energy.

  • Your feeder should have ant moat to prevent contamination of the nectar.

  • When making nectar for your feeder, use only white, granulated sugar. Do not use prepackaged hummingbird food, brown sugar, turbinado sugar or any ‘special’ sugar, or honey.

 

The following is a list of ‘hummingbird friendly’ flowers, vines and shrubs:

Perennials:

  • Bee balm
  • Butterfly weed
  • Columbine
  • Cosmos
  • Dahlia
  • Foxglove
  • Fuchsia
  • Geranium
  • Hollyhock
  • Red hot poker

Annuals:

  • Nasturtium
  • Petunia

Bulbs, corms and tubers:

  • Tuberous begonia
  • Iris

Vines:

  • Cardinal climber
  • Honeysuckle
  • Rosary vine
  • Trumpet vines

Shrubs and trees:

  • Azalea
  • Butterfly bush
  • Fuchsia tree
  • Strawberry tree

Many of the plants listed above are hearty ‘old favorites’ among gardeners. They will add a note of old fashioned timelessness to your garden that will be as pleasing to you as it will be to the hummingbirds. Plant your garden early so they will be in bloom when the hummingbirds return.

 

Clean and inspect your feeders. Clean them with a mild soap solution and rinse them 3 times before re-hanging them. If they need replacing, buy well made, bee-proof feeders that will last for years, not just one season.

 

OK, you are now ready for the return of the hummingbirds. There is nothing to do now but wait… and enjoy.