Here in the northland we are still covered in snow, though the sun is intense enough to cause the rapid melting of snowbanks and even though today is the first official day of spring, it doesn’t look much like it. However, in other parts of the country, spring has definitely ‘sprung’ and flowers are blooming in many gardens. Right now my husband is in Louisiana, along the Mississippi River and he has sent home photos of azaleas and camellias in all their splendor. Once the flowers have begun to bloom, the time is right for the return of the Ruby-throated
While it will be at least a month and a half before they return to northern Minnesota, they crossed the Gulf of Mexico a few weeks ago and are now being seeing by people in Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia. I know this because I follow a site called Journey North. This site is designed to follow the migration of many species throughout the year. People who watch for events like the return of the hummingbirds and share their observations – making them citizen scientists. On the website, you can follow their migration on the map that has different colored dots representing the locations of the birds each week. Right now, there has been a sighting north of Memphis, but south of St. Louis. That bird is an outlier, a risk taker. The majority of the Ruby-throats will take their time and move based on the improving weather conditions.
This is the only hummingbird found east of the Mississippi River. People living west of mid-continent are blessed with several other species. All hummingbirds are nectar eaters; visiting flowers, especially those with red coloration. When they have babies in the nest they will catch tiny insects to feed the young, since they need so much protein during this time of rapid growth.
For a long time people thought hummingbirds would only come to
feeders holding red colored sugar water. That was due to the commercial products sold, which contained red dyes. In large quantities research has shown these can be harmful, more of a problem for hummingbirds than humans. Hummingbirds can drink two to five times their weight in liquid per day. Having any red parts on a hummingbird feeder is all you need to grab their attention.
We have been making our own hummingbird food (nectar) for years now and find our ‘customers’ quite satisfied with the product. It is easy and simple. Just take pure cane sugar (brown or powdered sugar or artificial sweeteners will not do) and mix with good quality water. If you don’t drink from the tap, don’t make the birds do so. If your water is purified by reverse osmosis or distillation, you may use that to make the sugar solution. The ratio is 1:4 – mix one part sugar to 4 parts water. When we make it we usually mix a half cup of granulated sugar with 2 cups of water. Stir until dissolved, but if you want to speed up the dissolution process, microwave the solution for 2 minutes. This also kills off spores of mold, yeast and bacteria. If you still like the red color of the old solutions, add a teaspoon of natural tart cherry or raspberry juice from concentrate. Let it cool and then fill your feeder. We make enough so that we have extra which we keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Because sugar water can spoil in three days (or sooner if it is hot outside) be sure to change the liquid in that time period and clean the feeder between each filling.
Over the years we have had as many as 4 feeders going at one time and this alleviates some of the conflict that hummingbirds exhibit around what they consider their territory. After the young fledge the nest, the action increases and you will find yourself refilling them more often.These tiny birds are so beautiful and so entertaining to watch as they zoom back and forth, that you will never regret adding a hummingbird feeder to your other bird seed feeders.
By Kate Crowley