As spring steams full speed ahead, bird enthusiasts in the tri-state area eagerly await one of the region’s most beloved avian marvels: the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
During our chilly winters, these diminutive jewels feed on the abundant tropical flowers of northern Central America.
With the waning of winter, Ruby-throats slowly begin their journey north, ultimately launching a non-stop nocturnal crossing of the Gulf of Mexico. Arriving at the Eastern Seaboard, they establish breeding territories in every available forest, field, and backyard. In the greater New York area, Ruby-throats arrive in mid-to- late April and stay throughout the summer, eventually returning to the tropics as the fall leaves begin to change.
Many local gardeners have come to realize that hummingbirds, despite their small size and apparent fragility, are comfortable living in close proximity to man. Because of this toleration, there are several ways in which one can encourage them to stay throughout the summer. The easiest way to attract a Ruby-throated Hummingbird is to install an artificial feeder.
These feeders, usually made from plastic or glass, are filled with a sugar water solution irresistible to hummingbirds. A simple homemade solution of four parts water to one part white granulated sugar is the most effective mixture. When choosing a feeder, look for one that displays some red coloration near where the hummingbird is to insert its bill as this attracts the bird's attention.
While artificial feeders are certainly an effective way of drawing and keeping hummingbirds, natural flowers can be just as effective. A wide variety of plant species, particularly those with red or dark purple tubular blossoms, draw Ruby-throats. Bee balm, honeysuckle, crape myrtle, and butterfly bush all attract hummers with their regular, abundant blossoms.
Finally, to maximize the number of hummingbirds one can host, be sure to locate feeders and flowers throughout one’s property. Ruby-throats are highly territorial, so spreading out the feeding options will prevent one individual from driving others away. Whether with an elaborate garden or a simple sugar feeder, attracting hummingbirds should be high on any nature lover’s spring to-do list.
William Haffey is currently a seminarian for the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn. and has a background in avian ecology. He has birded extensively in the United States and Latin America.
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