On the opposite end of the size spectrum from September’s Bird of the Month, the Great Blue Heron, is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. October is the month during which many people in the northeastern United States say, “Farewell!” to their tiny summer friends as the hummers migrate south. In the southeastern half of the country, hummingbird feeders may still be abuzz with activity, as the hummingbirds fuel up for the last leg of their journey to their winter homes in Central America. My feeders are quite the place to dine right now!
(Click on any photo to enlarge)
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are small hummers, with short legs and relatively short wings, too. They have beautiful emerald or olive green backs, with white bellies. The males have iridescent red throats that may look quite dark, depending on the light.
As we wave good-bye to summer, even if you haven’t seen a hummingbird for a while, you might want to keep a feeder up to help any stragglers. I actually keep one (of my seven) feeders up all winter. Year after year, I watched and never saw a hummingbird in the wintertime, until…
Last winter, during a very cold-for-us week of weather (well below freezing), I looked outside and was surprised to see movement in the direction of my remaining feeder. Lo and behold, there was a tiny sipper!
Tiny Visitor, January 2015
I ran outside like a crazed person to ensure the nectar wasn’t frozen (it wasn’t), rushing to fill a second feeder. To be sure the nectar wouldn’t freeze in the next colder days, I wrapped red tea towels around the feeders …not the prettiest sight, but they worked! The bird wasn’t bothered by my spur-of-the-moment redecorating plan; she stayed around for a few days before moving on.
Tea Towel Cozies for the Feeders
You will see pre-packaged nectar in stores, some clear, some with red color. I never buy the pre-packaged food because it is so very easy to make my own , and I know that there won’t be any additives. Though hummers may be attracted to red (the color of many feeders), the red dye in the food is unnecessary…actually unhealthy…for them. Keep in mind that the nectar of flowers is NOT red! (NOTE: Ruby-throated Hummingbirds like to eat nectar from red or orange tubular flowers, such as honeysuckle–which is why I have a feeder station in the red honeysuckle corner of my yard and add pots of red annuals.)
Feeder station near honeysuckle (upper right) and red mandevilla pot; this station also has the hummingbird swing, which the hummers really liked this year.
Here’s how I make the nectar: mix 1 part sugar to 4 parts water in a saucepan. Let the mixture come to a boil to make sure the sugar is well dissolved. Let it cool and fill your feeders. I always make a large batch and store the leftover nectar in a bottle in the refrigerator so that it is ready for refills.
It is really important to keep hummingbird feeders clean, with fresh nectar. In hot weather, this might mean changing out food every two or three days, so that it doesn’t ferment. If you notice that the nectar is becoming cloudy, it is time to change it. I never fill my feeders all the way up, preferring to clean out and refill more often to ensure that I’m not “loving my hummers to death.” By partially filling multiple feeders, I don’t waste as much nectar.
The thing about Ruby-throated Hummingbirds is that they can be incredibly territorial. I’ve never seen more than one per feeder, even if the feeder has several ports. If one is enjoying the nectar of a feeder and another comes along, a tiff ensues, and one wins out. I have also found that the birds really like the (really inexpensive) single-port feeders that come with a little stake to put in flower pots. I am constantly refilling the two that I have.
Four ports; one bird at a time!
To learn more about Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website dedicated to identification of this marvelous little bird:
NOTE: People who live in the western parts of the United States are fortunate to have several different species of hummingbirds as part-time or full-time visitors. In the eastern half of the country, however, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only breeding hummingbird. (People in the eastern states may occasionally see another hummingbird species as a rare visitor, but only the Ruby-throated species breeds there.)
If you would like to watch some wonderful activity at a feeder in the western part of the U.S., check out this feeder cam from west Texas. How many species can you identify as you watch? It is a lot of fun!
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