ARBORETUM PATHS: September brings hummingbird migrations
Published 4:10 am Wednesday, September 5, 2012
To watch a hummingbird in flight is absolutely mesmerizing. They are like highly entertaining little helicopters, hovering, flying backwards, and making rapid darting movements as they feed. Their “humming” noise is actually made by the rapid movement of their wings, at 50 to 200 beats per second.
Hummingbirds are migratory birds are unique to the Americas, spending their winters in South and Central America. They leave North American before the arrival of cold weather, and return in spring. According to The Hummer Bird Study Group, 15 species of hummingbirds have been found to breed in the United States, with another 6 species being classified as “vagrants”.
Hummingbirds measure about two inches long and weigh about as much as a penny. Species such as the ruby-throated hummingbird have throat feathers containing air bubbles that give off an iridescence in light. They construct nests that are about the size of a walnut, and are very difficult to spot, composed of materials like spider webs, fluffy seeds, lichens, and moss. Typically, the females lay two eggs, which take about 3 weeks to hatch. About 4 weeks after emerging, the baby hummingbirds are mature enough to leave their nest.
Incredible quantities of energy are needed to support hummingbirds’ activities. Young hummers are fed insects by their parents. As the young hummers mature, they feed increasingly on flower nectar, although adults still occasionally will feast on insects. If your intent is to create a garden or yard that will provide an environment to support hummingbirds, it is wise to employ organic gardening methods, avoiding the use of pesticides that can in turn be harmful to birds munching on the insects.
Hummingbirds will return to Mississippi in March, when our native azaleas and red buckeyes are blooming. Plants with blooms that are red, orange or pink tend to attract hummers. To draw hummers to your own garden, use a variety of plants such as these native species: Coral honeysuckle, cross vine, trumpet creeper, blazing star (Liatris), coral bean, butterfly weed, red star hibiscus, cardinal flower, and cypress vine. Hummingbirds pollinate many plants through their feeding, and they have long, needle-like tube shaped beaks and narrow half-inch long tongues that allow them to reach deep into flowers for nectar.
In addition to plant species that attract hummingbirds, you may wish to use hummingbird feeders around your yard. However, it is important to make the commitment to keeping your feeders clean to promote hummer health. As hummingbirds can be very territorial about feeders, place them a minimum of 10 feet apart. Keep them away from areas of strong sunlight that can heat up the solution and promote harmful bacterial growth. Avoid areas where water can drip into the feeder tubes.
You can easily make your own feeder solution by combining sugar and water at a ratio of one part granulated white cane sugar to four parts water. Boil the mixture and allow it to cool before filling your feeder. It is not necessary to add red food coloring, as the birds will be attracted to the red color that is a signature of a hummingbird feeder. Don’t be tempted to use sugar at higher concentrations, or add honey or sugar substitutes to the mixture, as these can be harmful or fatal to hummers. It is critical to keep the solution fresh, changing it every three to five days, and cleaning your feeder thoroughly. To clean, use white vinegar, not soap or chlorine bleach.
Search the E-Answers website at http://e-answers.adec.edu for publications and research produced by state Extension Services, to learn more about hummers and other home gardening topics. See www.MSUcares.com website to download “Attracting Hummingbirds to Mississippi Gardens”, by Robert Brzuszek, and “Mississippi Recreational Gardens: Establishing a Backyard Wildlife Habitat”, MSU Extension Publication 2402 by Dr. Lelia Kelly, Robert Brzuszek, and Adam Tullos, for information specific to attracting hummingbirds and other wildlife species to Mississippi gardens.
For more information see: www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu or see our Facebook page for more information on our site and activities. The Arboretum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is located in Picayune, off I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Wal-Mart and adjacent to I-59.)
For further exploration: 1) Those who want to learn more about hummingbirds may wish to join The Hummer Bird Study Group, whose mission is “dedicated to the study and preservation of hummingbirds and other Neo-tropical migrants (songbirds).” Visit the HBSG website at www.hummingbirdsplus.org for more information about membership, as well as on hummers, including feeder care, plant lists, books, and much more. The site also lists who to contact when sighting particular species of hummingbirds, such as ruby-throats that may be lingering in the area after November 15.