Question: I thought I saw a hummingbird. Is that possible?
Answer: Hummingbirds are usually solitary migrators but can sometimes join other bird flocks as they migrate. They spend their winters in southern Mexico to Northern Panama, and begin their northward trek in January fattening up on any available insects before crossing the Gulf of Mexico. The complete migration of all hummingbirds can take approximately three months with the males leaving first. Now is a good time to attract the spring migrant hummingbird, known as the ruby-throated hummingbird. According to organizations mapping the current hummingbird migration, in 2013 the first hummingbirds arrived in our area between April 4 and April 8.
The ruby-throated hummingbird, who weighs about one-tenth of an ounce, can consume up to eight times its body weight in water daily. All this flying consumes a great deal of energy to maintain a wing beat of 20 to 200 beats per second. So while our visitor is with us, try to provide them with a safe environment with plenty of food. Hummingbirds also feed on small insects and spiders and can consume up to 2,000 insects per day. Small invertebrates including mosquitoes, gnats, small bees, fruit flies, spiders, caterpillars, aphids, and insect eggs make up a portion of the hummingbird's diet. Your garden should provide a healthy, steady diet of both.
If you also plan on using a hummingbird feeder it should be hung in the shade, and cleaned and refilled every three to five days. Fill the feeders with a solution of one part sugar to four parts water. Bring the solution to a boil and then allow it to cool to room temperature. Any unused portion can be stored in the refrigerator. Do not use honey in the feeder because it can produce a fungal disease to hummingbirds. Avoid using any insect sprays or pesticides around the feeder. To discourage hungry ants looking for the sugar solution, cover the hanging string or wire with petroleum jelly.
Over 160 native North American plants depend exclusively on hummingbirds for pollination. To attract hummingbirds to your backyard, plant red tubular flowers. Some of their favorite plants, and ones easily grown are trumpet honeysuckle, bee balm, trumpet creeper, cardinal flower, scarlet petunia, scarlet penstemon, scarlet morning glory, cypress vine, scarlet paintbrush, coral bells, and scarlet salvia. By planting certain plant species that are beneficial to hummingbirds you will be rewarded with their colorful and amusing presence.
Mona Bawgus is a certified master gardener and consumer horticulturist with Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Atlantic County.
Write to her c/o Rutgers Cooperative Extension, 6260 Old Harding Highway, Mays Landing, NJ 08330. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org