After every feeding session or fight with the rest of the hummingbirds, this young Ruby would make a returned visit back to this Bluebird Clematis. It was about 6 feet to the left of where I typically sat. I managed several decent photos of him, some perching and some feeding from the few late season blooms. He found enough value in these flowers to continue returning. In Spring-time, the newly arrived males also found value in this plant. It produced an abundance of flowers, almost to the point that the foliage was covered. This is the kind of target that attracts hummingbirds from long distances away, and contains enough flowers in Spring to keep a hummingbird's attention for a substantial amount of time. Clematises aren't typically high on the list for hummingbirds, but this particular one has proven effective. After seeing how well it attracted hummingbirds, I have taken cuttings and produced another dozen of them to spread out around the garden.
This young male Ruby-throat wasn't yet into the grown-up food, but he certainly was a messy little eater in the flowers, which isn't uncommon for young hummingbirds.
The image of the blooming Bluebird Clematis was taken in May. It is an early Spring bloomer with a smaller bloom later in the season. I like to have favorite hummingbird plants that bloom in succession throughout the hummingbird season. As one finishes, another will take over in the garden. The best times to have these big bloomers are during the month of their arrival from the South, and then again for the time the young leave the nest until the time they head back South. The stagnant nesting period is a bit less important as the adult female birds will typically use feeders to get their large dose of nectar within a short time and then get back to the nest quickly. During this time, the males will still scout out their options, not missing a single bloom that appears in their territory.
N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Juvenile Male Ruby-throat hummingbird. August 2017
Every region has a flower that produces exceptional results when it comes to hummingbird sightings. When we first started creating our hummingbird garden we planted anything and everything. It looked fantastic, but the hummingbirds always reverted back to their favorites. The variety of colors and types of flowers were a huge attraction for any hummingbird that flew within half a mile of our place. It was any hummingbird's dream, until they showed up. Many flowers would be sampled, but they always chose their favorites, so 90 percent of the flowers would go untouched by them.
It was after researching types of flowers and how many times they'd return to each type that I decided to cut down on the variety and go serious with the favorites. I'm down to about 8 annuals and perennials that I've gone heavy with. Other types remain in small numbers, but with the favorites, they get planted in masses around the yard. I've densely planted larger islands of flowers, all Delphiniums in several, Hostas in others and so on. They will go from island to island, and with the quantities in each, it keeps them busy for long periods of time without having to move around so frequently. With larger large quantities of their favorites, it makes it worth while for "non-feeder feeding juvies" to make the special trip to my garden. For the youngsters that don't yet know feeders, we have to make it worth while with large quantities of alternate food sources. Only one or two flower favorites forces them to expend more energy than what they gain from those few flowers. Speaking from a survival point, repeatedly flying to locations with few food choices would become fatal. Give them multiple reasons to return, and they will.
Here is a closeup of a young Ruby-throat feeding from an all-time favorite in my region of the country. This is a Delphinium(Hardy zone 2 Perennial).
N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. August 2017
It was a cool crisp morning and the sun was still half an hour away from making an appearance. I sat on the deck prepared for some morning hummingbird entertainment. That 30 minutes before sunrise can be a very intense time for hummingbird feeding, especially after a very cool night without food. I glanced around the yard continuously, looking for sightings in the flowers and at the feeders. At a certain point I heard a faint humming. I started looking around me, up at the feeder that hung about 6 feet away, but nothing. The humming continued. "Where is it coming from"? I looked down at the camera on my lap, and right beside my chair was the clumsiest little juvenile Ruby-throat. He showed no concern for me, but fumbled around in the Million Bells while his uncoordinated little wings slapped around in the flower petals. He was impressed with what he found and gave me enough time to prepare the camera. The lighting was not so good that early in the morning, but I managed to snap a few pics before he carried on throughout the garden. It was because he had spent time there earlier that he continued to return throughout the day, and eventually blended in to all the other fighting hummingbirds.
Juvenile Male Ruby-throat hummingbird. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. August 2017.
With just the slightest tilt of his head, those little sparkles of ruby color will turn into a glowing patch of metallic brilliance.
The adult males will be the first to arrive in regions all across North America. Their appearance can dramatically change mainly due to the amount of light that reflects off the feathers. You may think you are getting different birds each time, and you may very well, but the same bird can look very different in different light. The same male can show just a black throat, to a slight hint of red sparkle, to the most beautiful ruby color you've ever seen. Especially in Spring time, adult males have the most perfect feathers. Those spikey pin feathers that can look ragged and rough in late fall soon push out a brand new look, just ready to impress for Spring mating. As the season goes on, those brilliant ruby throats slowly break down, losing that glistening ruby sheen to a point where they show more of a duller orange appearance in late Summer and Fall.
With the migration in full swing, gardens across the Southern U.S. are now seeing their first Rubies. Expect the adult males to show up first, and the females soon to follow.
The images are of the same bird with just a slight difference in the tilt of his head and a morning stretch in the tail feathers. They also flare out the tail to intimidate. He's Ziggy, an adult male Ruby-throat hummingbird. I hope to see him again this Spring, but he has to be getting near retirement after 3 years of returns to our garden.
N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. May 2016 and May 2017.
Identification can be very difficult on young Ruby-throats because they can show dark spots on the throat right from the nest or they can show none and develop them over time. Looking at this young bird you would think it's a female(young or old), but there's one very small indication that it's a male(no it's not that). There's one small black gorget feather below the eye and to the left. That one feather showed a laser beam flash every time the light reflected off it. He quickly got the name "Freckle". He was easy to identify from the others, as the young males develop very inconsistently. Some show a five o'clock shadow right from the nest, while others appear like a female for the first several days. Some are black evenly spotted throats, and some come in patchy.
The reason this matters me is because I can soon tell just how many young birds are showing up in my garden. They quickly get identified, given names, and then recognized each time they make an appearance.
There was one other indication that this young bird was a male. He chose to sit near the tops of the trees, making himself known, just after winning territory containing a feeder that hung about 10 feet below him.
N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Late August, 2017.
The lower image is another juvenile Ruby from a few years back. He shows a more consistent throat pattern.
I got up early to catch the feeding frenzy, and once I found my sitting location among the flowers, it didn't take long before the garden came to life. It's the time of year when all species of birds have started leaving the nest. Young naive Robins had gained their wings and were crashing recklessly into branches as they soared through the trees at speeds that were new to them. They showed fear in nothing. Many hopped along the trail right past me, looking for insects and just recognized me as another object in the garden. It's the time in a young bird's life when predators are a real threat to them. There's no room for mistake so they must learn quickly. The same goes for young hummingbirds. They are attracted to color or food, and often times ignore real threats around them. As I sat quietly, I observed many youngsters hopping from flower to flower all around me, often times feeling the wind from their wings on my face. They would notice things like the blink of my eyes, and fly up close to observe each blink. Their curiosity was a fault that could be costly if they approached the wrong object, and being so young, many of them would frequently perch between feeds to regain their energy. Their naive behavior, and strength and endurance in their wings, will improve dramatically in just a couple short days.
Over a period of 2 hours, I snapped multiple shots and videos as they fed and perched all around me. The behavior of the young is so different from the adults, but their playful nature is just so amusing to watch.
Juvenile Ruby-throat. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. August 2017.
The reproduction of flowers starts with the transfer of pollen from flower to flower. In order to do this, certain vessels are required to transfer that pollen, and some reward is necessary to entice those vessels. From a dead seed, springs life that eventually develops attractive flowers that draw the attention of insects and hummingbirds, but within that flower lies a reward for unintentionally transferring the pollen from one flower to another, continuing the circle of life. Without the sweet drops of nectar that lie deep within the flower, there would be no desire for hummingbirds or insects to do the work.
This young male Ruby-throat is standing on the portion of the flower that contains up to 3 drops of sweet sucrose, essentially the same product we use in our hummingbird feeders to get their attention. Hummingbirds choose certain types of flowers because of the quantity and quality of nectar within them, while the colors provide an attraction that can be seen from long distances away.
I can't help but be amazed at how little weight hummingbirds have as this one perches on the flower supported by a fragile stem.
Juvenile Male Ruby-throat hummingbird. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. August 2017.
Just like many young hummingbirds do, he chose to perch in an unusual location. Day after day the lilies would lose one petal at a time and his perches were slowly dwindling down. After feeding and fighting, this handsome lil guy would return to the same spot as before. It was safe, full of flavor and colorful. Whether he gained much from this stamen or not, he would poke at it in a playful manner. Pollen would gather on and around his bill except for this soggy morning. He still managed to pollinate is face, but from the Nasturtiums instead. The lilies were cupped upward and caught so much rain, and all that remained were soggy stamens.
Here is the reason to fill your garden with flowers. This juvenile male Ruby-throat hadn't yet chosen a feeder, but remained around the garden due to the assortment of flower food. Although lilies aren't a great choice of food for hummingbirds, they still are a food source. They will sample every flower in sight and then determine which ones are worthy of a return visit.
The dark spots forming on his throat are a dead giveaway that he will become more than just the handsome lil guy that he is. He will soon develop the most beautiful ruby colored throat and compete with all the other males the following Spring.
N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. August 2017
If you are a serious "hummingbirder", then nothing is more important to attracting them to your garden than food choices, and if you haven't already started your plants indoors, it's not too late.
First, I'd like to stress the importance of both flowers and feeders to your garden. In Spring time when the birds first arrive, feeders will be their top priority. They will have spent an enormous amount of time in flight, and having a large never-ending source of feeder nectar is just what's required. They will not be flying to a location where they last fed from flowers, but from feeders. Also, know that all these birds arriving are now mature males and females that know exactly how important a feeder is. As for flowers, hummingbirds will never forget their importance. They grow wild and among gardens all over the country, and they know that food is available at will. But first thing in Spring, feeders are of utmost importance to attracting them to your garden. Where flowers are vital is when the young leave the nest. They will seek out every colored object in your garden, and if you have a multitude of great flowers, the young will stick around while others will be drawn to your garden to eventually figure out your feeders.
Here are some of my youngest Million Bells(Calibrachoa). I start them in early February so they will be just starting to flower when I plant them out after my last frost, around the third week of May. Yes, I am that far north.
These particular seeds, along with Petunias take about 12-16 weeks until they start to flower, but for those that want to plant others that grow quickly, now is the time to plant a few others, including Zinnias, which can be started just 4 weeks before planting outdoors.
Zinnias grow very quickly, and if you bring them indoors for temperatures below 5C(42F), and place them outdoors right after germination for temps over 5C, there will be no need to climatize them. The more mature flowers are, the easier they shock. So if you can get them used to natural sunlight right after germination, they will do best.
Zinnias will cross pollinate all the time, but man do they ever produce some incredible colors. They are quick to grow, which means you will have a load of beautiful large hummingbirds magnets for the time the young will arrive after nesting.
After a few months of caring for the seedlings and transplanting them in the garden, the natural process of rain and sunshine will bring your flowers to fruition. Beautiful, full blooms that are filled with nectar will be screaming for pollination, and then the hummingbirds will do their part.
If you put in the time and effort, you will be rewarded greatly in producing a hummingbird garden. From seed to success, there is no better way to spend a summer.
This young Ruby-throat couldn't get enough of the Vining Nasturtiums in early August, 2017.
Unaware of his calling just days away, he sat contently looking over the sea which had no end in sight. Gentle clapping waves brought in warm salty air from a location in his past, while memories were vague of the distance and fatigue he once encountered. The previous weeks of heavy feeding had built up a thick layer of fat under his healthy feathers which were primed for anything, but he didn't know what lie ahead. He had little desire to do anything but feed and enjoy the sunsets, until one moment. A quick change in the wind from the South triggered some energy that started to build up in his lazy muscles, and he developed a deep desire like all the other hummingbirds to head to a location they vaguely remembered, for one sole purpose, breeding. The desire is powerful enough to draw him over a span of water well over 500 miles. Fear had no place in him as he stretched his mighty little wings and breathed in a large dose of courage, and lunged into the sky with a great leap of faith. Like thousands of others have traveled before, he started North across a sea that appeared to have no end, not knowing how long it would take or whether he'd make it.
This describes the arduous journey that most Ruby-throated hummingbirds make every Spring across the Gulf of Mexico. While many people on the Southern Coast of the United States are anxiously waiting for their return, many hummingbirds are currently in the skies, miles between the Mexico/U.S. shorelines, with no place to rest.
Here is my "Ziggy". He's made the journey for about 3+ years. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. May 2017
Author of Jewel of the North. Please post your comments and questions.