Well, it's that time of year again. Fresh smells of spring are in the air, puddles and lakes are forming across the fields and geese are splashing around in them. These are always the first signs that spring is just around the corner.
What comes next? That all depends if you are a serious birder or not. Robins will soon appear across the entire nation, Goldfinches will color the skies with their beauty and song, and many other songbirds will dazzle us with their skills. But if you're anything like me, you will be waiting for that one special thing that completes the season-the arrival of the Ruby Throated Hummingbird.
Everything about Springtime is endearing. The sights, sounds and smells just tease our emotions to wanting more, but in North America, Spring just wouldn't be complete without hummingbirds dancing around our gardens. These birds are unique and special in so many ways, and they complete a season that's perfect in its own right.
I believe that every gardener in North America would love to have hummingbirds swarming around their yard. I also believe that every birder would love to see a hummingbird in every outing, but their speed and dodgy movements can mess with the keenest of eyesight. This is why we need to create perfect environments within our yards to attract these birds into our gardens and keep them there for longer periods of time. Like every living thing on this planet, hummingbirds require certain elements to survive and to thrive. We need to create an environment so ideal with in our yards that they will need for nothing and have little desire to leave. Many think that if they filled a yard full flowers that it would be complete, but this is just the start. Hummingbirds want to feel secure in their surroundings. They want an abundance of food which should include flowers and hummingbird feeders, a water feature for bathing, and trees for perching and staying out of the hot sun. The more things you can get close to perfect, the better chance you'll have of attracting and keeping hummingbirds around your yard. If I could make one point very clear it would be this, "flowers attract hummingbirds, and feeders keep hummingbirds". When young birds move south at the end of summer, they take a bit of coaxing before learning the real purpose and value of the feeder. Once a hummingbird understands a feeder, it will become one of its greatest possessions for the rest of its life. A hummingbird will fly miles to sit and feed on the endless supply of nectar from a feeder. Most flowers expire after a certain length of time, but if we keep hummingbird feeders constantly clean and filled, then a hummingbird will see a feeder as an immortal flower. What other flower or cluster of flowers keeps producing nectar from April through September?
Structure is important for hummingbirds in the yard. Trees are perfect protection from predators. They can shelter from the blazing summer sun, and they provide a resting place to sit and watch over territory while waiting for their next meal.
Water features are always a great element in a garden. Every bird requires water to drink and enjoys a cool bath amidst the hot summer sun. The last three years that I've had a water feature in my garden, it has attracted an enormous amount of birds, including hummingbirds. Water is an absolute necessity to keeping birds nearby. We're in an area that has little water within a 1/2 mile radius, and we frequently see birds flying from every direction to over our garden, before quickly descending down to our birdbath, water fountain or manmade garden pond. Water is a lifeline to every living thing on this planet.
Finally, you can not do without flowers in your garden. Like I mentioned earlier, when young birds are heading south in late summer they are drawn to colorful flowers. These are the natural food source that they rely on. It often takes hours, days or even weeks before a hummingbird figures out what a feeder is. They will rely on the natural flowers for 100% of their nectar intake until they figure out the purpose of a feeder. A good selection of annuals and perennials are needed to not only attract, but to keep hummingbirds returning time and again. And I will tell you this, there is a monstrous difference between o.k. flowers, good flowers and great flowers when it comes to hummingbirds. You can visit the flowers page of www.therubythroat.com for a few of the flowers and their importance or you can get yourself a copy of Jewel of the North, the hummingbird guidebook of Canada.
It is difficult to explain all aspects of hummingbird gardening in a simple blog, so if you want to understand in much greater detail about the Ruby-throated hummingbird, then I would suggest you get a copy of Jewel of the North by Michael Wiens. This is a guidebook written in Canada to show people how to attract hummingbirds to their yard. It covers many topics extensively, and explains much of the behavior of these mystical birds. It is available in paperback and E-book.
Many people just like myself, I'm sure, are glad to see winter on the way out . Already being up to two weeks behind schedule has made the anticipation even greater for the arrival of our fearless little friends. 1ft. of snow still covers the majority of the Canadian Plains and much of the eastern provinces, and more is on the way, but this is certainly no time to just sit back and wait for their return. Many things can be accomplished over the next couple of months to prepare ourselves and our yards for the arrival of our hummingbirds. Now is definitely the time to be starting your indoor seeds and planning out the structure of your gardens. Hummingbird feeders should be pulled out, cleaned thoroughly, and in my case lined up on the shelf like little soldiers ready for duty. Eastern Canada will start receiving their sightings first, especially in southern Ontario, and the prairie provinces will have to wait till sometime in May to start getting their first sightings. This information is all very critical in receiving the largest number of hummingbirds to our yards. It is crucial to place your feeders up about one week before the approximate time of your first arrival. These dates can vary greatly if you take an average over the last ten years. I will usually place feeders out at my place about one week before the earliest sighting over the last ten years. If you just wait to see your first hummingbird before you place your feeders out, you may miss several early migrating males. And if this is the case, they may avoid your yard as their territory for the remainder of the year. This makes a huge difference in attracting the females to your yard which ultimately will affect the number of juveniles that return later in summer. What is the harm of putting out feeders one week before hand, other than the small amount of nectar that will go to waste. There's no possible way that we could monitor the activity in our yard for 24 hours a day until the time of our first sighting, so it is important to use a proper guide in knowing when to put out our hummingbird feeders to catch the first arrivals. The information on arrival dates across Canada, can be found at www.therubythroat.com. When you first see your perennials starting to flower, this is a very good indication to keep your eyes on the feeders. Hummingbirds will migrate only as far as their food source allows. So if there are no flowers blooming in your region, more than likely the hummingbirds will not be there yet.
This is a time of year that can pass by so quickly, so make sure you take in all the beauty that Spring has to offer. Make sure you soak in the smells, sights, and everything that goes along with it. The lilacs only bloom for a very short time, and the fragrance is out of this world, so don't miss out on what nature has to offer. Enjoy the blue sky, the flowers, and the warm temperatures because these things won't last for long. Most importantly, keep alert, and stay focused on your flowers and feeders, and remember to report your hummingbird sightings at www.therubythroat.com.
Author of Jewel of the North. Please post your comments and questions.