The females of just about every species of bird were created with the most bland colouring, but for the most impressive reasons. Every bird's colours perfectly suit the the colours of the trees, grass, sand, mud or whatever background they were meant to nest in. They were blended to fit the environment for which they were created, and this was done with perfect intention. If you look at all the colourful male birds that standout, notice that the vast majority of them have no part in nesting. Then take a look at all the males that have a similar look to the females. The majority of these well camouflaged males take part in the nesting and incubating. This was all done to protect the nesting birds and their young during the most vulnerable time of their life. This shows the brilliance of creation across MILLIONS of birds, and it doesn't even scratch the surface of miracles within all of nature.
This female Ruby-throat provided a few years of entertainment, along with the young that she always brought to our garden. 2012 N.E. of Edmonton, AB.
I touched briefly on hummingbird gardens in a recent post, but I want to elaborate on it a bit. Flowers and feeders are essential for attracting hummingbirds and keeping them around your garden. They go hand in hand when creating the perfect hummingbird paradise. You might ask, "can I go with just one or the other?" My answer would be quite simple. If you want to be really successful at attracting hummingbirds, then it's important to have both flowers and feeders present. Flowers provide large targets and quickly get their attention. In Springtime we have entirely an adult population, so feeders are first priority to all of them. All hummingbirds from the previous year will have learned what feeders are and always gravitate to them over flowers. However, they have that instinctive trigger that sets off every time they see a mass of color. It draws them in, and from that point they choose according to their priority list.
Young birds instinctively choose flowers first. As a matter of fact, a young hummingbird may go several weeks without discovering the benefits of a feeder, and this is NOT to say that they prefer flowers over feeders. It simly means they haven't figured out feeders yet. Flowers are crucial for attracting the young. I've always said, flowers attract hummingbirds and feeders keep hummingbirds, but until the point that young birds understand a feeder, we have to have enough alternate food sources available to keep them satisfied, until they solve the feeders.
Today I want to focus on flower choices for each season. It's of the utmost importance that we choose flowers for every important time throughout the hummingbird season. Although I choose flowers suitable for my times, you will have to choose flowers perfect for your seasons, and these times will vary greatly across the continent.
Bergenias are one of my favorite perennials for first thing in Spring. They are also one of the few choices of perennials that are in full bloom at the time the first hummingbird show up for the season.
Because I have limited choices for blooming perennials early on, I have to make up for it with annuals. Some annuals I plant directly from seed so they won't have an impact until the young birds leave the nest in late July and August. Then there are those that I start indoors a few months before the last frost. My first choice would be Million Bells. They bloom like no other annual, they are remarkably hardy and can withstand mild frosts, and will continue blooming for the remainder of the season. Hummingbirds, both adults and juveniles are attracted to them.
3 to 4 weeks after the adult hummingbirds arrive in our yards, they are well into nesting. This can become a very quiet period in our yards. Feeders will become a necessity during this time even though we'll see far fewer sightings at this point. Females will incubate for great lengths of time but show up ocassionally for a necessary feeding, and males will do their thing, but highly rely on their territory feeders to keep their energy up. At this point flowers have less value, but what comes next are the peak times throughout our hummingbird season. As I mentioned earlier young birds will be drawn to flowers, so we have to prepare our garden with the most and the best flower choice possible for this time. At the time when the first young start leaving the nest should be the time that your garden is exploding with color, but not with just any flowers. About 20% of your flowers will make up nearly 100% of the juveniles food until they solve the feeders. Here are some of my top choices that I plant heavily, that I know will bloom during my peak hummingbird season, between July 15 and August 25.
Gardeners should be in the planning process if not already started with indoor plants. Your garden varieties will vary from one location to another, but make sure you plan for the peak times, when they first arrive, and especially when the young leave the nest until they migrate south.
2016 proved to be one of the mildest Springs across Western Canada and one of the soggiest summers I've seen. I do have to say it was one of the nicest Springs I'd ever encountered. It did, however, create a conflict between the hummingbirds and the early perennials. Many of them emerged at least one month early, and as nice as it is to have Spring arrive in late February, it created some issues. With our hummingbird garden situated in a cold zone 2 region, I have to be quite selective in which perennials to plant. I think many of you already know that Delphiniums are my number one "go to" perennial. The issue with last Spring was that my Delphiniums were emerging in March. They looked healthy as ever, however, those beautiful talk stalks of flowers were in full bloom one month before the first young hummingbirds left the nest. I highly depend on these flowers to keep the young hummingbirds around my garden until the time that they learn how to use a feeders. It was very unfortunate that about 80% of my Delphiniums were finished blooming by this time. You can tell in the image that these last few waterlogged Delphiniums were just about done, and the young hummingbirds still could not resist them. But with less blooming, the hummingbirds made far more visits to these already drained flowers.
This is a really good reason why we should choose "great" flowers for every time throughout the season, and plant heavy on each. I've got about 10 favorites that I plant heavily, and they range in time from May through August. But the time that I focus on the most is when the first young hummingbirds leave the nest to the time they leave my region(that being Mid July to August 25th). Of course everyone's region will differ in times, but this is the best way to choose the right flowers for the perfect hummingbird garden.
I would suggest keeping a garden diary that tracks the blooming time of each and every perennial. Also, track the times and population of hummingbirds in your garden throughout the season. You'll soon find out which flowers are best suited for the peak hummingbird times, and plant heavily on those favorites the following year. Just understand that about 20% of the plants available will become their favorites. The others are just garden fillers, of which many simply act as attractors.
As much as I love Spring, I think I would rather have it arrive at the normal time. This would provide the most amount of flowering nutrition at just the right time for hummingbirds.
This young Ruby-throat had very few Delphiniums left in the garden to choose from, but every single one he remembered. When he did his rounds, he would lick up every last bit of sweet residue that remained on each flower.
July 2016, N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta.
It's always amazing to me how a hummingbird can cycle it's wings repeatedly without the body moving at all. As I've said in the past I plant flowers for the young hummingbirds. The adults prefer feeders and so will the juveniles once they figure them out. But until that time, the flowers are the greatest attraction to keep these young birds around your yard. I've also mentioned that adults don't like to stick their heads into deep flowers, as this doesn't allow them to see predators or other hummingbirds approaching. Here we have a young Ruby Throat feeding from a Vining Nasturtium. The pointed tail on these flowers contain multiple drops of nectar which make them a great choice for hummingbirds.
In the right soil these plants can reach 10 feet or more in many directions, and produce a multitude of flowers. Just avoid full sun as the leaves will yellow too soon and not produce as well. Quite drought tolerant. A must in any hummingbird garden. July 2014, N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta.
As beautiful as the colors are of this Geranium, they really aren't at the top of the list for hummingbirds. Some flowers are useful as attracting and drawing hummers in, while others contain multiple drops of rich nectar that keep them around. This is not to say that they won't return to these sub par flowers. If there's not much else available, these flowers will stay on the short list.
They start to expand their territory in search of new food, and will distinguish good from bad and soon prioritize what's worthy of their return. In time they will form a list based on the food quality and quantity. Their patterns will become very consistent in time, selecting the gardens with their favourite flowers and of course those with feeders.
Just because you see a hummingbird at a particular flower doesn't mean it's a great one. When you see multiple feedings and many returns, you will soon discover those worthy of the ultimate hummingbird garden.
Choose wisely with your flower choices as these will be a common food for the young hummingbirds until they discover feeders. The perennial flowers that top their list will greatly vary from one end of the continent to the other.
Ruby Throated hummingbird, 2014. N.E. of Edmonton, AB.
Territory is the number one concern for every male hummingbird during mating season. They battle it out for the rights to land, flowers, feeders and breeding. Strength, endurance and courage are key components of a male's development in becoming the top bird. When the males show up in a certain region they'll search out the best locations available. The more we can supply of their essential needs, the more likely a male will stick around. If you have a perfect combination of flowers, feeders, a good structure of trees, and water sources, the more likely you'll attract numerous Males. You can always rate your garden according to how many males return before and during the southern migration.
In this case, one of Ziggy's combatants tested his patience and would return time and again to steal his nectar and sample his garden. Ziggy's keen eye would frequently spot him and the battle would begin, but it wouldn't stop the rebel from return visits.
If you create enough temptation for hummingbirds, it'll be hard for them to resist, even if they have to take on the lead warrior.
N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta. June 2016.
I would say that it's pretty much official that many Ruby-throated hummingbirds have started their northern migration. It's about the middle of February when they start pushing northward in Mexico, and the late February when the first few start to arrive on the southern shores of the United States. Once they get into full migration mode some will travel about 50 kilometres (30 miles)north per day. The first birds to arrive will typically be the males. Many will arrive at the same summer locations where they were last year, while others will find new territories. The males will not overcrowd a territory as this lessens their opportunities for breeding. For those residents new to attracting hummingbirds, this will be your opportunity to attract mostly the first year males and first year females. All successful adult males and females from last year will more than likely show up at the territory where they had good success previously. Just about every living thing on this planet develops habits, and then they stick to them until some type of danger forces them to change it. If you had a large population of Males late last summer, there's a good possibility that some of them will find a new territory of their own. These birds have one intention in Spring, and that's breeding, and if they have to share a territory with other dominant Males then it would be counter productive. With literally millions of hummingbirds moving north over the next three months, there will be virtually no uncovered territory searched out by hummingbirds. It's our opportunity to start developing a local population in each one of our gardens. And like I've said before, don't limit yourself to just one hummingbird feeder. Make your garden the envy of the neighborhood, and hummingbirds will make your garden the preferential one. Multiple food sources give them multiple reasons to keep returning.
The image of this adult male Ruby-throated hummingbird looks far creepier than it actually was. They spend hours in a day just preening and making themselves look handsome for the arriving females in Spring.
N.E. of Edmonton, 2016.
Hummingbirds are the smallest birds on the planet with the biggest and baddest attitude, and if you don't see them very often, you may think they are a sweet and gentle bird. Just not the case. They are born with a mean streak that makes Yosemite Sam look like a kind old gentleman. They disrespect their parents, beat up their sibling, and basically look for a fight wherever they can find one. Given their small stature, they makeup for it big time in attitude.
A big question "hummingbirders" often ask is why they fight more in certain areas and feed together in others? It's really quite simple. The further you go north, the smaller the population. In the northernmost regions it's highly unlikely that you'll see 100 hummingbirds in 1 yard. Territory is much bigger and the number of birds is much smaller. This gives each hummingbird a chance to dominate a region without much competition. As you go further south, the population dramatically increases, and as the northern birds migrate south it creates an even bigger population in those regions. They're still just as angry, but it's no longer just one or two birds that they need to chase away from their feeder. Now there's hundreds. Hummingbirds nearly always squeak out of anger, and when you see a number of them gathered, they continue to squeak as much as ever. They just can't afford, nor will they be able to chase 100 hummingbirds away from their feeder. They are still angry, and still as miserable as ever. Simply put, the higher the population the less fighting you'll see. In saying this, circumstances are much different in breeding season. They like to dominate a larger area during this time because it increases the likelihood of finding several mates, and as much as they fight over feeders, they will fight til the death over breeding rights.
Here is an angry battle over one of my feeders that occurred August 2016. It's a young male Ruby-throat that challenged and won territory over this feeder, however, it didn't stop other young birds from stealing nectar and trying to take over the territory themselves.
N.E. of Edmonton, AB.