I couldn't tell you how many pictures I've shot of hummingbirds feeding or just sitting on a Zinnia. Young hummingbirds find them incredibly attractive and obviously find some value in them to keep returning. For me they are a "MUST HAVE" in a hummingbird garden.
It is NOT too late to start these attractive flowers. Zinnias develop a large pom pom shaped flower at the end of every stem the plant produces. You can get an array of colors that are incredibly attractive to hummingbirds. They appear like they have no nectar, but the hummingbirds, particularly the young, keep returning because they are getting some kind of nutritional value from them. Zinnias are a drought tolerant annual that do well in most climates, from cool to very hot. They are very fast growers, and this is the reason I mention them today. It is NOT too late to start them.
Plant the Zinnia seeds in their containers and cover them with about 1/4" of soil. Water and watch. In about 5-10 days you will see growth. As soon as they germinate, put them out in direct sun, as long as temperatures are above 5C(42F). Bring them in overnight if temps dip below this as well. As long as they get direct sun right after germination there will be no need to climatize them. Don't over water them as they will get brown at the end of the leaves. Plant them in the garden when there is no more risk of frost.
For those well into the season, south of me, don't think you are too late in starting them from seed. If it's not too late in my region, it's definitely not too late in yours.
Juvenile Male Ruby-throat hummingbird. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. July 28, 2018.
I count down the days until the return of Ziggy and the rest of his family and offspring. I look forward to seeing just how many females will return to our neck of the woods for another nesting season. This far north you have to appreciate every single hummingbird day because their are less than 110. From the time the first one appears to the time the last one leaves is no more than 110 days. The cycle of mating, nesting, and raising the young is all completed in a very short time, so you can probably understand the excitement for us that have a very limited season.
I can hardly wait, but I can honestly say that it makes my day with every message or email that I receive from those that just got their first sighting of the year. It's a moment we all look forward to, and it's those times where we can all appreciate the simplest things in life. For those that are new to hummingbirding, I encourage you to spend the time in the garden planting flowers and hanging feeders. Learn what you can about these birds, and do what you can to attract them. It takes gardening to a level out of this world.
I chuckle every time I look at this photo. This lazy young Ruby-throat stretched out without having to use a calorie to get the Delphinium nectar, but what I find extremely cute are the racing spokes splayed out on its legs.
Aug. 7, 2018. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Juvenile Ruby-throat hummingbird.
Birds go through a season of molting where they lose the feathers that have taken a real beating over the breeding season. Those feathers start off brilliant in color and in perfect condition just at the right time for mating. They show off their brilliance in their displays, and frequently fight others for the rights to territories and breeding opportunities. Those seemingly delicate feathers are incredibly durable to withstand rain, sun, fighting and flying. They do, however, start to fade as the season goes on. The tips of the feathers, although tough, start to fray, while many break down and lose the ability to marry together to form the air tight shield that allows them to fly. But beautifully built within their DNA, they shed the tattered feathers and begin new growth in time for the next breeding season.
This is the time we see them arrive. They show up in our gardens, dressed in their best, to put on a show, attract mates, and perform the task they were created to do.
This is Ziggy, the dominant male Ruby-throat hummingbird over the past several seasons. He sits confidently on one of his many perches, while he soaks up some sun and views his garden. Every feather reflects beautiful iridescence, and while he's already put on several thousand miles on these feathers, they are in pristine condition to impress all that notice him.
May 26th, 2018. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
The stillness of the morning awoke with the first spark of sunrise. Silence turned to song, and a chorus of mixed birds squeaking through our open window woke me up much earlier than normal. Within moments that first spark of light turned into glowing rays of sunshine. I quickly dressed and grabbed my arsenal of hummingbird equipment and proceeded to the back door. I slowly opened it to not scare any birds in the vicinity.
It was like the first morning ever created. I inhaled deeply and soaked in that glorious Spring air. The fragrant Aspen Forest was so refreshing and the sparkling dew covered grass enhanced the most spectacular sunrise. Several species of birds were present. They all sang their own song, all so different, and none of them in unison. It was like unorchestrated chaos, but so beautiful. What a transformation from just one month ago. Every male songbird sat atop the tallest trees and put forth its very best effort in song, trying to attract a mate. Just about every one of these birds had traveled hundreds, if not thousands of miles for one sole purpose, mating.
Amidst all the song in the garden was one lone silent bird. He arrived knowing it was his territory, but was nothing like all the other birds. He was small in stature, fierce in attitude, and had no song to impress. As a matter of fact he could easily be overlooked when scanning the forest. His methods of attracting a mate were far different than all the others, but much more impressive. The only similarity he had with other birds was that he had to anxiously wait, just like all the others, for an arriving mate. He would spend a limited amount of time on the tallest perch he could find, and if there was no activity within a couple minutes he would proceed to the next tallest perch. He continued this until he formed a perimeter around our yard. This was his territory, and he was not to be messed with.
As I anxiously await this Spring's visitors, all I can do is reminisce on the past seasons. Here sit's Ziggy, my dominant male Ruby-throat, just waiting for the ladies to return.
N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. May 26, 2018.
For those that have attracted hummingbirds over the years, you know the value of hummingbird feeders. The mature birds key in on them because they are guaranteed to have an ample supply of nectar that mysteriously seems to never run out. The mature birds have had their whole lives to pick and choose between the limitless sources of food that blanket the continent. Their criteria will depend on a few factors - flavor, availability, and quantity. Over time they figure out which flowers are abundant and worthy of a second or even third visit. Because of their need for a large consumption of nectar and their characteristic ADHD, it doesn't take long to solve the mysteries of which flowers are a lifetime keeper. They also learn that after just a single visit, those feeders will top the list.
For young hummingbirds such as this one, color is like a candy land for kids. They are new from the nest, and those bright, brilliant colors that magically appear across the landscape will provide the addictive nectar that will consume the lives of every single hummingbird for the rest of their lives. In the early stages from the nest, every flower will get tested for quality control. Time and practice will eventually eliminate many flowers from the return list, while many flowers will get repeat visits and dominate their attention. Up until the time where young hummingbirds finally figure out the mysteries of the bright red feeders, the flowers will remain most important. That is exactly the reason for planting not just flowers, but top notch flowers that provide sufficient nectar worthy of making the return flight time and again.
For a shortlist of worthy flowers to plant in your hummingbird garden please go to http://www.therubythroat.com/flowers.html
This young Ruby-throat sat on the Clematis vine and stared into the newly oped Bluebird.
N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. August 16, 2018.
Author of Jewel of the North. Please post your comments and questions.