Many people left off last year with a garden full of hummingbirds, and are fully expecting that many more to return this Spring. There are so many differences from springtime to late summer or autumn. There are so many factors and variables involved that simply don't allow us to compare the two seasons.
First of all, springtime has all the mature birds, and their purpose is very different. In spring time they've got a purpose of breeding, and nothing will interfere with that. They won't congregate in yards unless they're migrating through. They are very territorial because they want the breeding rights. Later in summer, during the southern migration, they do congregate, but with a little less intensity and anger, and I mean just a little bit less. They still do and will always have fire in their tail feathers.
We always start off with a certain number of hummingbirds in springtime and then we end up with nearly double that later in summer. Sadly many of those young birds won't make it till the next spring, but the rest will, and they will be looking for a new breeding ground of their own.
Over years of research I tracked the number of sightings every day from the time they arrived in Spring to the time they Departed in late summer, and the results just simply can't be compared. The largest numbers of sightings I recorded in Spring were only 200 to 300 per day. The numbers in late summer when all of the birds including adult males, adult females and juveniles are trying to feed and fatten up for the migration, are somewhere between 2 and 12 thousand per day. This is an increase of more than 10 times. It doesn't mean there are 10 times the number of birds, but rather all of them have a different purpose than in springtime, and that purpose is to feed as much as possible and head south with a fat belly.
So ultimately what I'm trying to say is that the numbers in springtime have very little in common with late summer. If you have one or two regular birds hanging around in Spring, or they only show up once a day or even less, don't be alarmed. They've got other things in mind, and food is much lower on their priority list.
Image is a late summer juvenile male Ruby throat hummingbird. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
We opened the doors of the car, got out and stretched, inhaled the fresh country air, and were alerted to the melody of the song Sparrow. We both looked at each other with smiles on our faces as we simultaneously recognized one of the most beautiful sounds of Spring. This time of year is so precious and so short, that every second must be appreciated. The sights, sounds and smells of Spring are intoxicating, and there's nothing that seems to match it's effect.
Still a few weeks away from the arrival of the Ruby throat, we soak up everything in nature that builds up excitement until that very time. Life emerges from the ground, green starts to appear on the trees, and song fills the sky. It's these free things in life that are so fulfilling. It's not the things we buy or the things we want, but merely that which exists around us year after year. It's the countless miracles that brighten our days, including the tiniest little bundle wrapped in feathers. It never gets old. It always provides excitement and it never escapes our memory.
This is Ziggy. I believe it's the last image I captured of him. He had quite a legacy, before another stepped in to fill his role. August 2018, Northeast of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
People are either receiving their first hummingbirds or about to, so feeders should be going up in many places, if they're not already up. Here's a general rule we should remember every year. Place your feeders out 10 days before the expected date of arrival for hummingbirds in your area. Hummingbirds can be very accurate with their timing, but there are far too many variables to rely solely on them showing up on one specific day. The fact is that the bird that showed up the previous years may not be the one that shows up this year. There are many young males and females from last summer that will be breeding for the first time, so many of them will be looking for new breeding grounds, and their times are very difficult to determine. Weather can play a huge factor in when they show up. Not only bad weather can affect their time, but the arrival of Spring can vary greatly from one year to the next. If flowers are not blooming yet in your region, it's less likely the hummingbirds will be in your region. Hummingbirds are very dependent on the blooming of flowers, and the hatching of insects. Cold weather delays both of these and therefore delays the hummingbirds. Don't wait to see your first hummingbird before you place out feeders. By the time you get your feeders out they could be miles away. Watch the hummingbird maps, or take a look at previous year's sighting maps to see when they were in your region. This year, and in future years, place your feeders out 10 days prior to that. You have nothing to lose but a small amount of nectar costing pennies, but you don't want to miss out on attracting additional hummingbirds, some of which may be earlier. So keep that 10 day rule in mind. Be prepared, and be ahead of the migration. It's better to lose a batch of nectar, than to miss out on a few males looking for a new breeding ground. The most consistent times for hummingbird arrivals would be in the prairie provinces of Canada, where hummingbirds have about a 7 to 10 day variance from the earliest year to the latest. Many regions across Eastern Canada can be a 15 to 30 day variance. The Eastern United States can also have a three week variance from one year to another in certain regions. In my garden I've seen a seven day variance from the earliest to the latest first arrival, and this is tracking them over the past 16 years. So follow the maps, and place feeders out before their expected time. Who knows, you may have an early bird or two. You may also be very surprised at how many birds pass through before your resident bird shows up.
In some cases it can be just a matter of coincidence that a hummingbird shows up in your garden. Many hummingbirds just wander about through the skies following a pattern of colors below that just happen to lead to you, but there are so many things we can do to provide greater possibilities, and not depend on the luck factor. The book I've written, Jewel of the North", goes into far greater detail about how to attract hummingbirds in far greater numbers, but here is a much shorter version to get you started.
1. Feeders are essential! Yes, hummingbirds love flowers and will continue to feed from them, but feeders allow them to get far more nectar, while using up far less energy. Hummingbirds are like just about any other living thing alive, they are opportunistic. They will choose the food source that requires less energy. Place multiple feeders out, spreading them apart so that one dominant bird won't protect them all. In Spring time male hummingbirds are fiercely competitive, and if all your feeders are within his view, he will protect them all and chase everything else away. Place feeders on all sides of your home. This allows hummingbirds passing through to spot a feeder from any side of your house, increasing your chance of attracting them by a huge margin. Personally, I would never go without feeders. Hummingbirds LOVE them once they figure them out.
2. Flowers are important, but good flowers are vital! Not all flowers contain sweet nectar. If you go to the "flower" page on my website, you will see a list of them near the bottom of the page. I like to have variety in my hummingbird garden, but don't overdo it on just any flowers. Go crazy on the essential ones. Give hummingbirds far more reasons to return to your garden over everyone else's. It's not worth it for a hummingbird to travel half a mile or more to your place, only to find a few sprigs with limited nectar. Plant many of the good ones, and they will stick around longer, and show up more frequently. Once again, if you plant clusters of flowers on all four sides of your home, it greatly increases your chances of them seeing your place over the rest.
3. The extras! Feeders and flowers are a must, but it's the extras that turn their stay into a five star review. Hummingbirds love to bathe, so water features with perches or swings nearby are very important. Red is one of the greatest colors to attract hummingbirds, so if there's a feature you are trying to attract them to, then add something like the sparkly red jewels that you can find at Dollarama. They shine, sparkle and reflect light in all directions, almost like red laser beams.
The most important thing I always suggest to people is to make your place more attractive to hummingbirds than anyone else's. When hummingbirds have multiple options of food and water sources, they've got little reason to go elsewhere.
Image is Gunner, our dominant male, who frequented the Salvia several times a day. May 2020, N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Just like the excitement and anticipation when you're sitting out on the water waiting for that first strike of a fish, that same excitement applies to those of us waiting on our first hummingbird. It can be hours, or even days before that slight movement catches your eye, and the heart begins to race rapidly after a long wait of anticipation.
Every season is unique in its own way. Every year brings new stories and events through our gardens, while our hopes are always for a better year than the past. As the snow melts in my own garden much further north, I read of my friends receiving their first hummingbirds all across the South, and it does nothing but add additional excitement to what's to come.
It's the time of year to be most appreciated as we are welcomed with new life, song and color throughout our gardens. The smell of fresh soil and Spring air fills our senses, as our gardens once again come to life.
In 2020, we didn't know who would show up, but Gunner, our newest Male Ruby-throat arrived to start his own legacy. May 2020, N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
I think by now everyone knows that hummingbirds need flowers to survive, but what features do they look for in them to make them part of their daily routine? Hummingbirds can feed from nearly every flower available to them, however, there are certain criteria that make some flowers better than others. First of all, nectar is a necessity. It's the nectar they're after, so why do they prefer some over others? Flowers differ greatly by the sugar ratio provided, the access to the nectar, and the quantity of nectar in each flower. The sweetness of nectar within the flowers was created to entice many insects and hummingbirds into the flowers, so the pollen would attach itself to these creatures, and then be carried to other flowers to complete the pollination cycle. Although bees are a little less discriminating in their taste of pollen, hummingbirds will sample many flowers, and then separate the good from the bad.
So what are hummingbirds looking for, to make select flowers a top contender? First of all, sweet nectar. The sweetness is what draws them in. The higher concentration of sugar, the better. The ease of access to it is what makes it a real winner. Let me compare two flowers to show you the difference. Petunias and Nasturtiums are very similar in flower size, but there is one distinct difference between the two, ease of access. You would think the access would be the same because of their similar shape, but the difference is more in the texture of the petals that makes them quite different. Petunias are a much softer and flimsier texture, while the nasturtiums are a much more rigid petal. In the image I've selected you can see how deep a hummingbird must go to access the nectar. When a hummingbird inserts its head so far within the flower, the wings start to interact with the petals of the flower. With a rigid flower you don't get a serious vacuum effect as the hummingbird cycles it's wings, whereas a petunia has very soft flimsy petals that get drawn to the wings far too easily. They find it much more difficult to fly and feed at the same time with the petunia. Of course hummingbirds are very opportunistic, and if all they have are petunias, they will feed from them. But if you have a selection of good and bad, they will decipher between them, and choose the good every time. I've talked about nasturtiums a lot in the past, and it's because they have two or three large drops of nectar in every flower. There are not many flowers, other than perhaps honeysuckle that contain such a large dose of sweetness. But because of the size and difficulty of access to the nectar in the nasturtiums, adult hummingbirds, specifically the smaller adult males, will often times avoid them. This is where nasturtiums are just a great flower for the younger birds, that are just enticed greatly by the quantity of nectar in each nasturtium flower. So what makes a flower even better? Something smaller, where they don't have to insert their head so far into the flower, where they can't see around themselves while feeding. Hummingbirds become very aware of their surroundings in a short time after leaving the nest. They've got enemies, including their own with anger issues that always make them susceptible to attacks while feeding. So the best choices are always smaller flowers with lots of nectar, with ease of access. So the question is, which flowers are the best by these criteria? Delphiniums, Salvia, Honeysuckle, Bee Balm, Vermillionaire, Crocosmia, and any others with the same characteristics.
The photo is a young Ruby throat that was greatly enticed by the rich nectar deep within this nasturtium. At this point in its life fear wasn't a factor, but the nectar sure was.
Photo taken N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Repeatedly, several times a day, this youngster made a special point to visiting the Bluebird Clematis. It was later on in the season, and not many blooms remained, but the ones that did, received special attention. This juvenile male Ruby throat would get himself into all kinds of trouble, digging deep within the sturdy vines of this overgrown clematis. He knew there was some valuable nectar in each one of the blooms, and spent much of his time trying to extract it. Not only did he visit the open blooms rich with nectar, but he saw the hidden potential in all of those that remained tightly sealed. He watched and waited, and oftentimes poked and pried at the tightly sealed edges, just itching to access the fresh new nectar. Every morning at first light, you could see the excitement when he flew around the house, directly to his favorite. Every morning had new surprises and new blooms, and he knew it.
Photo from 2018, taken N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
It's that time of year again when all of us hummingbirders start planning out our garden and choosing the best varieties of flowers to attract hummingbirds. I'm sure many people have their favorite choices based on a wide range of ideas, but I want to give you my list for 2021 based on my own criteria. First, I want to tell you what I base my top selection on.
1. To rate a flower in my top seven, it has to attract hummingbirds consistently.
2. Hummingbirds must prefer these flowers over those that don't fall in the top seven. In other words they will make a special point to seek out particular flowers in and amongst the rest.
3. To rate a flower 5/5 it must attract both the adult and juvenile hummingbirds. Many flowers work extremely well for the juveniles, but the adults will spend very little time in them. In that case they don't get the top rating.
I understand that everyone lives in a different climate and therefore have a different variety of plants that grow well within that climate. Of these plants that I have listed, most of them are grown as an annual, even though they are perennial in much warmer climates.
7. Zinnia, rating 3+. This is a terrific annual that grows up to 3 ft tall. Don't let this three out of five rating fool you into thinking it's not worthy. I consider zinnias one of the greater training flowers for young hummingbirds. They are a large easy target to feed from, without having to solve the entrance to the food.
6. Bluebird Clematis, rating 3+. This is a Hardy zone 2 perennial that produces an abundance of springtime blooms, and oftentimes sporadic blooms in later summer. The mature birds will seek out every flower in springtime, while the young ones will get themselves into real trouble later on in summer, as they try to climb around the vines to get to each and every flower.
5. Vining Nasturtiums, rating 3-4. These flowers can be a hit or miss with young hummingbirds. If they're brave enough to dive deep to find the multiple drips of nectar, they will continue to seek them out. When they locate the precious nectar, they will continue repeatedly to feed from each and every flower.
4. Fuchsia, rating 4-5. These flowers come in many varieties, in which some rate better than others, but all of them are proven winners.
3. Vermillionaire, rating 4-5. These perennials are grown as annuals in many regions. They contain an abundance of red flutes filled with nectar, that once found, will attract both the mature and the juvenile hummingbirds.
2. Salvias, rating 5. These flowers come in so many varieties, so it's very difficult to give a blanket rating across all of them. For the last two seasons I've grown farina blue salvias, and I couldn't be happier with them. I don't know about most regions, but in mine they are problem free, showy, continue flowering throughout the hummingbird season, produce a jewel of nectar in each and everyone of the hundreds of flowers it produces, and best of all it attracts hummingbirds better than just about anything else. It produced so well for me that I've taken cuttings and produced over 30 of them for this coming season. They are absolutely perfect in pots, and if raised off the ground, even better.
1. Delphiniums, hardy zone 2 to 6 perennial, rating 5. Many people know that I grow these flowers by The hundreds, because they produce like nothing else in the garden. They have one advantage over most other flowers in that they grow to heights of 4 to 10 ft. Higher flowers are always top choice for hummingbirds because they have greater security further off the ground. The hummingbirds gravitate towards these clusters in my garden, and will fight furiously over them. If I have any complaints, it would be the delphinium worms that can destroy the buds and blooms before they even open. The damage is usually visual early on, and if you see any signs of curled up buds or black spots within the stem, open them up and get rid of these worms, which will be light green in color. If you catch them early, you will have blooms on heads that can be over 2 ft tall atop the tall green stalks. Because of the height that these grow, it is often times necessary to stake them, and/or plant them against buildings protected from wind.
Those are the top seven, and even though I have a great selection of other plants in the garden, some others could also be included such as Hosta, Honeysuckle(if they bloom at the right time), Scarlet Runners, Bee Balm.... and more.
If you grow some or all of the flowers I've suggested, I promise you, once a hummingbird locates your garden, they WILL make return visits.
Some people only prefer flowers, and as for myself I have an abundance of flowers and feeders, which I find essential. But no matter which way you go, if you choose these flowers, you will be successful!
You can spend hours upon hours trying to plan out the perfect capture, and truthfully when it comes right down to it, it's those random surprise photos that turn out to be the most amusing. Feeder pictures, those of them hovering over the flowers and some of the more common captures can fill your computer's storage. But it's the surprise captures that are so much more unusual than the rest that really stand out. You can easily identify this young hummingbird as a male, with his little red freckle and a pattern of dark spots across his throat. But another way to identify him as a young bird is by his antics. Young birds don't have the endurance of the adults, so they tend to perch a little more frequently until they develop that endurance. They will get themselves into unusual circumstances, oftentimes entangled in the branches and leaves of flowers. Food comes before fear early in their lives, and over time of battling their way out of some tough predicaments, fear starts to arrange their priorities a little bit differently. They'll start to choose a little more wisely as to which flowers are worth the effort and which ones can get them into big time trouble.
This was a pleasant surprise where I had clear focus of the Delphinium flowers, and up from behind them popped a playful young male.
Photo taken August 4th, 2017. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Question: I have a back yard feeder or two ,when two or more come at same time it becomes aerial combat. I've seen feeders with many ? I was thinking maybe family ??
This really is a complex question that has many answers, but I can say that it doesn't have anything to do with them being the family or not. Hummingbirds are inherently possessive of their foods, but when you see many birds at a feeder it's usually a good indication that none of them believe it belongs to them self. These videos we see of many birds at one feeder are oftentimes, or nearly always during the northern or southern migrations. Birds will stop in for a feed or stick around for a short time, and then move on to their breeding grounds. There's also another factor to consider - when the numbers increase dramatically, it's difficult to fight off several birds. When you watch these videos with numerous birds, notice their intense squeaking. They're still angry, but have far too many birds to battle. They do settle into a mode where they just have to accept all the others feeding, because it would be an un-winnable battle. In a case where two of them are squabbling over 1 feeder in your garden, it's nearly always due to territory. The Males refuse to share territory in their breeding grounds. They will fight to the death to defend their garden, food sources, and the females that they will breed with. I want to give you a brief story to explain something. Last summer I had numerous Males that kept showing up at our feeders, but would frequently be chased off by the dominant one. Then one male showed up on the feeder, and within seconds another one showed up on that same feeder. Neither one chose to battle the other male, because both of them knew they were invading the feeder of the dominant male who hadn't yet spotted them. They were both content to feed, because they both knew they were getting a free pass until the dominant one would spot them. Both of these Males knew that the other was not the one in charge, and both knew the other was not a threat, and this is a similar situation to when they are migrating. They start to think that THEY are invading another bird's feeder, so THEY don't do the chasing, but are merely trying to get in a quick feed without being chased off. Just remember during the season, outside of the migrations, it's primarily about territory and breeding, and that is when their most intense battles occur. When a hummingbird remains in a territory, unchallenged for length of time, they begin to assume the rights to that food source.