Hummingbirds are beautiful and fascinating to watch; they can hover, fly upside down and backwards. Native Americans consider them to bring good fortune. In the Pennsylvania/New Jersey area, there is only one hummingbird species that occurs in our area, the ruby-throated hummingbird; they arrive by mid-April to early May and typically stay until mid-October.
Humming birds use their long beaks and tongues for sipping the nectar from flowers and plants. Hummingbirds lack the well-developed sense of smell; instead they are drawn to flowers by their color such as such as bee balms, columbines, daylilies, and lupines; biennials such as foxgloves and hollyhocks; and many annuals, including cleomes, impatiens, and petunias. Flowering herbs, shrubs, vines, and trees attract and provide food for hummingbirds, therefore your plantings should include a variety of plants that flower from May through early September.
In addition to the nectar from flowers, hummingbirds eat insects off flowers and catch them in the air, spiders, and occasionally sap from trees, particularly from woodpecker drilling holes. Hummingbirds consume sugar-water solutions from bird feeders and rain water from leaves and such.
Begin putting your hummingbird feeders out in March/April in anticipation of their arrival. Using a hummingbird feeder is a great way to attract the birds to a specific location in your garden such as near your window for viewing. Hummingbird feeders are not your typical bird feeders; instead they are designed to dispense a sugar-water solution. Place the feeder(s) near large clusters of flowers early on in the season. Once they come to your feeder, move the feeder gradually, to almost any location. Hummingbirds are attracted to red, so if you feeder doesn’t have red near the opening, you can apply red nail polish on it.
Hummingbird sugar water “nectar” solution is made by mixing one part sugar to four parts water. Bring water to a boil and pour over sugar. Stir solution and let cool to room temperature before pouring into the feeder. Extra sugar water may be stored in the refrigerator. Bear in mind that it is important to use the 4 to 1 ratio as weaker sugar solutions will be less attractive to hummingbirds, and stronger solutions may be harmful. Don’t use red dye in the solution; the red on the feeder will attract them. Never use honey in the solution as fermented honey can cause a fatal fungal disease in hummingbirds.
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