How to attract and care for ruby-throated hummingbird

Flying nonstop approximately 500 miles from Central America, Mexico and the United States, the hummingbird, weighing just 0.2 ounces, migrates twice a year visiting our backyards during spring and summer, returning south during winter.

This amazing bird has arrived in our area and will remain here until September. According to Penn State University, 16 species of hummingbirds visit the United States, with our area hosting the ruby-throated hummingbird we see in our gardens and feeders.

Males and females have a white belly and iridescent green back and head. Males sport a red throat and forked tail. Arriving first, the male scouts out a suitable site for nesting that the female approves. Constantly defending his territory, he searches for trees and shrubs for perching and shelter and for flower sources for nectar.

Also found in deciduous and coniferous forests, she builds a tiny nest on limbs of trees, often returning to the same area from the year before. The female may be attracted to the male performing his ‘dive display’ flying over and over the female’s head. The male will also fly in front of her if she is perched on a limb. If impressed, she will indicate this with her tail feather cocked and drooping wings.

After mating, the male will leave to find another female while the female will now begin to build her nest in an open area at the tip of a branch, shaded by leaves. The nest is made with plant material, spider webs and pine resin, with the outside of the nest covered with lichen.

After completion, she will lay two white, elliptical-shaped eggs the size of a small jelly bean, weighing about one gram. Incubation is from 10-14 days and the chicks will leave the nest after 18-21 days. 22-25 days later, she will stop feeding them as they are now able to find their own food. Ruby-throated hummingbirds can have up to three nestings each year with the chicks ready to mate after one year.

Hummingbirds are diurnal and solitary. If the weather turns colder, they protect themselves by entering torpor, similar to hibernation, where their heart slows down to save energy for survival.

Well adapted to feed on nectar, their long beaks and split tongues maneuver into flowers to reach the center, using their tongue as a straw. They are quite well adapted to flying forward, backward, upside down and hovering above flowers. They are the only bird that can fly backward! With wings that beat between 720-1000 times per minute, energy is used up quickly. Their diet consists of nectar, insects and tree sap. Drawn to flower colors of red, orange and pink, our gardens might have trumpet vine, columbine, bee balm, zinnia and impatients. Limiting pesticides is encouraged.

Supplementing their daily need for food with feeders will attract them. The feeder can be red, but the sugar water must consist of one part natural sugar to four parts boiled water. NEVER ADD RED DYE. The water should be changed every two days, thoroughly cleaning the feeder each time. Any extra sugar water can be stored in the refrigerator.

Hopefully, a few hummingbirds will visit your garden this summer, adding to its beauty. For details on this bird and attracting them to your gardens, go to: https://go.osu.edu/hummingbird

Kane Shipka is an Ohio State University Extension Master Gardener Volunteer in Mahoning County.


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