Home & Garden

Time to put out the hummingbird feeder

This is the time of year hummingbirds expand their feeding range ahead of migrating for the winter, and it’s your best shot at getting the little beauties to visit your yard.

“They’re pretty much finished nesting, and they’re more active at the feeders,” said Nick Clausen of the Backyard Nature Center in the Shops at Tallgrass just east of 21st and Rock Road. “They’re starting to migrate from farther north and they’re trying to double their body weight before they leave, so they’re eating constantly.”

The activity usually lasts until the end of September.

Some of the hummingbirds will fly across the Gulf of Mexico to Central and South America, while others will follow the coast, and still others will only go so far as Louisiana and Texas.

“They’re amazing little birds,” Clausen said. “It’s quite a flight to go over the Gulf non-stop. That’s why they need all that extra weight.”

If you want to feed hummingbirds, you’ll need to have a feeder that you’ll fill with nectar. And then you’ll need to be prepared to empty, clean and refill the feeder every two to three days to keep the nectar from going bad.

“It’s vitally important to have fresh nectar, particularly when it’s this hot,” Clausen said.

Make the nectar by vigorously mixing one part sugar into four parts water.

There are a few other things to know when trying to attract hummingbirds:

• Add a splash of color — but not to the water. Colorful flowers draw their eyes, and if the flowers have nectar in them, that’s another food source for them. But even if you don’t have the color, you can put a red ribbon on the feeder — or on yourself. “Even sitting outside with a red hat or red shirt, they’ll come out and check out that big blossom sittin’ on the front porch,” Clausen said. Sometimes the feeders are red. But don’t add food coloring to the nectar, because it’s bad for the birds.

• Place feeders close to the house, so you can see the birds. “You’re trying to bring them to you,” Clausen said.

• It also helps to have more than one feeder.

“Because the hummingbirds are so feisty this time of year, when they find a food source they’ll protect it.” That means that even if a hummingbird moves away from a feeder, he’ll keep an eye on it, and try to run off any other hummer that approaches it. So the more feeders you have the more hummingbirds you’ll see.

They also like a source of fresh water, such as a birdbath for sipping and bathing. You can also hang mesh bags of fruits or banana peels to attract fruit flies, another favorite food source of hummers.

Often, the birds’ migration is timed to coincide with flowering plants along their routes; their favorites include native species with red or orange tubular blooms. But those aren’t the only flowers that attract them, said Tim Boucher, a geographer with the Nature Conservancy.

“Blue flowers such as salvia, lungwort and agapanthus do a great job of attracting hummers. Remember, you want to plant a diversity of flowers in your garden — including flowers that bloom at different times of the year — from spring to late fall to provide sustenance for the little gems. Include flowers such as columbines, bee balm, phlox, ... fuchsia, honeysuckle, trumpet creepers and goldenrod.”

Contributing: Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)