The Ruby-throated Hummingbird migration of 2017 has begun and the iridescent flyers are on their way north. This week, there have been sightings in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Missouri. It may seem far away, but it isn’t too soon for us to prepare our Wisconsin gardens for their spring arrival. Hummingbirds usually make their appearance in early May, but there have already been a few sightings this year.
It’s always thrilling to glance out a window and spot a hummingbird scouting your flowers. Your very first thought is always “How can I keep these magical little birds interested in my garden?” The key to creating habitats that will attract hummingbirds, or any wildlife to your yard, is variety. You should have areas of sun and shade, differing heights of vegetation, clean water and lots of flowers. Try to choose plants that will be blooming at different times so that there is always something colorful. These flowers will provide nectar for visiting hummingbirds.
A hummingbird’s tiny heart beats 1260 times a minute. They often rest between feeding and will perch on high dead tree branches that offer the open visibility that hummingbirds like. And all birds appreciate the security that small shrubs and large perennials provide. This provides shelter in bad weather and hiding places from predators.
As they whiz around your garden, hummingbirds expend so much energy that they must eat at least half their body weight every day to replace the 12,000 calories that they burn. The birds are feeding constantly from sunrise to sunset. Tube-shaped blossoms hold more nectar, making them the most attractive to hummingbirds. You can provide these flowers in a variety of ways Plant perennials such as Foxglove and Hollyhocks, and shrubs and vines, like Weigela and Trumpetvine. Containers of annuals will work, too. Try Fuchsia or bright red Salvia.
Although hummingbirds are very attracted to the color red, they will check out most any brightly-colored flower. You can always find a spot for more perennials. Intensely hued Phlox and Bee Balms bloom in late spring to early summer, while Butterfly Bush and Globe Thistle are in flower later in the season.
If your yard is particularly space challenged, or you only have a terrace or balcony, plant a hummingbird container. A pot filled with Giant Blue Sage, Pentas, Penstemon and Million Bells will act as a hummingbird magnet, and satisfy all of the rules of container design.
A few words about feeders. Be sure to put your feeders out 5-10 days before the projected arrival date to ensure that the birds see them, stop for a snack and decide to stay. It’s also a good idea to hang several in different parts of your garden. Hummingbirds can be very territorial about their feeders. Clean them often, especially if located in the sun.
So acquaint yourself with the habits of hummingbirds and get them into your garden. Once you’ve seen them hovering over your perennial border in the early morning, or dive bombing your golden retriever, you’ll be hooked.