Field and Farm

Posted 4/8/18

 Hummingbirds are fun to watch and easy to attract by using artificial feeders or by planting flowers in your landscape. The rubythroat hummingbird is very common to all parts of Alabama and is …

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Field and Farm


 Hummingbirds are fun to watch and easy to attract by using artificial feeders or by planting flowers in your landscape. The rubythroat hummingbird is very common to all parts of Alabama and is the most common species of hummingbird seen in Walker County as well. Rubythroat hummingbirds are recognized by their deep red throat patch and dark green back. The female looks like the male except that she has no red on her throat and has a lighter green back.

Occasionally the rufus hummingbird turns up in Alabama.  The male rufus hummingbird has a “rufus” or brown color on its back and also has a reddish colored throat patch, but it is more orange than ruby.

I’ll give a quick shout out to my good friend Lawson Murphy who is the winner of this year’s first call in report of hummingbird activity in our area.

During their daily activity, hummingbirds burn up a tremendous number of calories and usually feed about four times per hour.  They have tubular tongues that they can extend deep inside flowers to reach nectar.  Insects also make up a very small portion of their diets.

Since a hummingbird cannot feed all night, it has to slow its body functions during the night. This state decreased body function is called “torpor.” The hummingbird’s body temperature drops, heart rate (normally an overwhelming 200 beats per minute) drops, and breathing slows to about five percent of what would be normal for a sleeping bird the size of a hummingbird. They come out of this torpor state very quickly, unlike people like me who require half the morning to wake up.

Hummingbirds typically begin showing up in Alabama during April or May. There are many types of commercial feeders available to help attract them to your lawn.  A feeder with a bee guard works best because it keeps bees from using the feeder. If too many bees are attracted to the feeder, hummingbirds will be less likely to use it. Feeders are filled with nectar solution that is either purchased or made at home. For the home made nectar solution, mix 1 part plain white table sugar to 4 or 5 parts warm water. The warm water makes the sugar dissolve faster. Allow the solution to cool before filling the feeder. Hummingbirds are attracted to the color red, so feeders constructed of red material will help to attract them. There really is not any use in adding food coloring to the nectar solution as long as the feeder has red coloring on it.

Be sure to keep your feeder clean. Clean your feeder out and replace the nectar at least a couple times per week.  Avoid potentially harmful detergents when cleaning your feeder. NEVER use honey or any other sweetener in your feeder to substitute for sugar. Hummingbirds cannot digest honey. Table sugar is a simply carbohydrate while honey is a complex carbohydrate. They will readily eat a honey-based solution, but they will soon die from malnutrition because their digestive system doesn’t digest complex carbohydrates.

Many times, when one hummingbird begins to use a feeder, others are attracted as well. Males will set up territories around a feeder and defend it. The aerial combat that follows is very entertaining, but if it gets too intense, try putting up additional feeders on the other side of the yard to limit confrontations. After all boys will be boys so to speak.

If ants are attracted to your feeder, periodically coat the monofilament line used to hang the feeder with vegetable oil. I have even seen some feeders with a reservoir on the top of the feeder where the line attaches. The reservoir can be filled with vegetable oil to prevent ants from getting to the sugar solution. If our feeder doesn’t have a reservoir try constructing your own using a 1-inch copper pipe cap and copper wire.

Planting flowers around your home is also a good way to attract hummingbirds. Red flowers are most effective. Plantings of salvia, petunia, trumpet vine, hummingbird vine, hibiscus, or others will work fine.  Red buckeye is another native small shrub that hummingbirds love.

Later on this fall, leave your feeders up as long as the hummingbirds want to use them. Hummingbirds are migratory and travel south across the Gulf of Mexico and Central America to overwinter some 2,000 miles from Alabama. Quite a feat for such a small bird! Don’t worry about keeping hummingbirds here longer than they need to stay. The migration behavior is a deep-rooted instinct and a simple bird feeder will not keep them here. Hummingbirds know when it is time to leave. Although not commonly seen, there are some species of hummingbirds which do not migrate, and there is a chance one of these birds might visit a feeder during late fall or early winter. In the late summer or early fall just prior to migration, rubythroat hummingbirds may use feeders in very large numbers and then “disappear” almost overnight on their way to warmer places.