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Hummingbirds: One of Nature’s Marvels

Their wings beat rapidly as they hover close by waiting for the sweet nectar the feeders hold.  Some are perched on limbs, patiently watching and waiting.  The feeders are full and they come.  They swirl and dart and dive and come to dip their long beaks into the small holes in the feeders.  You see their colors, the greens, the blues, the grays and one beautiful male with the white belly and the red ring around his neck.  He drinks and soars away, returns, drinks again, then flies to a small limb on the tree close by, watching as if surveying his harem.

These are the ruby-throated hummingbirds, one of nature’s marvels which spend their summers in the eastern United States.  Very soon they will be returning to Middle Tennessee to the delight of many in the Cheatham County area.

The hummingbird is the smallest bird on earth, but in that tiny body is a literal dynamo of energy.  With wing beats of more than 75 strokes per second, the tiny bird can fly at fifty  to sixty miles per hour.  They not only hover, fly backward, and sift sideways, but they can also fly straight up and down.  In summer, the males establish feeding territories from which they chase away, very aggressively, not only other males and females of their own kind, but even bumblebees and hawkmoths which come to feed.  The hummingbird’s normal body temperature is 107° F., but if needed, the hummingbird can actually lower its body temperature to between 45° to 39°F.

If you are having trouble attracting hummingbirds, try planting a hummingbird garden.  This provides the birds with a natural diet and is a wonderful way to attract hummingbirds to your nearby feeder(s).  Many perennial plants may already be found in gardens such as Agastache, Columbine, Anise Sage, Bee Balm, Canna, Coral Bells, Four O’Clocks and Hosta.  Many annuals also attract hummingbirds such as Petunias, Fuchsia and Salvia.  Some trees and shrubs such as Azalea, Lantana, Mimosa and Weigela also attract hummingbirds.  For more information on hummingbird gardens go to www.hummingbirds.net/attract.html.

Hummingbird feeders will usually attract many hummingbirds and the feed is very simple to prepare.  Use 1 c. of sugar to 4 c. of boiled water.  Don’t waste your time with the red color mixture.  This mixture does not actually attract the birds.    When you see your first hummingbirds, only put out one-half of a feeder of food and increase the amount as you see more birds. Change the feed often, daily during the heat of the summer to prevent the feed from souring.

Amazingly, hummingbirds have the capacity to return to the same nesting area year after year.  They often return to the very same yards that they nested in the previous year.  So, when preparing your gardens, remember the hummingbirds and it’s almost time to bring out the feeders!  You will be captivated this summer by these beautiful, artful birds.  “And the humming-bird that hung like a jewel up among the tilted honeysuckle horns.” James Whitcomb Riley.

Questions or Comments?  Contact the Cheatham County Master Gardeners at mgcctn@att.net.  Happy gardening!

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