Most people are well aware that Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) will soon begin their southern migration from Canada and the northern United States down to Mexico. But they are not the only migrants. Hummingbirds also migrate south and they, too, will soon start their journey south.
In the weeks before hummingbirds migrate, they start to intensely feed in an attempt to gain weight and fat. This is called hyperphagia. A female might put on 25-40% more weight while a smaller male might double its weight. Hummingbirds consume 50% of their weight in sugar each day from flower nectar and hummingbird feeders, with insects providing the remainder of their diet.
You can help migrating hummingbirds by planting flowers that have high nectar content. Hummingbirds are especially attracted to tubular flowers such as Coral Honeysuckle, Fushia, Daylilies, Bee Balm, Cardinal Flowers, Salvias, and Petunias. They are also attracted to Coral Bells, Larkspur, Columbines, Coneflowers, and Lantanas. Notice that many of these flowers also attract butterflies!
You can also help migrating hummingbirds by putting out several Hummingbird feeders. Hummingbirds tend to be very territorial and do not like to share. Make sugar water mixtures with about one-quarter cup of sugar per cup of water. Food coloring is unnecessary; table sugar is the best choice. Change the water before it grows cloudy or discolored and remember that during hot weather, sugar water ferments rapidly to produce toxic alcohol.
Keeping your feeders clean and hygienic is a vital aspect of feeding the birds. Not only are hummers more likely to imbibe from a clean feeding station, but it’s healthier for them as well. Most hummingbirds would rather go without food than drink nectar that has gone bad, so it’s important to keep your feeder clean if you want to continue enjoying their visits.
If ants are a problem, use an ant guard to keep them off of the feeder. It is not recommended to place petroleum jelly or oil on the poles.
Help track hummingbirds as they travel to their wintering grounds by becoming a citizen scientist and reporting hummingbird sightings at Journey North.
And while you are helping out migrating hummingbirds you will also be helping migrating Monarch butterflies!
Here are five of my favorite hummingbird books.
Click on each photo or title for complete details.