Help Migrating Hummingbirds

Most people are well aware that Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) migrate to and from Mexico. But they are not the only migrants. Hummingbirds also travel to and from Mexico and Central America.

Male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris). Photo Copyright © by Brenda Hawkins. Used with permission.

Many hummingbirds  migrate north to their breeding grounds in the southern United States as early as February, and to areas further north later in the spring. Use this tracking map to know when to expect them in your area. Set out hummingbird feeders about two weeks before they arrive.

You can help support your local 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!

Click here to finds seeds:

Hanging a basket with overripe fruit or banana peels close to a hummingbird feeder will attract fruit flies and other nutritious soft-bodied insects which hummingbirds eat. It’s exciting to watch hummingbirds darting about chasing down these tiny flying insects.

Set out fruit such as oranges and banana and attract both butterflies and hummingbirds.

You can also help 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.

I set this hummingbird feeder near where I sit on my back porch so I can enjoy watching these lovely birds.

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.

This is the best way to keep pesky ants away from the hummingbird feeders. Click Here or on the photo for a closer look and to see other types of ant guards.

Hummingbirds like to bathe frequently — even in the pools of droplets that collect on leaves. Provide your yard with a constant source of water from a drip fountain attachment or a fine misting device.  A misting device is an especially attractive water source for hummingbirds.

You can find various water fountains here:

Hummingbirds also need fluff and spider webs for their nest. They use fluff from seeds (and our dryer vents!) to build their nests. They then use spider webs to hold them together. Leave spider webs in your yard to help them find material to build their nests. Plant flowers that have fluffy seeds like milkweed (or leave some dandelions go to seed!) You can encourage them to nest in your area by providing nesting material with which to line their nest. This soft, cotton material comes with a mesh hanger so you can offer it near your nectar feeder.

This mama hummingbird sitting on her eggs was spotted at the Tucson Botanical Gardens.

Help track hummingbirds as they travel to and from their wintering grounds by becoming a citizen scientist and reporting hummingbird sightings at Audobon Hummingbirds Home or at  Journey North.

You can report Hummingbird sightings at Journey North. Click Here or on the photo for details.

And while you are helping migrating hummingbirds you will also be helping migrating Monarch butterflies!

Monarch butterfly nectaring on a hummingbird feeder in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA. The butterfly stayed at the feeder for more than a minute, giving me plenty of time to take this photo.

Here is my favorite hummingbird feeder.

This is so easy to clean and maintain.Click Here or on the photo for details..

Here are five of my favorite hummingbird books.

Click on each photo or title for complete details.

Hummingbirds written by Ronald I. Orenstein with photography by Michael Fogden and Patricia Fogden
Hummingbirds of North American: The Photographic Guide by Steve N.G. Howell
A Hummingbird in My House: The Story of Squeak by Arnette Heidcamp
Hummingbirds: A Life-size Guide to Every Species by Michael Fogden, Marianne Taylor, and Sheri L. Williamson
The Hummingbird Book: The Complete Guide to Attracting, Identifying, and Enjoying Hummingbirds by Donald Stokes and Lillian Stokes
USDA has a wonderful pdf you can download about the different species of hummingbirds you can attract by planting native plants. Click here to download.

Do You Have Parsley Worms?

If you are growing herbs such as parsley, fennel, carrots, radishes, celery, or dill in your garden then you most likely have encountered what some call parsley worms.

The first instar of the Eastern Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) larva on dill.
The difference between Eastern And Western Swallowtails is subtle. Photo by Todd Stout of Raising Butterflies. Photo used with permission.

Although many may regard these “worms” as a nuisance, they should be treated with care as these “worms” are actually the caterpillars of the Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) or Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) butterflies. These butterflies not only grace your garden with their beauty, but they are also important pollinators.

The beautiful Eastern Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)  including some of its larval host plants. Click here to find seeds.
The Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) is a common swallowtail butterfly of western North America. Photo by California Butterfly Lady, Monika Moore. Used with permission.

Sometimes people confuse these caterpillars with Monarch caterpillars. They do resemble each other, but the big difference is Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed. Black swallowtails eat plants from the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family commonly known as the celery, carrot or parsley family.

These two caterpillars look similar but have different diets. Monarchs will only feed on milkweeds while Black Swallowtail will eat a variety of herbs in the carrot family (Apiaceae).

If you do not want the caterpillars eating your herbs, gather them up and place them in a container with some food. This will protect the vegetables and herbs you want to eat. And once they become butterflies you can release them so they can pollinate your garden.

Plastic salad containers make excellent rearing containers for caterpillars. To learn more about raising Black Swallowtails click here:
Releasing a new-born Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) butterfly brings beauty to the garden and joy to the heart!

So if you want butterflies in your garden don’t kill the caterpillars!

The Royal Butterflies

If you thought the Monarch (Danaus plexippus), was the only royal butterfly of North America you would be wrong. Another royal member, the Queen (Danaus gilippus) is a cousin to the Monarch and adorns many southern gardens with its lovely orange wings.

A female Queen nectaring on Duranta erecta, commonly called Golden Dewdrop or Brazilian Sky Flower.

The Queen is chiefly a tropical species. In the United States, it’s usually confined to the southern regions. It’s quite common in Florida and southern Georgia, as well as in the southern parts of Texas, California, and other states bordering Mexico, including Arizona and New Mexico. Periodically, a stray may be found in the Midwest. Because of climate change, they may even stray farther north as time goes on.

One of the  Queen’s favorite source of nectar is Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium Coelestinum). Click here to find seeds.

Queens and Monarchs are often mistaken for each other in their various life stages because of their resemblances. But if you look closely, it’s not that hard to tell the difference between Monarchs and Queens.

Newly eclosed Monarch and Queen butterflies. Notice how much darker orange the Queen is compared to the Monarch.

Like the Monarch, caterpillars of the Queen also feed on different species of milkweeds. The larvae of the Queen butterfly have an extra set of filaments the soft horn-like structures on their topside. The Queen caterpillar, similar to the Monarch, has black, yellow, and white stripes, but the pattern varies.

Just like the Monarch, the Queen uses Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) as a host plant for its caterpillars.

The chrysalis of the Queen is identical to that of the Monarch but is typically smaller. Also, sometimes has a pink hue.

The wings of the butterflies can be seen through the transparent pupal case shortly before eclosing.

Like male Monarchs, male Queens have a black spot on each hindwing. These black dots are pheromone scales. The Monarch butterflies do not use pheromones during courtship and mating, but Queen butterflies do use them.

Queen butterflies have smaller wingspans than Monarch butterflies.

Gregg’s mistflower produces a natural compound called intermedine, which is a pyrrolizidine alkaloid (PA for short). PA’s occur in many plants and are well known to ranchers, being very poisonous to livestock (and humans) as they serve to protect the plants from grazing. However, it turns out that intermedine isn’t poisonous to queen butterflies, but is essential to their reproduction. When you see queens nectaring on Gregg’s mistflower, over 90% of them are males happily imbibing intermedine with the nectar. Then they convert part of the intermedine to a smaller molecule named danaidone which is a sex attractant pheromone that draws in the females.

Mating occurs mostly midafternoon. A male seeks out a female near milkweed plants. He will hover over her releasing a sex pheromone that makes her receptive to mating.

During mating, the male queen passes the remaining unchanged intermedine to the female as a “nuptial gift” that once again manifests itself as a toxin, this time rendering her eggs unpalatable to predators! Thus, as the butterfly pollinates the flower, the flower provides a molecule that in two ways enables the butterfly to reproduce!” “Gregg Mistflower, the Queen Butterfly, and the Nuptial Gift” by by Ray Conrow, Native Plant Society of Texas.

Male Queen butterflies on Gregg’s Mistflower imbibing intermedine with the nectar.

Although the Queen does not undertake dramatic migrations like the Monarch, they will travel short-distances at tropical latitudes in areas that have a distinct dry season. During those periods, the Queens will fly from lowlands to higher elevations. (Krizek, Paul A. and Opler, George O. Butterflies: East of the Great Plains: An Illustrated Natural History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984.)

The Queen also bears a great resemblance to Viceroy and Soldier butterflies. Viceroys, like Monarchs, have dark veins across the upper side of the wing. The Soldier is perhaps the most similar to the Queen butterfly, but still has slightly more defined veins on its upper side.

Spread the message with this “Plant Milkweed T-shirt by Butterfly Lady: