Help Migrating Hummingbirds

Most people are well aware that Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) will soon begin their northern migration from Mexico and onto the northern United States and Canada. But they are not the only migrants. Hummingbirds also migrate north from Central America and they, too, have started their journey north.

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

Approximate range/distribution map of the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. Green indicates the summer-only range, blue indicates the winter-only range, and orange indicates areas through which the species will pass during migratory activity.

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.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird feeding on Bee Balm (Monarda spp.) Photo courtesy of Joe Schneid, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.

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!

The best hummingbird flowers produce large amounts of nectar for the birds to drink, are shaped for hummingbirds’ long bills so they can sip the nectar effectively, and feature bright colors, including red shades, to catch hummingbirds’ attention.

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.

Find this hummingbird feeder by Perky Pet at

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.

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

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

And while you are helping out 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 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: A Life-size Guide to Every Species by Michael Fogden, Marianne Taylor, and Sheri L. Williamson

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.

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 also adorns our gardens with its lovely orange wings.

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

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.

The Queen’s favorite source of nectar is the flowers of Spanish Needle (Bidens pilosa). Other flowers they visit are Zinnias (Zinnia spp.), Mexican Sunflowers (Tithonia spp.), and Lantanas (Lantana camara).

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.

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. Although Monarch butterflies do not use pheromones during courtship and mating, Queen butterflies do use them.

The Queen has less prominent veins on its wings than the Monarch.

Although the Queen does not undertake dramatic migrations like the Monarch, 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.)

Differences Between Butterflies and Moths

How do you tell a butterfly from a moth? 

Both moths and butterflies are in the order Lepidoptera, but there are general differences that can help you know which is which.


Here are a few overall rules that can be used to distinguish moths from butterflies. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rules.


Moths have simple thread-like or ‘feathery’ antenna without a club.

Polyphemus moth

The antennae of the Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus) have hairlike olfactory receptors that are used to detect female sex pheromones.

Butterflies have a thickened club or hook on the tip of the antenna.

Great Southern White (Ascia monuste)

Antennae of the Great Southern White butterfly (Ascia monuste) have blue knobs at the end. Butterfly antennae are used for the sense of smell and balance.

Exceptions: Several families of moths have antennae with clubs, most notably the Sun moths (Castniidae).

By John Tann – Flickr: Golden Sun Moth, CC BY 2.0,


Moths typically have duller colors.


When I saw this Wood Nymph moth (Cercyonis pegala), I had no idea what it was. It looks like bird poop, perhaps to discourage birds and other predators from eating it.

Butterflies usually have brighter colors.

The Blue Morpho (Morpho menelaus) is among the largest butterflies in the world with wings spanning from five to eight inches. Their vivid, iridescent blue coloring is a result of the microscopic scales on the backs of their wings, which reflect light.

Exceptions: Many moths are brilliantly colored, especially day-flying moths.

Madagascan Sunset moth (Chrysiridia rhipheus)

When we think of moths sometimes we think they are not as colorful as butterflies. The Madagascan Sunset moth (Chrysiridia rhipheus) is a day-flying moth and is considered one of the most colorful. Madagascan Sunset moths are found only in tropical forests on the island of Madagascar off the southeast coast of Africa.

Resting posture

Moths hold wings flat when resting.

Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia)

I mostly raise butterflies but occasionally I do raise moths. I raised and released this beautiful Cecropia moth (Hyalophora cecropia).

Butterflies hold wings together above their body when resting.

Malachite (Siproeta stelenes)

A Malachite butterfly (Siproeta stelenes) resting with its wings closed. The colors of the wings are a bit duller on its underside and help it to camouflage itself.

Exceptions: Many moths, including Geometrid moths (Geometridae spp.) hold their wings up in a butterfly-like fashion when resting. Butterflies in the Lycaenid subfamily Riodininae, and Skippers in the subfamily Pyrginae hold their wings flat when resting.


Moths spin a cocoon before they pupate.

moth pupa

This moth used the hair from its body to create a cocoon.

Butterflies will shed their skin for the last time and reveal a chrysalis.


The Monarch caterpillar hangs in the “J” position before it sheds its skin.

Exceptions: Many moths do not spin a cocoon; many butterflies and skippers form a silken shelter, often with plant leaves.


Moths are nocturnal and fly at night.


Hawk moth (Sphingidae ssp.) nectaring on a flower.

Butterflies are diurnal and are active during the warmth of the day.

Tiger Longwings

These Tiger Longwings (Heliconius hecale) are basking in the sun. The optimum body temperature for a butterfly to fly is between 82° and 102° F (28° and 39° C). They regulate their body temperature and keep it warm by practicing behavioral tactics such a shivering their wings or basking in the sun.

Exceptions: A few butterflies are active at dusk; many moth species fly during the day.

oleander moth

Not all moths are nocturnal. Polka Dot Wasp moths (Syntomeida epilais) fly during daylight hours. Click on the link to read more about this moth:

The Common Evening Brown (Melanitis leda)

The Evening Brown butterfly (Melanitis leda) is a common species that flies erratically at dusk. Here it’s sipping on sap from a tree.


In this stunning image of a caiman with a vibrant crown of butterflies, the water that collects on the caiman’s skin is providing salts and minerals for several species of butterflies.

A crown of butterflies (Photo by Mark Cowan.)

Many species of butterflies congregate on wet sand and mud to partake in “puddling,” drinking water and extracting salts and minerals from damp sand or mud. In many species, this “mud-puddling” behavior is restricted to the males, and studies have suggested that the nutrients collected may be provided as a nuptial gift during mating.

Male Swallowtail butterflies puddling along a river bank. Photo by Chelsey Danger. Used with permission.

The first time I observed this behavior I was several years ago in Florida. Our family was enjoying a six-mile tubing adventure down Ichetucknee Springs near Gainesville. (The real Magic Kingdom of Florida.) As we approached the end of our trip, I noticed about fifty swallowtail butterflies of various species congregated together exactly where we needed to get out of the river.

There was a cement embankment that slid down to the river to make it easier to get out of the water. The butterflies seemed totally oblivious to us as we ascended onto the embankment. I realized that as people got out of the river, water from their bodies dripped onto the wet cement. These butterflies were sipping the salts from the sweat being washed off as people got out of the river.

Tubing Florida’s Ichetucknee River. Photo by Robin Draper of Authentic Florida.

Another time I experience this phenomenon was at Butterfly World in Coconut Creek, Florida. I was sitting on a bench, enjoying the many species of tropical butterflies inside the exhibit. It was a very hot day and I was covered in sweat. To my surprise, and utter delight, a Malachite butterfly (Siproeta stelenes) landed on my hand and proceeded to stick its proboscis onto my sweaty hand to sip the salt. It stayed there for several minutes, totally oblivious to my camera.

This Malachite butterfly (Siproeta stelenes) is enjoying the salt from my hand.

Recently Carol Pasternak, author of How to Raise Monarch Butterflies: A Step-by-Step Guide for Children , noticed a Silvery Blue (Glaucopsyche lygdamus) butterfly on the shoelace of her running shoes. Apparently the perspiration from her arduous workout seeped into the shoelaces providing a tasty treat for the butterfly.

Silvery Blue (Glaucopsyche lygdamus). Photo by the Monarch Butterfly Crusader, Carol Pasternak. Used with permission.

Who knew that old sweaty shoes would attract so many butterflies!

Photo by Юрий Бахаев. (Used with permission.)