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BACKYARD SECRET – PEOPLE DID NOT ALWAYS BELIEVE HUMMINGBIRDS MIGRATED

Nowadays it is difficult to believe that folks did not always believe ruby-throated hummingbirds migrated.  However, unbelievably, it would be safe to say that during the 1600s it was indeed the prevailing belief among the early colonists.

       There is no better proof of this than the Pennsylvania Cylopedia published in 1651.  This reference book states the lives of hummingbirds ended when the flowers stopped blooming in the fall.  Faced with a lack of food, hummingbirds would then simply thrust the sharp bills into the trunks of trees.  Here they would remain motionless throughout the entire winter.  Once winter eased its frigid grip on the land and the rejuvenating rains of spring drenched the land, hummingbirds would miraculously spring back to life and fly away. 

 

       Whenever I read such a bizarre story, I cannot help but wonder how such a belief surfaced.  Obviously, no one has even seen a hummingbird overwintering with its bill stuck in a tree.

CAN HUMMINGBIRDS FLY AGAINST STRONG WINDS?

For days, our attention has been focused on Hurricane Irma and its unbelievably strong winds.  During the last few days as we have been awaiting the arrival of this terrible storm, the wind has increased significantly.  This has made flying difficult for the hummingbirds gorging themselves at our feeders.  Although wind gusts have already exceeded 20 mph, they will dramatically increase as the storm races toward Georgia.  With that in mind, have you ever wondered how strong the wind has to be to ground these tiny aerialists?  The answer may surprise you. 

       Obviously, they cannot fly in hurricane-force winds.  The truth of the matter is when biologist placed hummingbirds in a wind tunnel; they found they could not sustain flight against headwinds that exceed 27 mph.  When the wind soars above this threshold, hummingbirds seek the cover provided by the thick foliage of a shrub or tree.

HOW LONG WILL RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS BE WITH US?

       Throughout most portions of the state, the numbers of ruby-throated hummingbirds visiting backyard feeders peaked a couple of weeks ago.  Although most of us are still hosting lots of hummers, it is obvious that these beautiful birds will not be with us much longer.  That begs the question, “When will the last of the rubythroats abandon our feeders?”  Here is the answer.

       We will continue to see good numbers of rubythroats for the next few weeks. The vast majority of these birds will be adult females and immature males and females. 

       By the end of the month, many folks will have seen their last ruby-throated hummingbird of the year.  However, some will still be seen during the month of October. RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS AT FEEDER - Blog - 1 Sept 2017

       If you see a hummingbird from November through the end of February, chances are it will not be a rubythroat.

       A very small number of ruby-throated hummingbirds do winter in the Peach state each year, but they are very uncommon.  In fact, the most common hummingbird seen during the winter in Georgia is the rufous hummingbird.

       With that in mind, keep at least of your feeders stocked with food throughout the year.  Late migrants will benefit from a readily available source of food as they wing their way south ahead of winter.  In addition, your feeders might be used by a wintering rubythroat or even attract one of the western hummingbirds that visit our state in winter.

ESTIMATING HUMMINGBIRD NUMBERS BY NECTAR INTAKE

Lately it seems like everywhere I go folks are talking about how many hummingbirds are visiting their backyard feeders.  Indeed, it seems there is no shortage of these small, flying dynamos invading Georgia backyards this summer.  With that in mind, most hummingbird fanciers would like to know how many hummingbirds they are feeding.

       Several years ago, an Arizona hummingbird fancier named Stephen Russell came up with a novel way to estimate the numbers of hummingbirds feeding in his backyard.  This technique is based on the amount of hummingbird food the birds consume.  Here is how it works. RUBYTHROAT AT FEEDER 2 - Blog - 2 August 2017

       I will not go into all of the calculations he used to determine how many birds a gallon of hummingbird food mixed at a ratio of 1 part sugar to 4 parts water will feed.  Suffice it to say he determined that a quart of hummingbird nectar will feed 137.25 birds.

       Therefore, if you know how much food disappears from your feeders in a day’s time, you can easily calculate how many birds you are feeding.  For example, if the birds consume a pint of nectar in a day, your are feeding roughly 68 hummers.

       If you try this technique, let me know what you think of the estimate obtained using the Russell formula.

 

 

RUBYTHROATS LOVE THIS RED SALVIA

     There are literally hundreds of varieties of salvias. With so many available, it is difficult to choose which one you need to plant in your yard.  If you want salvia that attracts hummingbirds and butterflies such as the cloudless sulphur, I have just the one for you.

In spite of the fact that the vast majority of the salvias are native to Mexico, Africa, South America, Eurasia, and elsewhere, the one I am recommending is native to parts of the Southeast, including Georgia.  Like so many of the salvias, it is called red salvia or scarlet sage.  However, the one I am referring to bears the scientific name Salvia coccinea.

RED SALVIA - Blog - 15 July 2017

This plant grows one to two feet tall and blooms from late spring into the fall.  Bright red blossoms are borne on tall slender stalks.  If you take a close look at a flower, you will find it is tubular in shape.

It grows in a wide range of soils ranging from sandy to clay-laden. It will grow in gardens situated in full sun as well the shade.

Scarlet sage plants can be established from both seed and seedlings.  Seedlings are readily available at many nurseries.  It can also be easily grown from seed.  In fact, once it becomes established it usually reseeds itself year after year.

My wife and I have grown it in large pots, patches and mixed in with other butterfly and hummingbird nectar plants.  The versatile plant has done well in all situations.

Since the numbers of hummingbirds has increased dramatically during the past week or so, we have been enjoying watching hummingbirds visiting the bright red blossoms of red salvia and the other hummingbird nectar plants that are currently blooming in profusion in our yard.

Although have been seeing more butterflies in our backyard lately, cloudless sulphurs remain scarce.  As such, cloudless sulphurs have yet to be seen at our scarlet sage blooms. However, I know that, as we move toward autumn, the cloudless sulphur population will explode and ruby-throated hummingbirds will then be vying with cloudless sulphurs for the opportunity to nectar at our red salvia.

I have purchased plants purported to be red salvia that were far from hummingbird and butterfly magnets. Perhaps they were cultivars of Salvia coccinea that simply don’t produce as much nectar as the true native red salvia.

If you find and plant the right one, I don’t think you will be disappointed.

 

 

HUMMINGBIRDS, AN ORCHARD ORIOLE AND A DAY OF FIRSTS

Both ruby-throated hummingbirds and orchard orioles reside in my backyard during the spring and summer.  Over the years, these birds have been key players in some of my most memorable wildlife sightings.  Recently, they transformed what was otherwise a typical spring day into one I will never forget—a day of three firsts.

This trio of events began while I was standing beneath a cherry tree listening to the songs of gray catbirds and orchard orioles. 

All of a sudden, a male ruby-throated hummingbird flew up to a nearby patch of Wendy’s Wish salvia and began thrusting its bill into the plants’ long, slender, maroon blossoms. 

Although the plants had been blooming for several weeks, this marked the first time I had seen these new additions to my backyard visited by rubythroats. 

Then, early in the afternoon, as my wife and I were standing in our sunroom I happened to spot a bird land on a stalk topped with a torch-like cluster of red hot poker blooms.  I quickly grabbed my binoculars and focused on the bird.  Much to my surprise, the bird proved to be a female orchard oriole. 

       As my wife and I watched, the bird pushed her bill upward into a number of drooping, slender, orange-red blooms.  The oriole fed at two more stalks of the odd flowers before flying to a nearby birdbath where she drank before flying off. 

       This sighting was my second first of the day.  While my wife and I planted the red hot pokers to provide nectar for hummingbirds, until then, we had never seen red hot poker blossoms visited by an orchard oriole

       To top it all off, late in the afternoon, my wife was watering plants on our deck as I stood on the ground between the deck and a nearby flowering dogwood tree.  While talking to my wife a flash of red originating from something on the ground not twenty-five feet away caught my eye.  When turned my head toward the source of the red color, I realized that the afternoon sun had set the gorget of a male rubythroat aglow.  Then it suddenly dawned on me that a pair of hummingbirds were mating.  I called to my wife in hopes she too would see the bird.  When I walked a couple of steps toward the deck, the male lifted a couple of feet off the ground, hovered, and then returned to its mate.  A few minutes later, they both flow away.

       My wife and I were spellbound.  Never in our wildest dreams did we ever imagine we would witness anything like this.

       I was indeed extremely fortunate to experience three firsts in one day. 

       Each day when I walk into my backyard, I wonder what I will see next.          

THREE OF THE VERY BEST PLANTS TO ATTRACT HUMMINGBIRDS AND BUTTERFLIES

Here is my list of the three plants that should give you the best chance of attracting hummingbirds and butterflies to your yard this summer.

LANTANA – The variety I prefer is Miss Huff.  This cultivar will produce flowers from late spring into fall.  Additionally, it will survive winter when the thermometer plummets into the single digits.

RUBYTHROAT VISITING MISS HUFF LANTANA

Miss Huff will reach a height of four to five feet and will spread outward as far as you will allow it.

Throughout most summers, Miss Huff does not require any water.  In fact, if you give it too much water, it will produce an abundance of foliage and fewer flowers.

The plant is carefree during the growing season.  However, the tall canes should be removed over the winter.

BUTTERFLY BUSH – This shrub is a great addition to practically any yard.  Although most butterfly bushes bear flowers ranging in color from purple, white, orange, yellow, to almost black.

In addition, miniature varieties can be grown in planters.  This offers those of you that do not have very large yards or live in condominiums the opportunity to attract hummers and butterflies to your patios or other small spaces.

Deadheading spent blooms encourages the shrubs to continue producing crops of flowers all summer long.

In winter, it is a good idea to cut the shrubs back within a foot to a foot and a half of the ground.

Butterflies will nectar on butterfly bushes more often than will hummingbirds.

ZINNIAS – Zinnias are an old time garden favorites that are still extremely popular among gardeners.  Butterflies seem to prefer flat-topped varieties as opposed to those with rounded flowers.

Plant this annual in bunches, as butterflies seem to be attracted more to mass plantings over single flowers planted here and there.

Deadhead the flowers and the plants will produce a new crop.

After flowering season has passed, do not cut down the spent plants.  American goldfinches and other birds will eat the dry zinnia seeds.