A hummingbird hovers above a blooming flower, his red-throat patch shining bright like rubies. He zips and zags. Upwards. Backwards. To the side. Around a tree. Preening his emerald-green feathers amongst the fragrant blossoms, his wings nearly translucent beneath the evening sun.
Known for their acrobatic displays, territorial behavior, long migrations spanning from Mexico and Central America to the United States, as well as their excellent memories—possessing the ability to remember human faces, not to mention every flower they’ve ever been to—ruby-throated hummingbirds are one of the most common hummingbirds found throughout Virginia. Serving as pollinators, like bees, butterflies, bats, and moths, these tiny birds can be found traveling at lightning speed from flower to flower in flourishing gardens, lush parks, and neighborhood backyards. Besides just providing hours of entertainment, these robust hummers can not only assist with pollinating your garden, but they can also help eliminate biting mosquitos and pesky gnats from your lawn, often eating hundreds in a single day. In order to keep these hummers running at full speed, here are some ways you can lend a hand to the ruby-throated hummingbirds that may pay a visit to your outdoor space this spring and summer:
- Keep hummingbird feeders clean—it is generally recommended that feeders are cleaned at least once a week during milder weather, a minimum of twice a week during warmer weather, and daily for 90 degrees or higher in order to prevent mold and to keep nectar from fermenting
- Instead of buying premade nectar at your local bird store (which can sometimes be deadly!), hummingbird rehabbers often recommend filling feeders with a homemade mixture of ratio of 1 part sugar to 4 parts water
- Place feeders in a spot that would make it difficult for outdoor cats to reach since they are a common predator for hummingbirds
- Although hummingbirds are fun to watch, try not to place feeders too close to windows—this will help prevent hummers from accidentally crashing into windows and potentially harming themselves
- Make sure feeders are free from leaks as this can attract ants, as well as bees and wasps which can deliver painful and sometimes life-threatening stings to hummingbirds
- If you spot a praying mantis near a feeder, gently remove it and place it as far away as possible as they will prey on unsuspecting hummers
- Supply a bird bath which can serve as a much-needed refreshment on a hot day
- Since ruby-throated hummingbirds are very territorial, it can be helpful to provide more than one feeder, making sure there is a fair amount of distance between each one
- Plant flowers and bushes that can provide natural nectar for hummingbirds such as bee balm, honeysuckle, and impatiens
- Provide nesting material, which can often be purchased at your local wild bird store, and be sure to check for any nests before trimming hedges or bushes around your yard
Between their spectacular diving performances, quick speeds, and colorful plumage, ruby-throated hummingbirds are a special sight to behold, and with a little help from their human admirers, they can continue to thrive each spring and summer.
Written by Brooke Shipe
Brooke Shipe loves all creatures great and small. She aspires to become a published author one day, as well as start a new career in animal behavior and wildlife conservation. She currently lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, ever-mischievous cat, and newborn son.