Plan now to bring ruby hummingbirds to your garden! These tiny birds migrate to Mexico and Central America for the winter. Their return journey to the north coincides with flowering plants. They are due to start arriving in Lancaster County in late April. Some will continue further north, but many will make our area their summer camp by September.
Although there are 16 species of hummingbirds in the United States, only ruminants breed in Pennsylvania. They are iridescent green with wings that seem to blur in flight. Fiery red throat appears only in mature males. Hummingbirds love for their acrobatic flight and quarrelsome behavior at the feeders. Like all native species, they serve an important purpose in our ecosystem. Feeding on nectar with their needle beaks, they pollinate plants. They also consume small insects, some of which we consider pests such as aphids, fruit flies and mosquitoes.
Start with the feeder
Specially designed feeders will help attract hummingbirds to your garden or balcony. Typically, feeders have a tank that contains fluid that flows into the feed channels. Feeders are usually red, the color mimics many of the flowers from which hummers feed.
Make your own mix for the hummingbird feeder by mixing one part granulated sugar with four parts water. Boil this simple syrup to dissolve the sugar. Allow it to cool before pouring into the feeder. Extra nectar can be stored in the refrigerator. Change the nectar and clean the feeder every three to five days. Do not change the formula by adding red food coloring or using a sugar substitute such as honey. These ingredients can be extremely harmful to hummingbirds. Hang the feeder in a place where you can easily reach and watch it, and where there are nearby trees for shelter.
Next with the flowers
The perfect way to attract and support hummingbirds are the plants in your garden. In other words, they may come for the feeder, but stay for the flowers! Studies have shown that hummingbirds choose flowers that are easy to spot and that contain high-energy nectar.
Here is a list of plants that are easy to find that will attract and support hummingbirds; note that botanical names are given where they differ from common names.
– Native perennials: bee balm / bergamot (Monarda spp.), flaming stars / gay feather (Liatris spp.), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), native columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) and phlox (Phlox paniculata).
– Annuals: Flowering tobacco (Nicotiana), fuchsia, lantana (Lantana camara), petunia, sage “Black & Blue” (Salvia guaranita) and scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea or Salvia splendens).
– Vine: Domestic honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) and creeper vine (Campsis radicans).
Lancaster County’s master gardeners, who often take hummingbirds, say local honeysuckle, cardinal flower and “Black & Blue” sage are local hummingbirds ’favorite birds.
For more information and an extensive list of plants, see “Attracting Hummingbirds” by Margaret S. Brittingham of the University of Pennsylvania. Find it online at lanc.news/Hummingbirds. For tips on planting hummingbirds or other tips for spring gardening, contact Lancaster’s Garden Hotline at LancasterMG@psu.edu or by calling 717-394-6851.
Lois Miklas is the district coordinator in several counties, including Lancaster, in the Penn State Extension Master Gardener program.