The Hummers are Coming!
By Michelle Thompson
Soon we will see the arrival of hummingbirds in the south east portion of Texas. Anticipated to arrive mid-March through May, they travel from Mexico and Central America.
Eighteen different hummingbird species have been spotted throughout Texas. The number one visitor in our area is the Ruby-throated hummingbird (however only the males have crimson throats), followed by the Black-chinned, Rufous and Buff-bellied hummers according to the 20-year Texas Hummingbird Roundup report by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Since many pollinator plants are looking rather sad after our recent winter freeze, the hummingbirds may need our help more than ever as this year blooming nectar sources may be limited when they start to arrive. Although hummingbirds are great insect and spider eaters, supplementing with feeders is an easy way to help them receive the much-needed energy for their trip and for those sticking around to breed.
To make hummingbird “nectar” solution, boil four parts of water and stir in 1 part of cane sugar until dissolved then cool. Do not substitute honey, sugar substitute or any other sweeteners. Nectar can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.
There is no need to add red food coloring as the red color of the hummingbird feeder will attract the birds. Choose an easy to clean feeder and change out the solution every 3-5 days and daily once temperatures reach 90 degrees as cloudy solution and especially sooty mold can make the birds sick. Clean the feeder with hot soapy water and rinse well.
To avoid the solution getting too hot, place your feeder where it will receive some shade and at least four feet off the ground. Since Ruby-throated hummingbirds are territorial and become aggressive about protecting a feeder, it is better to place several small feeders widely spaced apart in your yard when you notice the birds starting to arrive. Being able to view the feeder from a window will provide some fun entertainment when the hummingbirds visit.
The best way to attract hummingbirds and keep them coming back each year is to plant nectar plants. Hummingbirds are attracted to tubular shaped flowers in red, orange and yellow colors. Planting different native plant species to have a succession of blooms throughout the year is recommended.
It’s important to also have fall and winter blooming flowers for the return migration south, as that is when we have the greatest populations of hummingbirds. Some native plants to consider are esperanza, firecracker, crossvine, standing cypress, lantana (urticoides), cenizo, cardinal flower, coral honeysuckle, bee balm, rock and gulf coast penstemon, shrimp plant and salvia greggii.
For a more complete list, including the scientific names and local plant sources, go to www.NPSOT.org/houston.
Michelle Thompson is a Galveston County Master Gardener, past president of Heritage Gardeners of Friendswood Garden Club and a docent at the new Houston Botanic Garden.