One of my most “fun things” in the fall is the appearance of the Ruby Throated Hummingbirds. It is the only Hummer that comes to Nebraska.  They are only 3 1/ 4 inches long including the beak and the tail and weighs only about 3 grams.  The eggs are the size of Navy Beans.  The nest is a tiny 2 inch diameter cup made of moss, plant down, and bound by Spider silk. There are 340 +/- species of Hummers but only 21 in the United States. 

          An outstanding part of a Hummer is its bill and there is quite a variation among the species.  The Sword Bill in South America has a 5 inch bill to get into their long tubed flowers.  The shortest bill belongs to the Purple Backed Thornbills of one-half inch. The birds live or migrate to the flowers that suit them best. Some have very curved bills to match the shape of the flowers they drink from. They are the smallest of birds and in one day eats half of its weight in insects and sugar and drinks about 8 times its weight in liquid. The Bee Humming Bird of Cuba is the smallest at 2 1/4 inches long.

          Their wings are tremendous! They can fly forward, backward, up, down, or sideways.  The bones are short and the shoulders are flexible. The muscles are one-fourth to one-third of their total body weight. They can fly up to 55 miles per hour with 40 to 75 wing beats per second.  The name Hummer comes from the sound of their wings beating so fast. A few weeks back and before the killing frost on the weekend of October 6, 2012, a Ruby Throated hummingbird was within 2 inches of my ear as he searched for fresh nectar from the Lantana. If I only get one species of plant each summer it will have to be a Lantana near a window so I can watch them. Think of those wings when you read that they migrate miles to the South to spend the winter and then back here in the spring.  One of my articles says the Rufous Hummingbird makes the longest trips of the species-about 2700 miles. I think Ruby’s spend their winter in Mexico.

          The males are fighters, defending their territories so if you put up feeders, put up several a few feet away so that others can get your sugar water.  He does not help in the nesting duties so she builds the nest on a small branch with a leafy one above it for rain protection, usually lays 2 eggs that hatch in 2 weeks.  She feeds her babies with nectar and small insects.  They do not nest in Lincoln so I have never seen one feed her babies.  They do it by thrusting her beak down their throats and then regurgitate their food.  The young sit on the edge of the nest to defecate and keep the next clean.  It takes about 2 1/2 weeks before they fly.

          I try to hang feeders before I think they will arrive. To make your own nectar heat 4 cups of water, add one cup of table sugar, and stir to dissolve. This nectar has to be dumped and cleaned on a regular basis to prevent mold. Do not use honey as it will make them ill.  Usually I have dumped it several times before I see a Hummer. They love the color red so most feeders you buy are red. After they have found your yard they will return another year and their children may also join them. People used to dye their nectar red but this is frowned upon now as the red of the feeder will do.

          Hummers prefer flowers to feeders.  Their diet consists of small insects and spiders, tree sap, and flower nectar.  They are good pollinators as they move from one flower to another.  Plant a number of the same flower together not just single plants and hear them “buzz” between blooms.  Also have plants that flower at different times so they have a constant supply of food. They do love Salvia and it blooms before the Lantana. These two help keep them around. Roses, Geranium, and Petunias do not produce much nectar. With Honeysuckle and Trumpet Vines you can see them flying in place with those long beaks inside the trumpet shaped blooms.  These vines may have several hundred blooms open for a period of time here in Lincoln: Bee Balm (Bergamot sp.), Lobelia, Columbine, Currant, and Raspberry Bushes, Hibiscus, Iris, Penstemon, Pentas, Red Hot Poker, Red Morning Glories, and Scarlet Runner Bean.

          Hummers also love water and fly through a “drip” when they find one. I have never had a good Hummer shower unless the sprinklers are going through a bush or small tree and then they find a leaf with enough water to take a bath.  My bird baths are rough surface, and never over 3 inches deep and I put a brick in the middle for Butterflies and Hummers to land on.

Copyright 2012





          GREEN MANURE: If you have clay soil or a not so good soil, this is an excellent idea.  After you harvest your crop of flowers or vegetables and before it freezes, plant something in that area such as Annual Rye that comes up right away and grows fast. Some garden centers have mixes for this marked down for fall or spring seeding.  Then you turn it under to loosen the soil and as it breaks down it will release food for your crop next year.