Late August is a happy time for me in the garden. While some gardeners dread the lull between the July daylily bloom and the September chrysanthemum and aster show, I look forward to the time when migrating Ruby-throated Hummingbirds return.
Soon hummingbirds will be passing through Northern Indiana on their way to warmer climates for the winter. I think I see my “regular customers” at my feeders throughout June and July, but I see a much larger variation in visitors to our feeders in late summer and early fall. The new visitors to our feeders signal that hummingbirds are on the move beginning in August.
Arriving between the last week in August or the first week in September, these mostly female and juvenile male birds visit feeders and plants while en route to warmer winter grounds. New visitors come and go until the first week in October.
Though some Ruby-throated hummingbirds are found wintering along the Gulf of Mexico and North Carolina’s Outer Banks, most make a long journey to Central America and Mexico. Mature males are the first to begin the journey south, departing July through August in daylight hours. To follow are the adult females in September. The juveniles are last to leave — depending on age — in late September to mid-November. Of course, the farther south you live, the later your migration will begin. By the first of October, migrants are observed in Central America. Many of the birds choose a direct route south, crossing the Gulf of Mexico with no stops. Quite a feat considering it’s nearly 500–600 miles during hurricane season!
While they make frequent feeding stops on the continental U.S., Ruby-throated Hummingbirds need to indulge in large amounts of nectar and protein before they cross the Gulf. It is beneficial that the Gulf Coast states have an abundance of blooming plants in the fall.
Feeders are a good way to bring the hummingbird activity close to view. Provide feeders in various locations in the yard, using a sugar water mixture. Don’t buy the colored mix as it’s really not good for the birds. A normal ratio for sugar to water is one cup sugar for every four cups water (1:4). Some offer a stronger solution of 1:3 in the fall. Clean your feeders often as mold builds and can harm the hummingbirds.
To assist the Ruby-throated Hummingbird along the migration path, plan a garden with some of their favorite flowers. Include annuals such as red salvia, lantana, petunias and cannas and long blooming perennials that include bee balm (monarda), lavender, purple salvia, daylily, and catnip (calamintha) to attract the birds all summer. Flowering shrubs that attract hummingbirds to the garden include weigela, butterfly bush (buddleja), and flowering lepodermis. All of these plants can be found at the Metzger Landscaping Garden Center here in North Manchester! An easy rule of thumb when looking for plants to attract hummingbirds is if the plant has a trumpet-shaped flower, a hummingbird will love it.
Now is the time to take notice and enjoy the fall migration of Ruby-throated hummingbirds and to plan for next year’s migration. If you are lucky enough to have visitors all summer, then you probably have many plants already and know those most attractive to the birds. In my garden, they love to visit many types of flowers. The perennial flowers in our landscaping attract hummingbirds and we also have suction-cup feeders that attach to a window on our front porch and another on our back patio for up close viewing from inside of our feathered friends. A winning combination for a hummingbird buffet is to offer a few flowering shrubs, several varieties of perennials and annuals as well as a feeder.
Metzger Landscaping & Design, LLC
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