Have you ever witnessed the tiny wings of an exquisite hummingbird in flight? Or marveled at its incredible acrobatic ability to fly backward or forward, to hover, or to ascend vertically at will?
A hummingbirds' wings can rotate 180 degrees, either up, down, forward, or back. Their wings beat about 80 times per second during regular flight. Miraculously, this speed increases to a mere 200 times per second when the male hummingbird performs his display dive. When resting, hummingbirds take 250 breaths per minute!
If this is not amazing enough, imagine some of these miniature winged creatures, the Ruby-throated hummingbird in particular, flying 500 miles nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico to overwinter in North America. Ruby-throat hummingbirds weigh in at about three grams, and their eggs are about the size of a large pinto bean.
Is it any wonder that these unique garden acrobats have captivated the attention of both hummingbird gardeners and "watchers" for centuries?
Planting a hummingbird garden is a great way to capture the birds on film or video, and makes a much nicer backdrop for your photos than just the typical plastic feeder.
Perching Sources For Humingbirds
In addition to food sources, convenient perching opportunities will make your yard more hospitable to hummingbirds, since they spend around 80% of their time sitting on twigs, leaf stems, clotheslines, etc., between feeding forays and sorties against trespassing rivals.
If you said that phrase a few years ago, most folks would think you were crazy, and those living east of the Mississippi River would think you were talking about a sick Ruby-throated. But hummingbirds aren't the feeble waifs people once thought; significant numbers of several western species survive in the eastern US each winter. The most common are Rufous Hummingbirds, with over a thousand now reported annually. Most are noticed at feeders after Ruby-throateds have departed. They can, and have, occurred in every eastern state, often annually.
If you want to increase the odds of seeing a winter hummingbird, keep fresh nectar (3 or 4:1, water w/white table sugar) in at least one feeder all winter. It also helps if your garden is chock full of hummingbird flowers (at least until frost!) and your yard has lots of "cover," such as evergreens shrubs.
Notice that we sometimes use the term Hummingbird Habitat rather than "Hummingbird Garden.' A garden may contain just a few nectar-producing plants, while a Hummingbird Habitat includes all types of hummingbird flowers (herbaceous plants, vines, shrubs, and trees of varied heights and bloom dates) and provides space for hummingbirds to nest and locations in which they can roost and find shelter from the elements. The well-designed Hummingbird Habitat also includes several properly maintained feeders and a water element such as a mister in which hummingbirds can bathe. The most effective Hummingbird Habitats attract and nurture tiny insects and spiders that hummingbirds use as sources for fats and proteins.
Happy planning and planting! Get your camera ready for a deluge of hummers AND butterflies to photograph.