Attracting and Supporting Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Not to sound the alarms BUT there have already been multiple sightings of some early to town Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds. They are abundant in Southern Ontario throughout the summer months and we could not be more excited to welcome them back. Of course, we all want the chance to observe them! Today I am going to give some tips for not only how to attract them to your yard, but how to support them as a species as well. 

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Photo by Kristen Martyn. 

They live in a variety of areas including backyards and parks as well as forest edges, meadows, grasslands and open woodlands. They move quickly but are able to hover or adjust in any direction effortlessly. Only males display the characteristic “Ruby throat” and it often does not look red unless you see it in the correct light, where it has brilliant iridescence. 

Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. Photo by Kristen Martyn. 

Hummingbirds have specific adaptations that allow them to live their unique lifestyle of hovering flight and feeding on flowers. 

The bill of Ruby-throated hummingbirds is distinctive, at about 15-20 mm long, it only opens about 1 cm at the tip. They use their long tongue to lap up nectar. Their tongue is actually split, allowing them to draw up more fluid. 

So, how do you get these beautiful, unique birds to visit your yard? You support them by providing native flowers and nectar! Now that it is mid-April it's a good idea to clean your feeders and get them out, as early migrants are already appearing and most should be back within the next few weeks. 

Attract and Support Hummingbirds by: 

1. Put out a feeder with nectar! This sound simple, but let me break that down a little more. Feeders with multiple perch spots are best. Hummingbirds are really territorial and will fight over the feeder- I have seen this happen first hand! It is best to have multiple places to land. Where you place the feeder also matters, try to put the feeder near areas that hummingbirds can perch, such as trees or shrubs. Put the feeder close to your native flower garden to encourage them to visit. Picking a shady spot will also protect the nectar from going bad as quickly. Despite many myths, all you need is white sugar and water in the proper proportions. Please avoid the use dyes or substitute sweeteners. 

This is the only nectar recipe you need! 

Male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird on a Medium High Perch Hummingbird feeder. 

I have tried multiple varieties over the years but the Medium or Large High Perch Hummingbird feeders are my favourite. Not only do they have multiple perch spots, the clear bottom allows you to view the hummingbirds tongue as it dips down into the nectar. It also has a built-in ant moat and is dishwasher safe. It's pretty great! We even have Window Hummingbird Feeders for close up views. The Share the Joy Hummingbird Box is a great way to invite someone in your life to feel the joy of hummingbirds this year (pst, Mother's Day is approaching!), or treat yourself! You can link to our hummingbird feeder page here. 

2. Provide Native Plants that have nectar! Brighter is always better, which means your yard will not only have beautiful flowers, but beautiful species. Think native plants such as red Cardinal Flower, Michigan Lilies and Spotted Jewelweed. Further, Hummingbirds do not only eat nectar, they will also feed on small insects. Native plants can support many insect species that then become a source of food for local wildlife, including hummingbirds. There are many bird species that are insectivorous, and this will greatly increase the biodiversity in your yard. Some wildlife species are completely dependent on specific native plants for survival, such as the Monarch butterflies dependence on Milkweed.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) feeding from a Michigan Lily (Lilium michiganense)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) feeding on Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)

3. Leave the weeds! When Ruby-throated hummingbirds nest, they build a nest in the “Y” of a tree branch, typically in a deciduous tree. The nest itself is constructed from thistle or dandelion down, help together by other materials. This just goes to show how important species are in the ecosystem and keeping some thistle or dandelion around can support a wide range of species. American goldfinches also use thistledown. 

I have often said I could watch hummingbirds all day, and I stand by that statement. Wishing you all many hummingbirds this season. 



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