Catching a glimpse of a hummingbird is an experience that thrills gardeners young and old alike. These amazing birds, sometimes referred to as ‘avian helicopters’ are truly a pleasure to enjoy as they migrate through our Central Kansas gardens. Since September is an active time for hummingbird migration in Kansas there is a good chance you can view and enjoy hummingbirds at your own home by providing a food source for them as they journey to warmer areas for the winter.
Hummingbirds are eating machines and for good reason. These amazing flyers are the only vertebrates capable of sustained hovering during flight. They can even fly backwards and upside down. This amazing ability in flight is matched my great speed and stamina. Ruby-throated hummingbirds (most common in Kansas) have no problem flying 20 hours straight to cross the Gulf of Mexico.
It makes sense then that these birds need lots and lots of food to power them along their way. In fact, hummingbirds consume half their bodyweight each day in food and at night often go into torpor (temporary dormancy) where body functions dramatically slow down to conserve energy. Hummingbirds depend on flowers and can even catch small flying insects. They are also known to eat from tree sap left on trees after the work of woodpeckers. Hummingbirds are often at the mercy of nature for food sources along their way and this is why backyard feeding during their migration is very beneficial for them.
What to do
Feeding hummingbirds is easy. You’ll need at least one feeder, but multiple feeders are better and allow more birds to feed with less stress. There are many inexpensive hummingbird feeders available that work just fine. Place the feeder 4 to 8 feet off the ground where it can be easily watched from your house or porch.
There is no need to buy a premixed hummingbird food. Simply take granulated sugar and mix one part sugar with four parts water. It helps to boil the water so that the sugar dissolves well, but warm water also works. Never use honey or artificial sweeteners for hummingbirds, only granulated sugar. Once dissolved fill the feeder with solution and hang it up and wait for the hummingbirds.
There is no need to put red dye in the water and this is actually discouraged as it is not healthy for the birds. As long as the feeder has red on it, they will find the food. The feeder solution should be changed every few days and so it is not necessary to fill it completely full. If the hummingbirds drain it, refill it with more the next time. Leave the hummingbird feeders up well into fall as hummingbird migration continues often into October as cold fronts bring more hummingbirds through the area.
Bees and ants can sometimes be attracted to hummingbird feeders and bees can deter the birds. This is why multiple feeders are handy. Bees tend to prefer feeders in full sun, so hanging the feeders in the shade is a good idea. There are ant ‘moats’ that can be made or purchased to hang feeders from if ants are a continuous problem.
Plant for hummingbirds
If you really enjoy hummingbirds you can increase the chances for hummingbird visits by planting plants that they can feed from. A few good choices to begin with include: traditional red salvia or lady-in-red salvia, beebalm, agastache, trumpet creeper, scarlet runner bean, cardinal flower, butterfly bush, Rose-of-Sharon, coral honeysuckle, and hollyhock.