Like clockwork, the first ruby throated hummingbird scout shows up in our garden the last week of March. This has held true since I first started recording their return date eight years ago. You can watch their migration to estimate the arrival time in your area and document your first sighting here.
I always put a few feeders up by middle of March in case we get an early bird, but the best way to attract these tiny, high energy hummingbirds and encourage them to stay in your garden, is to include early spring blooming plants they love into your landscape plan.
These are the most frequently visited early flowering plants in our garden:
Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) climbs up a 16 foot post and starts flowering in early March, inviting hummers to drink the sweet nectar with its flashy red blooms. It is a high climbing vine and an excellent option for a trellis, arbor or fence and can even work as a ground cover.
Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) are dangling their dainty flowers in anticipation of their favorite pollinator’s arrival. The blooms, with their backwards pointed nectar tubes, are the perfect shape for long tongued pollinators. The extended stamens make for easy pollination when the hummers' body brushes against them. These classic woodland plants look fabulous in a semi shade situation and are great pollinator plant for hummers as well as butterflies.
Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) will soon be in bloom in the woodland garden to the delight of these feisty birds. The bright red flowers are a magnet for these aerial acrobats as well as other butterflies and several native bee species.
Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata), which grows gingerly up several trees that stand regally along our creek garnish large, orange, tubular shaped flowers encouraging these little nectar drinkers to stop by.
Native azalea buds will begin to open in the next few weeks. Florida Flame Azaleas (R. austrinum) attract hummingbirds with their orange or yellow trumpet shaped flowers in April. Following in May, the Flame Azalea (R. calendulaceum), adorning gorgeous orange blooms, will liven the woodland gardens with their bright blooms.
Our stately tulip poplar trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) are not actually a poplar tree, but a member of the magnolia family, and begin to bloom in April attracting many insects, pollinators and birds, including ruby throated hummingbirds and cedar waxwings. The tulip shaped flowers often capture water from spring showers, serving double duty as a water source for wildlife in the safety of the tree canopy.
Are you noticing a pattern here? Hummers love brightly colored tubular flowers. Try adding a few of these plants that bloom in symphony with the spring arrival of the ruby throated hummingbirds. These native flowers, that require a long tongue to extract the nectar, have a symbiotic harmony with hummers who have high caloric needs and stay airborne when feeding.
Hummingbirds also need...
Insects. Hummingbirds are big bug eaters. In fact, they need the protein and will eat many soft bodied insects such as gnats, aphids, spiders and mosquitoes. To ensure that these protein sources are a part of your garden do not use insecticides or pesticides.
Sap. Perhaps you have yellow-bellied sapsuckers [woodpeckers] in your trees. Ruby throated hummingbirds and these sapsuckers have a special relationship. Hummingbirds often feed on the tree sap (similar to plant nectar) and insects from the holes that these woodpeckers created, giving them a protein and nectar source from one spot. (additional reading see yellow-bellied sapsuckers post and yellow-bellied sapsuckers and their feeding holes post)
Take it one step further...
You may even encourage ruby throated hummingbirds to breed in your garden by supplying them with nesting material. Female hummers build nests from a variety of materials including moss, lichen, and soft plant materials, like the hairs from lambs ear leaves, that the she will bond together with spider webs. Nests are the size of half a walnut shell, and are typically constructed high up in the tree canopy, in a forked branch of a tree, sheltered from wind, sun, rain and predators. Don't be surprised if you don't find a nest; they are discreet. But you'll know they have nested when the juveniles are spotted visiting blooms in your garden mid-summer.
Providing natural feeding stations for these solitary hummingbirds by including early blooming plants will lure them to your garden and entice them to make your garden their seasonal home. You'll be entertained by their aerobatic displays and constant energy for months to come.