If you want to attract hummingbirds, put up a feeder – now. So says a Madison couple, Michael and Kathi Rock, who are veritable experts on hummingbird behaviors and plants they love.
“Feeders and flowers are needed to attract hummingbirds. If you just do flowers, none are blooming in April when hummingbirds are migrating,” Kathi Rock said at Wisconsin Public Television’s Garden Expo earlier this year.
Yes, April. Even cold ones like we’ve had in 2013. Hummingbirds migrate based on daylight length. Mid-April is a good time to put out feeders. Place them where you can enjoy them from inside your home.
The Rocks have seen hummers as early as April 30 and late as Nov. 17 in their yard. In the 14 years they have studied with experts and developed their hummingbird habitat, they’ve had between 69 and 166 hummers in a year.
Of the 17 or 18 species in the United States, only the ruby throated hummingbird nests east of the Great Plains. A few other species have migrated through Wisconsin.
Immature hummers have clear throats. The ruby color is to attract females.
Hummingbirds are attracted to red, so choose feeders with that color. They can see red up to one mile away, the Rocks said. They suggest adding a hummingbird beacon, such as red ribbons, metallic streamers, gazing ball or any red object to your yard.
You can make your own hummingbird food. Combine four parts water to one part table sugar. Change it every four to seven days, and clean the feeder with a 10:1 water-bleach solution.
But, don’t add red food coloring to your nectar. It’s a common, but unnecessary step and has shown up in the bird’s urine, the Rocks note.
Hummingbirds need nectar and protein. “If you plant a lot of flowers, you’ll attract a lot of insects,” a good source of protein, Kathi said. Avoid sprays and pesticides.
In terms of nectar-producing plants, be sure something is blooming throughout the season. Ruby throated hummingbirds are a single hummingbird species that migrates through the eastern half of North America to breed.
She added that some hummingbirds never learn and do not know how to use feeders, and there are some hummingbirds that use feeders often. One of the popular feeders they have found among banders and hummingbird enthusiasts is the Perky Pet Four Fountains Feeder.
“We always say the best bird feeder is the one that’s easiest to clean and maintain,” Kathi said.
She said decorative feeders, while pretty garden ornaments, are not practical for regular cleaning, plus many of them do not have much red, which attracts the bird.