Create habitat and they will come

Ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate through Nebraska during September and October.

One of the great joys this time of year (besides football in Nebraska) is the annual arrival of the ruby-throated hummingbird for fall migration. A few years ago, I was taken by surprise when this small, beautiful, magical bird appeared in my butterfly garden and since then I have done whatever I could to create an attractive habitat for them so they would return every year.

There is a difference between feeding and creating a habitat for hummingbirds. Hummingbirds do love sugar water, and it supplies the energy they need to do all that flying about. They especially need that energy to migrate. They fly a great distance across the Gulf of Mexico to get to this part of the country. However, providing key essentials hummingbirds need can establish a much more beneficial environment for them.

This smallest bird wears proud colors of metallic greens, blues and reds; they have the highest metabolism of any animal, with a heartbeat well over 600 beats per minute and they are the only group of birds that can deliberately fly backwards. They choose to eat flower nectar, spiders, tree sap and insects. They are very busy on a plot of land visiting every square inch, but to see them you will have to provide a feeding station in a garden to slow them down a bit so you can record the moments either in your memory or with a camera!

Nebraska is on the migration route for hummingbirds but only the ruby-throated hummingbird has ever been spotted in west central Nebraska during fall migration that occurs early September into late October. Knowing when hummingbirds pass through your area is one of the key points to understanding and planning for the arrival of this species. In southeast Nebraska, hummingbirds can arrive from April to May for spring migration and sometimes stay in their mature woodlands breeding there all summer long. My grandfather loved them and saw them in his gardens most of the summer months as I grew up.

Native plants contain far more nectar than cultivated hybrids. Some of their favorites are agastache, butterfly bush, daylily, four o’clocks, gayfeather, hibiscus, hollyhock, honeysuckle, hosta, lamb’s ears, milkweed, monarda, penstemon, phlox and salvia. Red flowers attract them, as well as red gazing balls or other red yard ornaments. Remember that whatever you spray on your plants is ingested by hummingbirds and can make them sick or even kill them. Hummingbirds are charming creatures that make the gardens they visit very special places!

For additional information or questions and the Master Gardener Program, contact Nebraska Extension, West Central Research and Extension Center at 308-532-2683.

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