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Agriculture & Natural Resources Updates for Fannin & Gilmer Counties

Ruby-throated hummingbird. Daniel Herms, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org

With warmer weather finding its way into North Georgia, it is time to roll out the welcome mat for one of Georgia’s most loved pollinators – the hummingbird. Anyone who has witnessed these fantastic creatures in action are well aware of how they got their name.

While the hummingbird may be Georgia’s smallest bird, they make up for their small stature with the loud humming sound made by their wings when the zoom past us in flight. Over 300 species of hummingbirds inhabit North and South America, most of which live in the tropics. While the ruby-throated hummingbird is the best-known species in Georgia, eleven other species have been recorded in the state.

Each fall these miniscule birds migrate from the eastern United States to Mexico and Central America. The birds manage to 600 miles across the Gulf of Mexico during migration. As temperatures begin to get warmer in the spring they move northward, following the blooming of early-season flowering plants, such as azaleas, rhododendrons, and columbine. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird, generally arrives in South Georgia in late February and sometime in early late March or April further north.

The ruby-throated hummingbird is only 3 to 4 inches long and weighs less than 0.2 ounces – that’s about the same weight as a first-class letter! Without assistance from her mate, the female builds a walnut-sized nest, a process of which that can take up to 12 days. The female will the usually lay two eggs, each of which are about the size of a black-eyed pea.

In Georgia, female ruby-throated hummers produce up to two broods per year. Nests are typically built on a small branch that is parallel to or dips downward. The birds sometimes rebuild the nest they used the previous year.

Since early April my feeder has been bustling with activity! Until my pollinator garden erupts into bloom, the feeder provides my hungry guests with vital nectar to keep them going. If you’d like to attract hummingbirds to your yard, you’ll be happy to know that hummingbird nectar can easily be prepared at home.

The best solution consists of 1-part sugar to 4-parts water (this mirrors the sugar concentration of the nectar found in flowers). Boil the water for 2-3 minutes before adding sugar. Cool and store the mixture in a refrigerator until you are ready to use it. There is no need to add red food coloring. Hummingbirds are attracted to the red color of the feeder and there is no research that indicates they prefer red nectar to clear.

Select a feeder that is easy to clean and does not drip. In warm weather, change nectar every 2–3 days or before it gets cloudy. Periodically clean feeders, making sure that mold and bacteria are removed. Feeders can be easily cleaned soaking them in a solution of 1-part bleach and 10-parts water. Thoroughly rinse the feeders before using them again.

Homeowners who are the most successful at attracting hummingbirds combine the use of feeders and plants that attract pollinators. Consider including some nectar-producing plants in your garden that will bloom throughout the growing season. Also, plant flowers that attract small, soft-bodied insects, which provide a protein source for hummingbirds. Other plants provide wintering hummingbirds with roosting cover on cold winter nights.

Lastly, don’t forget that we’re in bear country and black bear are actively moving this time of year. Bird feeders with seed, as well as humming bird feeders can serve as attractants. While it takes a little extra work brining your feeder in at night, that will greatly lessen the probability of a curious black bear paying your feeder a visit. Do your part and help keep North Georgia’s wildlife wild!

Have questions about attracting hummingbirds and other pollinators to your landscape? Give your local county Extension office a call and we’ll be happy to help!

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