Karma Larsen of the Nebraska Forest ServiceAugust Animal - Hummingbirds

This month, Karma Larsen of the Nebraska Forest Service provides us with information on a delightful guest that we can encourage to our yards. She wrote this article in late July of 2008, but it still applies today.

An Invitation to Hummingbirds

There's nothing common about a hummingbird. In size they are the smallest bird, smallest egg, and smallest nest; their colors include metallic greens, blues, and reds; they have the highest metabolism of any animal, with a heartbeat of well over 600 beats per minute; and they are the only group of birds that can deliberately fly backwards.

Their diet consists of flower nectar, sap from trees, spiders and insects, usually captured in or near flowers. It's been estimated that not one square meter, or 40-square inch, plot of land goes unvisited by them in any given year. Still, they may go unnoticed until hummingbird feeders are placed to draw them more readily into focus.

Nebraska is on the migration route for four hummingbirds but only the ruby-throated hummingbird has ever been spotted in Lincoln's Pioneers Park Nature Center, and then only on its fall migration that occurs from early August into late October.

Ruby throated hummingbirdIf you've never had the privilege of watching hummingbirds closely or regularly, it is well worth the time and effort to entice them into your garden. They're probably already visiting but a feeder will make them more visible and their visits more consistent. You can provide supplemental nourishment with a sugar-water mixture in a hummingbird feeder (4 parts water to 1 part sugar, boiled to remain fresh longer, NOT dyed red, and changed frequently during hot weather) but the plants below will attract them into your yard and encourage them to stay longer.

As a rule, native plants contain far more nectar than cultivated hybrids. Spring migration in southeast Nebraska is brief and variable but for the hummingbirds' fall migration that begins in early August and runs almost until frost, there are lots of options. 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.

Karma adds: "With the addition of a few hummingbird feeders and lots of flowering plants, we went from seeing one hummingbird a year to seeing them many times daily for several months during fall migration. Though they are regulars now, common they are not!"

For additional information on hummingbirds as they migrate through Nebraska, view the video on Attracting Hummingbirds by Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.