Hummingbirds...those mesmerizing, lightening fast acrobats who never fail to delight us! They are the kings & queens of pollination, making them not only beautiful birds to watch, but also vital for fertilization of the many plant species requiring bird pollination. When Hummers insert their beaks for nectar, the hovering movement shakes pollen loose, dusting their little heads, which is then transferred to the next flower they visit. As they feed on up to 2000 flowers per day, it's clear that Hummingbirds deserve their crown!
While there are 320 species of Hummingbirds, only 17 travel all the way up from the tropics to Canada & the eastern United States for summer breeding. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the most common species seen here, & we humans are so enamoured with these tiny creatures that we track their yearly migration, eagerly watching for 1st sightings! Have a peek at the current Migratory Sightings Map below, published by Hummingbirds.net to see how far north they're been spotted so far, this season.
In Muskoka, we have already seen them at Foot's Bay to the north, & here in Port Carling, our 1st sighting was on exactly the same date as last year, May 10th! They are creatures of habit, & follow the same migratory route every year, stopping at locations where food was reliably available in previous years. They also set up temporary residence in the same territories, year after year, which the males particularly, will fiercely defend against competing Hummingbirds. With temperatures still dipping down to 3C & below, it's a wonder these early arrivals manage to survive, but survive they surely do! As there is a very limited supply of flower nectar available yet, early Hummers will often augment their diet with insects, & of course, they also rely on us to set up our feeders.
Ruby-throated Hummers measure an average of only 1.4 cm & weigh a measly 3.1 grams, but these little powerhouses of energy manage to fly at speeds of 45-100 kmh, depending on whether they are hovering, flying, or diving, & their wings beat at an incredible rate of 40-80 times per second! Their migration starts between Mexico & Panama, & after doubling their weight by eating spiders & insects (rich protein sources), they are able to kick off an initial 800km, nonstop flight of 20+ hrs to the United States. Upon arrival, they have lost much of that weight, so need refueling right away to continue their journey. Complete migration takes them about 3 months!
These beauties have very little sense of smell, so they rely solely on sight to find their favourite flowers. Their favourites often have no scent at all, & in order, the colours they look for are red, orange, purple, & yellow. Zone 4 perennials like Columbine, Bee Balm, & Honeysuckle, & annuals such as Nicotiana, Morning Glory, & Cardinal Flower are guaranteed to attract them to your property! Of course, any tubular shaped flower is enticing as that shape matches their tiny beaks & tongues. Jewelweed, a prolific orange wildflower in late summer, is another particular favourite of Hummers. This amazing flower blooms in sinc with Poison Ivy, for which its juice is an antidote to the irritating effects of PI. Isn't Mother Nature smart?!
One of the biggest mistakes a Gardener can make is trying to outsmart Mother Nature, which is not only often detrimental, but can be downright dangerous for Hummingbirds & other wildlife! Using ANY pesticide or herbicide on your property can adversely affect Hummingbirds, repelling them, & or inducing illness. For this reason, Heirloom has a strict policy of using only natural remedies for insect & weed issues. There is a natural solution to all your gardening problems, & it bears reminding that nothing we do is without repercussions for our wildlife. Everything sprayed or sprinkled onto the ground or plants seeps into our soil, & rain washes it down until eventually, it leeches into our water system. Poisons are non selective, killing beneficial insects along with the annoying ones, & flowers doused with pesticides will adversely affect nectar, on which Hummers then feed...Yikes!
Additionally, many seeds & plants purchased from nurseries & retail outlets are genetically modified versions, in which are carried the genes of both the desired flower and pesticides - the 2 are spliced together. GMO'd beginnings mean that toxic pesticides are imbedded right in the plant, & the horrific results of this practice are being seen worldwide, in Bee Colony Collapse Disorder. Please purchase only open pollinated, heirloom seeds & plants!
As our motto states, nurturing nature is the best philosophy when working in our gardens & yards. Attempting to control nature is the worst folly we humans have undertaken over the past century, & our collective mindset needs to adjust to a more cooperative attitude if we wish to continue enjoying pollinated foods, flowers, & the overall health of our ecosystems. Everything in nature is interconnected, so if you're contemplating using a toxic substance to control weeds or insects, think of the beautiful & unique Hummingbird, & remember that what goes in your garden, also goes into their mouths!