birds are as attractive to gardeners and nature lovers as the
hummingbird. Ranging in length from two to eight inches, it is the
smallest of all birds. Everyone loves the little birds with the vibrant,
iridescent colors and interesting wing flapping patterns. Attract a lot
of these tiny treasures to your yard this summer and you'll be the envy
of all of your neighbors.
In Southern Maryland the main hummingbird found is the Ruby-throated
hummingbird (Archilochus colubris). Ernest Willoughby, a Lexington Park
resident and officer on the Southern Maryland Audubon Society, comments,
"Occasionally we get the Rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus), which
is always rare anywhere east of Colorado."
A hummer garden is an excellent way to attract hummingbirds. In addition
to providing a natural diet, a hummer garden also attracts birds to a
feeder. If you plan carefully you can have a yard full of hummingbirds
throughout the season.
Since hummers have excellent eyesight, they seem to be attracted to the
color red. Lee Duer of the Wild Bird Center in Waldorf suggests the five
best plants to consider for a hummingbird garden are: Trumpet Creeper,
Beebalm, Honeysuckle, Cardinal flower and Spotted Jewelweed. Willoughby
agrees, "The native hummingbird flower is the Trumpet Creeper (Campsis
radicans). It grows enthusiastically throughout Southern Maryland."
Experts believe that one-half of a hummer's diet is made up of small
arthropods such as fruit flies, gnats, mosquitoes, aphids, spiders,
caterpillars and insect eggs. These bugs will be attracted to your
garden and thus attract the hummingbirds. The hummingbirds pollinate
plants and help with insect control by eating many small insects in your
However, some insects may be unwanted in your garden. To get rid of
ants, Duer suggests an ant trap or catcher. Willoughby cautions against
using insecticides, which may harm the small insects hummingbirds eat.
Some pesticides may even be harmful to hummingbirds. He recommends
rotenone or pyrethrum as insecticides. "They are natural botanical
insecticides and do not harm birds or mammals."
Once the garden is in place, it's time to set up several hummingbird
feeders. Duer says, "Place the feeder where you and the hummingbird can
easily see it." Willoughby adds, "To attract hummingbirds, the more
feeders the better. Males are territorial and lay claim to a feeder from
which they try to drive out other hummingbirds, particularly rival
males." Having several feeders will prevent the territory wars. If
squirrels are a problem, hang your feeders from a bracket or pole so
squirrels can't reach them.
Fill the feeder with a solution that contains one part sugar to four
parts water. When the temperature is over 80°F, change your feeder
solution every 3-4 days, flushing the feeders with hot tap water. Duer
adds, "During extremely hot weather the nectar should be changed every
day. Use clear glass or plastic feeders so you can keep track of the
amount of sugar water and its condition."
Willoughby cleans his feeders regularly as bacteria can build in the
sugary solution. "I sterilize the feeder with a bleach solution every
time I refill to suppress the recurrence of bacteria." Use a solution of
1/4-cup bleach to 1-gallon water. Let the feeder sit in this solution
for about an hour.
Provided sufficient food, water and shelter are available, hummingbirds
will arrive in mid April. Duer comments, "The best thing about tax day
[April 15] is that the hummers are due back."
"Hummingbirds visit feeders most frequently in August and September when
adults and young are fattening up for their migration," Willoughby said.
The birds are usually out of Southern Maryland by mid October. However,
last year a North Beach resident made the news (www.washingtonpost.com;
On the Trail of a Fleeting Subject) by having a hummingbird at his
Calvert County home in mid-December-the temperature was in the mid 20s.
Duer suggests readers get educated about hummers before attempting to
attract them. She concludes, "When you're satisfied from your newly
educated perspective that you are prepared to properly host these tiny
creatures…experience the inner satisfaction of knowing you've done your
part in allowing all of us to enjoy this special little bird during this
special time of year with us."
Mr. Duer's nature photographs can be seen on-line in our