Nature Notes – A look at Minnesota’s smallest bird

By Jim Gilbert

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are inquisitive and easily attracted to feeders.
They will even swoop down to investigate red articles of clothing. Thus feeders with red parts are best when trying to attract them. They quickly become accustomed to human presence providing endless entertainment for all who take the time to watch. Fill feeders with a mixture of one part white sugar to four of water.
You do not need to boil the mixture but hot water from a sink does help to dissolve the sugar. Don’t use red dye; in fact, many experts think the dye may be harmful to the birds. If the feeders are not emptied by feeding hummers, the sugar-water should be changed every few days, especially in hot weather.
Wash the feeder in a weak bleach and water solution and rinse well, if the sugar water solution turns cloudy or you see black mold.
John James Audubon called hummingbirds “glistening fragments of the rainbow,” and most birders agree that they’re the gems of the bird world. By August ruby-throats have begun their feeding frenzy.
Now is the time to set up several feeders as there are twice as many of these tiny birds. The newborns have joined the adults in our gardens and at feeding stations, and because their fall migration period begins in early August, we in the southern part of Minnesota begin to notice more hummers, always by mid-August.
Some observers say that in mid to late August the hummingbirds are in the gardens more than they are at the feeders. Here the cardinal-flower, salvia, canna lily and other tubular red flowers are favorites. There are several thoughts as to why red attracts hummers, one of which is that bees don’t see colors in the red spectrum very well so the red flower nectar is left for the hummingbirds. Small insects are also an important food source.
Although most birds don’t live more than three or four years, the longevity record for a ruby-throated hummingbird is nine years. Their average weight is 3.4 grams so it would take 133 of them together to weigh one pound. A good share of the ruby-throats will leave southern Minnesota by Sept. 25 to winter from south Texas to Costa Rica. They usually migrate by day but can also travel at night.

What’s happening outdoors now?
With warmer air temperatures lately, look for lake water temperatures to hit 80 degrees or above again. Ragweeds, both great and common, are shedding big quantities of pollen into the air from their green glowers. These ragweeds probably account for more hay fever symptoms than all other Minnesota plants combined.
White –tailed deer fawns have grown and are losing their spots. Laurie and Kim Mackenthun are seeing one hundred or so ruby-throated hummingbirds coming to their feeding station in rural Waconia. Laurie fills the 10 sugar water feeders twice daily. Evenings resound with the sleigh-bell chirping of snowy tree crickets.

On Aug. 22 a year ago
We had a low temperature of 58 and a high of 79 degrees under partly to mostly cloudy skies. A thunderstorm helped a bit with the drought conditions. In perennial gardens, phlox, roses, and varieties of the black-eyed Susan had very showy flowers. Sugar maples had begun displaying big patches of burnt-orange autumn foliage.