During the first week of February there were three different types of hummingbirds in our yard: a Rufous, a Black-chinned and a female Ruby-throated. All three stopped in for a drink at our feeder. After watching their vigorous, aerial bombing runs at each other, I wondered what these busy bodies eat this time of year. Although we have hummingbirds in Lake Jackson year round, only one species breeds here, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Many of their cousins from the west have chosen our area as their favorite wintering ground. Besides the sweet snacks we offer in our hummingbird feeder, what is it that draws our little feathered friends? Somewhere close there must be a steady supply of the three staples of life: food, shelter and water. After looking around our neighborhood and seeing only Bottlebrush blooming, I knew my knowledge of hummingbirds and their natural feeding habits was woefully inadequate. Fortunately, there are three good places to get the necessary information close to home: Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, Gulf Coast Wildlife Rescue and Google. So began my latest educational pursuit – understanding the feeding habits of hummingbirds.According to the Houston Audubon’s website, there are a large number of plants available that will bloom year round, as well as plants that bloom seasonally: Salvias, Honeysuckle and Bottlebrush are just a few examples. The Gulf Coast Bird Observatory also keeps a list of plants which grow well in our area and attract hummingbirds year-round. Keep in mind that the unique, semi-tropical weather we enjoy also means many plants will bloom more often here than in other parts of the country. All nectar producing plants, including trees like the Bottlebrush, are potential sources of food for hummingbirds. Sometimes it is not the flower, but rather the sap of the plant that provides sustenance. Sapsuckers are small woodpeckers that tap little holes in the bark of trees and eat the sap that flows. Hummingbirds are known to follow and clean up after the Sapsucker has finished its meal. Nectar attracts insects like gnats and spiders and both often become a meal for the opportunistic hummingbird. In fact, insects are the primary food for hummingbirds rather than nectar. The Gulf Coast is home to many native plants which flower, produce nectar and house or attract the insects needed by hummingbirds. These plants often find their way into our home landscapes which then brings the birds into our daily view. I have heard a saying (from several sources) that could easily be applied to my search for knowledge: “We conserve only what we love. We love only what we understand. We understand only what we know.”
It is no longer difficult to obtain a large variety of plants to meet the nutritional requirements of hummingbirds on a year-round basis. Putting the right plants in our yards will inevitably lead birds and insects into our lives and hopefully bring the joy of knowing more about the world that surrounds us. I plan to add some plants with year-round blooms to my flower beds this spring. Will you join me?
Article by: Lynnette Brooks, Volunteer at GCBO
Photos courtsey of http://www.english-country-garden.com/flowers/honeysuckle.htm and www.plant-pictures.net