Written on August 13, 2010 at 3:42 pm , by Jane McKeon
Summer ends in a whir of wings in my yard. While some gardens are winding down for the season, mine is revving up with late-season flowers that cater to the sweet appetites of Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds. Perennials such as hyssop (Agastache), butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii), and cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), join the 24/7 dessert buffet provided by long-blooming annuals, including begonia, lantana, cardinal climber, Pentas, petunia, salvia, and zinnia.
Where have these thumb-size iridescent cuties been all summer? No doubt they’ve been noshing on native blooms and bugs in fields near my home. Just this week, though, I spotted a female hummer hovering in front of my kitchen window as if to say, “Hey, you! Didn’t you have a feeder hanging in this very spot last year?” It’s true: Hummingbirds have amazing memories. They return to the same nectar-rich gardens each year.
August and September bloomers are especially important to the Ruby-Throated (the only hummingbird species that resides east of the Rockies) because they fuel a marathon migration to Mexico and Central America that begins a few weeks from now. The males leave first, followed by the females and offspring. Hummers double their weight for the 2,000-mile trip, taking time to top their tanks in gardens that also serve sugar water, the avian equivalent of an energy drink.
After spotting my first dazzling diner, I wasted no time filling my collection of hummingbird feeders and hanging them within view of every room of my house. One of my favorites is a window-mounted model available at Wild Birds Unlimited. It adheres to glass with suction cups, awarding closeup views. You can purchase packaged instant nectar, but I prefer mixing up small homemade batches made from 4 parts water (boiled, then cooled) to 1 part sugar. Contrary to popular belief, the solution need not be tinted with red food coloring. I clean feeders every few days and refill with fresh sugar water.
By Labor Day, most Rubies will be gone. In the meantime, I’m going to relish these final days of summer, the sweetest season of all.