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Enjoy the hummingbirds while you can – fall is coming

By Sherry Walker
Master Gardener Volunteer
Throughout the area you can see hummingbird feeders in many yards. These tiny creatures are a mystery to watch as they dart in and around flowers and feeders.
In North Carolina, we are host to five species of hummingbirds. The most common is the ruby-throated, but the rufous, the calliope, the green violet-ear and the green-breasted mango hummingbird have all been documented in our great state.
Most likely if you have hummingbirds in your yard, they are the ruby-throated species.
The ruby-throated hummingbird weighs on average one tenth of an ounce and is 3.5 inches long. That’s about the weight of a penny and the length of a business card.The male has the ruby throat while the female’s throat is white to gray. After a pair of hummingbirds mate, the female assumes sole responsibility for raising the young.
She builds a nest about the size of a walnut and usually lays two eggs, which incubate for two weeks. Once hatched, it is about three weeks before the young fledge.
Hummingbirds usually eat floral nectar and small insects. You can attract hummingbirds to your yard not only through feeders, but also by the plants in your yard.
Hummingbirds are attracted to flowers such as hibiscus, garden phlox, geranium, coral bells, bee balm, red hot poker, crocosmia, columbine, sweet william and jewelweed to name a few.
Vines which flower, such as clematis, honeysuckle, yellow jasmine, wisteria and trumpet creeper also are potential food sources. Lilac, azalea, butterfly bush, weigela and flowering quince are shrubs that attract hummingbirds.
Nectar sources are also found on some trees, so plant buckeye, flowering crabapple, hawthorn and chinaberry trees.
Our hummingbird friends will be leaving soon on their winter migration. Most will head to Mexico, Central America or the Caribbean this fall.
There have been sightings of hummingbirds in North Carolina throughout the winter, but these are rare. Hummingbirds instinctively know when to migrate based on the amount of sunlight during the day. They will return with longer daylight hours and warmer weather around late March.
Fall is a great time to plant perennial flowers, shrubs, vines and trees to attract and feed hummingbirds next spring. Visit your garden center today and get started.
Sources for this story and additional information can be found at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, www.naturalsciences.org and the Cooperative Extension Service, www.ces.ncsu.edu.
Sherry Walker is a Master Gardener volunteer, class of 2009.

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