Hummingbirds in Cape May Gardens

Photos by Pat and Clay Sutton

Posted August 25, 2009
by Clay and Pat Sutton

It’s late summer and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are more abundant and more active than at any other time of the year.

Even if you didn’t succeed in attracting nesting hummingbirds to your yard in April, when they first returned from Panama and Central America where they winter, just about everyone with a feeder is seeing them now.

Gardeners who have planted specifically with hummingbirds in mind or nurtured habitats for hummingbirds are now being rewarded with the fruits of their labor. In wildlife-friendly gardens hummingbirds are feeding constantly, as well as zipping through misters and rolling around on wet leaves under misters taking their special hummingbird-style baths.

Wildlife-friendly gardens for hummingbirds are filled with blooming Cardinal Flower, Trumpet Creeper, Coral Honeysuckle, Tropical Sage, Black and Blue Salvia, Bee Balm, Canna, and so many other nectar and insect-rich wildflowers in August.

In these special gardens hummingbirds are also dancing over fruit-filled dishes feasting on fruit flies. You may wonder why a gardener would put gooey fruit into a dish. For butterflies, of course! Most hummingbird gardeners also garden for butterflies. Certain butterflies ignore flowers and instead prefer gooey fruit . . . hence the wealth of fruit flies that are a spin-off bonus for hummers.

Hummingbirds are as busy as hummingbirds can be in these wildlife-friendly gardens hovering up and down each flowering stem searching for and finding yummy aphids, spiders, and other soft-bodied insects. Hummingbirds get their protein from insects and would die without them, so wildlife gardeners strictly avoid insecticides and grow to love each and every critter their garden attracts – especially since something will benefit from it.

The air space in local gardens is filled with mouse-like squeals and nervous fretful chattering as dozens of hummingbirds chase one another about. Nestlings from Momma hummingbird’s first nest are on the wing and on their own, and everyone is jostling for what they think are the very best flowers (or feeders). Mom right now is busy with her second set of tiny, jelly-bean-sized eggs, and the second brood will also soon be on the wing.

And, surprising as it may be, hummingbird migration is also now in full swing. Birds that nested in Canada and northern New England are already migrating south.

If you were able to tell one hummingbird from another, you’d be amazed to find that hummingbird numbers in your garden are far higher than you’d ever imagined. The constant turnover as migrants tank up and move on is astounding (much like the continual turn over of tourists in Cape May).

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, the ones with the bright ruby-red throat (or black throat, if the sun isn’t shining on it), migrate first. The day will come sometime later this month when you’ll see your last adult male.

So enjoy them now and their antics as they try to monopolize every feeder and flower in your garden. Soon only the kids will be left behind at our Cape May gardens and feeders.

Clay and Pat Sutton are noted Cape May birders and the authors of Birds and Birding at Cape May.


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