Wild Thing: Tiny Fliers
Bird-friendly plants entice ruby-throated hummingbirds.
By Mark Klym
The early fall mist is still rising off the bay as we park the car in Rockport, the Hummingbird Capital of Texas. Getting out, our optics immediately fog over, and we wonder aloud how we’re going to see the birds without clear binoculars or cameras.
Our question is answered almost immediately as the staccato roll of angry hummingbird chirps shatters the silence when we approach the grove of trees. Ruby-throated hummingbirds fill the air.
While found primarily in the eastern half of the state, with a huge migration each fall on the Coastal Bend, ruby-throated hummingbirds can be seen throughout Texas. It’s not surprising when one shows up at a feeder in El Paso or Presidio. They are most numerous in Texas in early to mid-September, but can be found in good numbers April through mid-October.
The male is noted for a deep green head, moderately long, heavy bill and a black chin over its gorget, an area that may appear to be ruby red, orange, green, black or gold, depending on the light. The ruby-throated hummingbird tail is deeply forked, with the outer feathers extending obviously beyond the wing tips when resting. Female ruby-throated hummingbirds are more subtly colored, with an identifiable green crown.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds need shelter for nesting and escape, so a good hummingbird garden must begin with trees. Be sure to include plenty of their favorite plants: salvias (especially salvia greggii, or autumn sage), trumpet creeper, Turk’s cap, penstemons and coral honeysuckle.
While these plants take care of their nectar needs, studies now show that hummingbirds also require insects in their diet. Composites like echinacea, Mexican hat, coreopsis, daisies, sunflowers, etc., as well as lantana are good choices because they attract insects. Some of them, notably lantana, produce enough nectar for the hummingbirds to steal a sip now and again as well.
Low perching sites are also important for these birds, and native brushes can be useful in this role. American beautyberry, elbow bush and wax myrtles are good selections, as are short trees like dogwoods, sumacs, mountain laurels and redbuds.
If you want to attract hummingbirds during a drought, provide water. Water can best be provided by a mister, a bird bath with “water wiggler,” a dripper or a fountain, but keep them shallow. Then sit back and enjoy the hummingbird show.
See more wildlife articles on TP&W magazine's Texas wildlife page