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Weekend Life

Learning to Grow: Saying goodbye is for the birds

Shortened daylight hours and cooler temperatures signal that winter is on its way. This also means that some of our feathered friends will start their annual migration to warmer climates, and it’s time to say goodbye. 

While I love all the birds that I’ve observed in my garden this season, I am particularly sad to see the hummingbirds leave the area.

This was my first year to closely observe them at a feeder, and they have been delightful. 

I placed a feeder where their antics could be easily watched from the family-room window and backyard deck. The most common species in our area is the ruby-throated hummingbird – Archilochus colubris. 

I learned they are carnivores and depend on soft-bodied insects and spiders as their primary food source. The sugar water I was providing in the feeder only fueled their insect-catching activities. I made sure to keep the feeder clean and the sugar water replenished every few days using the recommended ratio of 4:1 water to white granulated sugar. This blend approximates the amount of sucrose available in flowers favored by hummingbirds. 

They must have liked the recipe because there was constant activity at the feeder during the summer months. 

As cooler temperatures and shorter days trigger their instinct to migrate south to their winter home in Central America I am seeing fewer and fewer birds at the feeder. 

Hummingbirds leave the area when they have fattened up enough to survive the journey. Some will skirt the Gulf of Mexico and follow the coastline; others will cross the Gulf for the 18-22 hour flight across water. 

Late August and early September is the peak of the migration. By mid-September the few hummingbirds seen at our feeders are not the same individuals we’ve seen throughout the summer. These birds are the latest migrants on their way south from areas further north. So, don’t take down your feeder until freezing becomes a problem. Migrating birds remember food sources and will stop again.

Even though we say good-bye for now, we can always look forward to the hummingbirds return next spring.

I am going to get more feeders to space around my yard to avoid territorial disputes and I am going to plant flowers that the hummingbirds favor: bright geraniums, trumpet vine, and salvia to name a few.
(A friend tells me that Salvia guaranitica “Black and Blue” is a hummingbird magnet.) 
I will then be prepared to welcome my little friends again in April and May.

• Suzanne Thorne is a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener for Kane County. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information.

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