The ruby-throated hummingbird is one of the most fascinating birds in Missouri. You can enjoy hummingbird visitors by providing food sources for them in your yard or garden.
Gardening to attract hummingbirds
Plants should be an important part of your plan to attract hummingbirds. In addition to providing insects, flowers supply hummingbirds with the nutrient-rich nectar that can provide up to 90 percent of their diet. Many of the plants that attract ruby-throated hummingbirds have red or orange tubular flowers.
Missouri Native Plants
- Cardinal flower
- Jewelweed or touch-me-not
- Royal catchfly
- Fire pink
- Wild bergamot
- Trumpet creeper
- Native honeysuckles (Lonicera dioica, L. flava, L. reticulata)
- Red Buckeye (a small tree)
One simple way to attract rubythroats is to build or buy a hummingbird feeder and fill it with a nectar solution. Providing a complete diet in your feeder is not essential, because the birds will balance their diets on their own. Locate the feeder where you can see it from inside your house.
If you have many competing hummingbird "customers," consider placing additional feeders in different parts of your yard.
When shopping for a feeder, consider those with bee or wasp guards, which are plastic mesh covers that prevent insects from reaching the nectar. Sometimes the guards can be purchased separately. Ants sometimes find their way to the nectar. Coating the string supporting the feeder with petroleum jelly can discourage them.
Make your own feeders
Constructing a feeder can be an easy task. An empty pint milk carton can become a makeshift feeder. Cut large openings in all four sides, leaving an inch reservoir at the bottom for nectar. Attach bright red material to the bottom of the carton to attract the birds. A glass of solution with a red ribbon around it also may work.
A mixture of sugar and water—four parts water to one part sugar—makes a good nectar. Because most hummingbird feeders are red, there is no need to add red food coloring to the nectar. Be sure to clean the feeder very well to reduce the growth of bacteria. Change the nectar weekly, or more often if it becomes cloudy.
When to put out feeders
The best time to put up hummingbird feeders in Missouri is around April 25, when rubythroats return to Missouri. If you start feeding when they arrive, there is less chance of them moving on.
When to take feeders down
Hummingbird feeding is most successful in late summer and early fall. Some people fear that feeding hummingbirds into the fall may delay their departure and expose them to freezing. There is no evidence that feeding retards their migration. September is typically the most satisfying month to feed hummingbirds. As the nights become regularly cold, rubythroats begin to migrate south. This occurs in Missouri in late September, and by October 10 the rubythroats are usually gone. That's a good time to bring in the feeders and clean them for winter storage.
Other users of feeders
Baltimore orioles, house finches, tanagers and woodpeckers will sometimes use hummingbird feeders.
- Honey-water is often recommended because it has a higher nutrient content than sugar-water. There are great dangers in using honey, however, because if the solution is not boiled and the feeder not cleaned each time before filling, a fungus that will attack the bird's tongue can grow in the mix.
- Never use artificial sweeteners in hummingbird feeders.
Rarely, hummingbirds other than rubythroats are seen in Missouri. The rufous hummingbird normally breeds from the Rocky Mountains to the west coast.
A few winter along the Gulf Coast, and they are most often sighted in Missouri as they pass through during migration from late summer to early winter. Other hummingbirds recorded in Missouri include the Anna's and green violet-ear. To attract hardy species such as the rufous and Anna's, try leaving out feeders and maintaining them beyond early October. Other hummingbirds possible in Missouri are the magnificent, blue-throated, broad-billed, broad-tailed, Allen's, calliope and black-chinned. Identification of these hummingbirds is usually extremely difficult because most are in subdued or immature plumage. If you think you have seen an unusual hummingbird, contact an expert. Remember that sphinx moths are often mistaken for hummingbirds.