The ruby-throated hummingbird is one of Missouri's most fascinating birds. Attract these summer visitors by providing food sources for them in your yard or garden.
Plants, especially Missouri native plants, should be an important part of your plan to attract hummingbirds. Flowers supply hummingbirds with the nutrient-rich nectar that can provide up to 90 percent of their diet. Ruby-throated hummingbirds especially love red or orange tubular flowers, such as those found on trumpet creeper, native honeysuckles, and red buckeye (listed below).
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. Hang the feeder where you can see it from inside your house.
If you have many competing hummingbirds, 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.
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, which can sicken hummingbirds. Change the nectar weekly or more often if it becomes cloudy.
CAUTION: Never use honey or artificial sweeteners!
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.
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 slows 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.
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.