The Ruby-throated hummingbirds travel a long way to Michigan

Brandon Township resident Laura Reich used her Canon 7d mark ll camera with a 300mm lens to take this picture near a Butterfly Bush.

Some dos and don’ts when feeding them

By Don Rush

Recently we were notified that some people may be feeding hummingbirds incorrectly and causing the little critters to perish. We reached out to the self-proclaimed birder, who has spotted over 600 different species of birds and is Executive Director of Seven Ponds Nature Center, in Dryden for information on hummingbirds. Daryl Bernard said, locally, the common hummingbird is the Ruby-throated variety.

Daryl Bernard, executive director of Seven Ponds Nature Center.  

There are 15 species of hummingbirds regular in North America, with another half-dozen that show up from time to time,” Bernard said. “In Michigan we only have one breeding species of hummingbird – the Ruby-throated hummingbird, whose range is largely the eastern half of the United States and southern Canada.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds spend most of their year in southern Mexico and Central America south to Costa Rica. Some migrate up through Mexico while the bulk of the population makes a 600-mile nonstop flight across the Gulf of Mexico. They begin arriving in Florida and along the Gulf Coast in March, and those that continue northward begin arriving in Michigan in early May. After raising (usually) two young, they are mostly gone from our state by the end of September.”

And, yes, he said there are right and wrong ways to feed hummingbirds. Hummingbirds feed on natural nectar from plants as well as tiny insects. If you want hummingbirds to visit your yard, first he said start with plants.

The best way to aid hummingbirds in your yard is to plant native flowers. The list of native flowers used by Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in Michigan is long,” he said.

A few of the popular flowers people can plant include: Blazing Star (several species including Cylindrical, Marsh, Meadow, Prairie, and Rough); Royal Catchfly; Wild Columbine; Fireweed; Orange Jewelweed; Michigan Lily; Prairie Lily; Bee Balm; Blue Phlox, and Fire Pink.

There are many more,” he said. “Choosing a variety of flowers that have varying bloom times will ensure a constant supply of nectar, from spring through fall. These flowers will also provide an important food source for native bees and butterflies. Cinnamon Fern is a great addition to the garden and provides fuzz that hummingbirds use for nesting material.”

For hummingbird feeders, use only white sugar and water, he said, not other sweeteners that can make the feed sticky. Honey can get stuck in hummingbird tongues and glue their bills closed, making it impossible for them to eat.

Hummingbirds feed on natural nectar from plants as well as tiny insects. People can enjoy hummingbirds in their yards by providing a nectar feeder, using nectar that is made from four parts water to one part sugar,” he said. “Nectar should never be made stronger than 4:1 and should never contain any other sweeteners such as honey. Sugar water does not need to be boiled but should be kept refrigerated until use. It is important to keep feeders clean by changing out sugar water often, especially in hot weather. Take time to clean the feeder, including the drinking ports, to prevent the growth of harmful mold and bacteria.”

He emphasized to only use the 4 to 1 sugar mixture. “Do not use commercial nectar products and do not use red dye. Although the research is mixed as to whether red dye is harmful to hummingbirds, two things are certain: it is not natural, and it is not necessary. While hummingbirds are attracted to colorful flowers — especially red — most hummingbird feeders already include red parts. Hummingbirds will find your feeders, there is no need to add red dye.”

He also said not to leave feeders up for an extended period of time without cleaning and refilling. Dirty feeders and spoiled nectar can be deadly to hummingbirds. Keep feeders away from areas that cats frequent.

Seven Ponds Nature Center is located at 3854 Crawford Rd., Dryden. The phone number is 810-796-3200. Their website is

Cool Ruby-throated Hummingbird Facts

        Weigh 3.0-3.5 grams (less than two pennies)

  • 20-25% of their weight is pectoral muscle, which aids in flight
  • Why do hummingbirds hum? Because they don’t know the words! Actually, the humming sound is caused by the rapid beating of their wings.
  • Wings beat about 53 times per second (more than 3,000 times per minute)
  • Heart rate is 1,200 beats per minute
  • Tongue can flick 10-15 times per second while lapping nectar
  • Can hover in place, fly up, down, sideways, and even backwards
  • Flight speed up to 30 mph in normal flight, up to 60 mph in a dive
  • Must consume half of their body weight in sugar each day; usually feed 5-8 times per hour during the day; fully metabolize sugar in 20 minutes
  • For protein (critical for muscle and feather development), they eat between a few dozen and up to 1,000 tiny insects per day
  • On chilly evenings, they enter a deep, sleep-like state known as torpor; body functions decrease significantly, metabolism drops as much as 95%, and both heart rate and temperature drop dramatically.
  • Male hummingbirds participate in courtship and mating, but not rearing the offspring; males often begin migration by early August.
  • Females lay 1-3 eggs (usually 2) which take 12-14 days to incubate and spend another 18-22 days in the nest as nestlings before fledging.
  • The oldest known Ruby-throated Hummingbird was a female that was at least 9 years, 2 months old when recaptured and released during a banding operation in West Virginia.

 We ask Leader readers to share their local hummingbird photos and you came through! Some of your submissions are below.

Roberta Kay sent us this photo of a hummingbird feeding on a Cardinal Flower.

Oxford Township resident Michelle Hunt sent two pictures, one through a pair of binoculars of a hummingbird next to her tomato plants and another near a feeder nestled in a Mandevilla plant. “The hummer never could eat from the mandevilla because when it tried, the flower was too big for it. So it’s there to attract them to the feeder,” she reported.

Diane Carr-Adams sent us this photo.

Jade Haverstock Kindermann of Addison Township wrote us, “If I’m late at putting out the feeders they wait outside the kitchen window where one of my feeders hangs.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *