By Jim Wright
Male ruby-throated hummingbirds started arriving late last month, and now the females are arriving as well.
Pat Sutton of Cape May, a long-time guru for those who love birds and native plants, puts out eight – count ‘em, eight – hummer feeders around her property each spring so that returning males don’t take over the yard and the females have room to settle in and nest nearby.
You don’t have to go that far, but Sutton suggests looking for other ways to make our yards more hospitable to hummingbirds and other avian visitors.
“Many people stick out a feeder and think they’ve done a service,” Sutton said recently. “My teachings stress the big picture, incorporating as many native plants into their landscape that will provide cover, nectar, insects, and places to bathe for those bundles of joy.”
Sutton preached a gardening gospel for more than two decades at the Cape May Bird Observatory, and she still preaches it today through her excellent website, patsuttonwildlifegarden.com, and through programs she gives – including one called Backyard Habitat for Birds (& Butterflies & Dragonflies & More!)
“As a long-time naturalist and educator about native plants, it was a no-brainer to begin doing a program about our hummingbird, the ruby-throated hummingbird.”
Why hummingbirds? “I love all birds, but hummingbirds are pretty amazing in every possible way. My favorite book, ‘The Birder’s Handbook,’ is packed with astounding facts about them.”
(Intrigued, I got the book through my library, and looked up ruby-throats. I have always marveled about these dynamic tiny athletes, but was surprised that – among other things – they eat spiders and they flap their wings 55 times per second when hovering.)
I asked Sutton if she had only one bit of advice for a prospective hummingbird-feeder person, what would it be. Her reply: “Garden for wildlife with native plants and a few non-natives that are not problematic – not invasive.”
Sutton’s website is chock full of information on this, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. With white-tailed deer running roughshod over our region and devouring most native plants in sight, we need to do what we can to help our butterflies and birds – including those sweetheart hummingbirds.
One suggestion for North Jersey: If you hear of any reports of bears in your neighborhood, best to take down your feeders – including your hummingbird feeders – at night.
Field notes: For bird-watchers in the Garden State, now is prime time. Ever since 1982, New Jersey Audubon has held the one-day World Series of Birding on the second Saturday in May because that’s when the most species of birds typically can be seen here. Saturday is also World Migratory Bird Day (birdday.org), so grab your binoculars and get outdoors this weekend.
The Bird Watcher column appears every other Thursday. Email Jim at email@example.com.