Hummingbirds fueling up for perilous journey—and how you can help
By Cathy Meyer, Sycamore member and naturalist with Monroe County Parks and Recreation
A walk in a moist woodland or shady wetland in the fall will usually be brightened by the presence of jewelweed, lovely orange or yellow pendant flowers related to our garden impatiens.
These flowers are favorite nectar sources of the ruby-throated hummingbird. They are most abundant as the hummers are building fat reserves for their long flight to the Gulf of Mexico and beyond. They double their weight before flying 500 miles across the water, with little fuel in reserve for this perilous journey.
Males depart before the females and juveniles, which find their way all alone. Hummingbirds don’t migrate in flocks and each must find enough food along the way.
How you can help
Plantings of native and cultivated flowers that provide nectar can help them out. These plants include the salvias, trumpet creeper, cardinal flower, and blue lobelia.
Keep the feeders clean and filled, too. Use a solution of one part sugar and four parts water. Bring to a boil until dissolved and store unused portions in the refrigerator to prevent molding. If the solution looks cloudy, it is spoiled and needs to be changed. There is no need to take down feeders by a certain date. The presence of food will not keep the birds from leaving when they should, and the extra food may help a late arrival.
By late October, almost all of the hummingbirds from Indiana and areas north will be gone. If you still see a hummingbird after that, look very carefully – rare western species, such as the rufus hummingbird, sometimes turn up in our state.
Late summer and fall are great times to visit a Sycamore Land Trust preserve to watch the changing seasons and enjoy the last of the wildflowers and hummingbirds.