The Birds Are Back in Town – Hummingbirds, that is . . .

Author: NCWRC blogger/Friday, April 17, 2015/Categories: Blog, Conservation, Wildlife Watching

Those fast-flying, tiny jewels of the sky are back. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are now showing up at feeders around the state, having spent the long, cold winter in Mexico and Central America.

At one time, they could be found in North Carolina only in the spring through fall; however, with the rise of backyard feeders, many hummingbirds decide to stay throughout the winter, mainly along the coast.

The ruby-throated hummingbird is the only hummingbird species that nests in the eastern part of North America. These hummingbirds prefer to breed and nest in deciduous forests, mixed woodlands and sometimes pine forests, and can often be found nesting in wooded residential areas. They typically build small nests of lichens and spider webs that are small in comparison to other birds’ nests — approximately 1 to 2 inches high and 1½ inches wide. They build their nests on tree limbs that can range from 1 to 60 feet off the ground.

Anyone who has ever set up a feeder knows that while these birds may be tiny, they are warriors, with both males and females aggressively defending their territory — in particular feeders — by incessantly chasing intruders away. Sometimes, watching them defend a feeder makes you wonder where they find the time to actually feed!

Speaking of feeders, they, along with flower gardens, are the best ways to attract hummingbirds.

For feeders:

  • Boil four parts water and one part white sugar. Stir the mixture well so the sugar dissolves.
  • Do not add red food coloring —  it’s not needed and could even be harmful to hummers.
  • Place feeders in the shade, if possible.
  • Use a water-filled ant guard or other device to keep ants out of the feeder.


  • Change the sugar water between three and five days — sooner, if the water becomes cloudy, the temperatures are hot or if the feeder is in the sun all day.
  • To clean feeders, use hot water and a bottle brush. If you don’t have a brush to get inside the feeder, add some water and a few grains of rice. Shake the bottle. Discard the rice grains and rinse the bottle thoroughly with cold water.

For flowers:

  • Select a variety of flowers and shrubs with different bloom times in spring, early summer, late summer and fall to provide a constant natural food source.
  • Plant red or orange tubular flowers, such as trumpet vine and honeysuckle, or other brightly colored flowering plants, like bee balm, dahlias, lantanas and verbena.
  • Plant flowering shrubs such as flowering quince, butterfly bush, rosemary, buckeye and weigela.
  • Avoid using chemicals on any flowering plants. Use natural pesticides, like ladybugs, if possible.
  • Plant in scattered locations throughout the yard to counteract hummingbirds’ territorial nature when feeding.

Below are a few good websites to visit for more detailed information on attracting ruby-throated hummingbirds to your backyard.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology – lots of information about ruby-throats in general, including identification tips, habitat requirements, sounds/calls, life history and more!

N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences – information on hummingbirds specific to North Carolina, including vagrant hummingbird species and the Museum Banding Project

N.C. State University Going Native with Urban Landscaping – information on attracting hummingbirds using native landscaping 

Hummingbirds at Home – on this website, from our friends at Audubon, become a citizen scientist and help biologists learn more about hummingbirds by reporting on those you see, their feeding behavior, and more. Use the website or a free mobile app to report sightings and learn more about hummingbirds.


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