Two hummingbirds - Ruby and Little Jade
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on October 30, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
That's Little Jade in the opening thumbnail. But let me start at the beginning.
Three years ago I put out two hummingbird feeders in the hopes of attracting some of 'nature's jewels' to our yard. My husband and I are both city kids and neither of us had ever seen a hummingbird, so we were particularly anxious for this to work. I was in charge of the research. Hummingbirds are territorial and don't like sharing, so multiple feeders should be placed out of sight of each other. It's not necessary to buy the packaged hummer nectar. It's just as good, and cheaper, to make your own . There is no need to add red dye. I hung a beautiful potted Fuchsia, a favorite nectar plant of the birds, next to the hanging feeder, as a further attraction. It worked! We had hummers our first year .
I never expected the hummingbirds to live on man-made nectar alone. Prior to acquiring the feeders, we planted a butterfly and hummingbird garden. Some of the nectar plants that I included in the garden are: beebalm (Monarda), foxglove (Digitalis), hollyhock (Alcea rosea), various Salvias and columbine (Aquilegia). One day when I was at a nursery shopping there was a hummingbird feeding on a glorious hanging basket of Petunias. Of course, I bought it. This year I planted a trumpet vine (Campsis), but it hasn't bloomed yet. I have also seen hummers enjoying the blossoms on my Hostas. For more information on gardening for hummingbirds, go to the Hummingbird and Butterfly Gardening Discussion Forum or try some of the links below .
Year two was pretty much the same. I knew when to put out the feeders by checking the maps at hummingbirds.net . We decided to purchase an additional window feeder because we enjoyed seeing the birds at the window so much. We really like the first one  we bought. It is attractive, easy to clean and the birds like it, too. The only drawback is that the suction cups that hold it to the window get in the way when you are trying to get a photograph of the bird. So at the end of the season I was off on the internet again to find another window feeder.
This spring we decided to just put up the two window feeders. The new one  has two feeding ports, one on each side with a clear view of the birds. Soon after they went up we started to see some female ruby-throateds. After a couple of days of observing characteristics, we knew there were just two individuals. One has a longer beak with a slight curve. The other has a whiter breast, smaller head and longer neck. The funny thing is, one always drinks from the left port on the new feeder and the other always drinks from the right. So we have been referring to them as Rightie and Leftie. Leftie, even though she is the smaller of the two, has quickly established her dominance. Both of the feeders are 'hers'. Rightie, always nervous and rarely sitting to feed, has to dash in and hope Leftie doesn't see her. Often, there are hummingbird stand-offs... lots of chittering, flying in circles, up and down, until finally Leftie wins. Then, more often than not, they both leave. Like boxers going to their corners, one retreats to the lilac bush and the other to the cage on our patio tomato.
|Meet Ruby. Above in one of her rare sitting moments. Below, nervous and flittering, taking a quick drink.|
They each have too much personality for the pedestrian names we chose. I suggested we pick names that begin with 'R' and 'L'. Ruby was an easy pick for 'R' for obvious reasons, even though these are female birds with no 'ruby' throat. Also, my Mom's name was Ruby. We decided to pick another gem for 'L'. I went to the computer to pull up a list of gemstones. Nothing appropriate (Lapis lazuli??). So we decided on Little for 'L' and then any gem we wanted. Emerald? Too long. Jade it is!
|This is Her Highness, Little Jade, self-appointed keeper of the feeders. She is always on guard.|
Little Jade is almost fearless. Hummingbirds can be quite bold. Several times when I was outside she buzzed me, flying in circles around my head and chittering at me. The whir of hummingbird wings is quite loud when they are close. I don't think she has gotten the idea that I am the source of the food, no matter how many times I explain it to her. Last year one of our birds would hover at the backdoor when the feeder was empty. One of the few things that disturbs Jade when she is drinking is my husband lifting his coffee cup to take a sip on the other side of the window. She must still see it as threatening. At left she is staring back in the window at him trying to decide if she should return to the feeder or not.
I have a tall planter under one of our sunroom windows that serves as a windowbox. This year I had seeds for tassel flowers (Emilia javanica) from a seed trade here at DG. I wasn't familiar with them, but I was looking for a red annual for the box. What a happy accident! The hummers just love them. It is like having yet another window feeder. As a bonus, the goldfinches are attracted to the seeds, so we have them right under our noses, too. We can sit and watch them pick at the seeds from a foot away. What a thrill!
September 10. Little Jade and Ruby are gone now. They left a few days ago for southern climes... replaced by a single stranger who won't come to the window feeder. She drinks from the oriole feeder on a pole and only quick sips. This little bird is not at home. She's only passing through. There will probably be others. The best advice is to leave the feeders out until mid-October here. There may be migrating stragglers who really need the food because most of the flowers are way past their prime.
Now we wait for next spring when we will watch the migration maps as the sitings get closer to us in anticipation of the first hummingbird of 2009. Maybe we'll have a male next year. Maybe even a family. I can imagine the tiny baby birds at our feeder. We're starting to pick out names already.
 To make your own hummingbird nectar, simply mix 4 parts distilled water to 1 part sugar (stir until sugar is dissolved). I boil the water, but some sources say it isn't necessary. Do not use honey or sugar substitutes. There is no nutrition in sugar substitutes and there may be bacteria present in honey. Do not add red dye. The feeder has red parts to attract the birds and it is not known if the dye is harmful to the birds.
 You might want to take a look at my earlier article, Hummers at your window - a great gift idea!
 rubythroat.org, Hummingbird Habitats
hummingbirds.net, Attracting Hummingbirds
audubon.org, Kern River Preserve, Hummingbird and Butterfly Gardening
 Please note: this migration map is just for ruby-throated hummingbirds
All photographs are © grampapa and may not be reproduced without the permission of the author.