The Autumn Hummingbird Migration
It’s autumn hummingbird migration season here in Texas, and bird-enthusiasts are thrilled for this time of year. As they travel south toward the warmth, Ruby-throated hummingbirds and Rufous hummingbirds stop through to enjoy our gardens, potted flowers and shade trees. South Texas is teeming with these visitors right now, and they’re an amazing sight to see.
From August through the end of September, Rufous hummingbirds and Ruby-throated hummingbirds — plus a few other visitors — call our backyards and botanical gardens home, or at least their favorite buffet.
An ideal hummingbird garden should have nectar-filled, brightly colored flowers, trees, or vines. It should also contain feeders, a water source and plants or other contraptions that attract small, protein-filled bugs.
If you’ve never tried to lure hummingbirds to your garden, here are some tips and tricks to do just that, as well as some fun information about the visiting hummingbirds.
Creating a Welcoming Hummingbird Garden
If you have the space to create a garden sanctuary for hummingbirds, and you’re ready to go all-in, there are dozens of flowers, plants, vines and trees that will create the perfect paradise for hummingbirds.
But really, you can enjoy the hummingbird migration season with just a few pots of just the plants, a proper hummingbird feeder and some luck.
Southeast Texas falls under USDA hardiness zone 6a. Several hummingbird-friendly plants grow splendidly in these conditions. Growing plants that are native to your area is a great way to both attract and help hummingbirds. Native plants provide shelter and food, including a healthy environment for insects — an important part of the hummingbirds’ diet.
Hummingbirds enjoy brightly colored flowers: usually red, orange, pink and purple. Trumpet-shaped and hanging flowers are also a favorite of these fascinating birds.
Here are some great options of hummingbird favorites that are indigenous to Texas and bloom in autumn:
- Prairie Shoestring — blooming from late June through mid-September, this lovely, rounded shrub produces bluish-purple flowers that are rich in nectar.
- Hummingbird Bush — this long-blooming bush produces flowers from early spring through October as long as old buds are pruned away.
- Crossvine — while Crossvine has its first blooms in spring, it often blooms once again in the fall.
- Purple Sage — in most regions, this shrub blooms every 4-6 weeks beginning in spring and continuing through the end of autumn.
- Cardinal Flower — these showy scarlet flowers bloom from midsummer through fall. They are a favorite for hummingbirds in both color and shape.
- Snapdragon Vine —vines are a favorite of hummingbirds because the trellises that support them give the birds a place to perch and rest. Snapdragon Vines bloom through the end of September.
- Turk’s Cap — these bright-red flowers are another hummingbird magnet, blooming well into fall.
- Lemon Bee Balm — while this pollinator favorite begins to bloom in July, with proper deadheading, it will continue to supply necessary nectar through mid-fall.
- Autumn Sage — this is another gorgeous red flowering bushy plant that blooms through autumn.
You might also want to consider adding some pots of Chrysanthemums, Sweet Pea and Pansies to give your outdoor space some layers of interest. Though they may not be indigenous to the area, they grow well in the autumn and can add a pop of color that hummingbirds love.
Hummingbird feeders are an important addition to any hummingbird garden. But it’s important to understand the do’s and don’ts of hummingbird feeders, nectar and care.
- Do: always make your nectar at home. Don’t: purchase premade hummingbird nectar as many have unnatural additives, preservatives or dyes that can harm your birds.
- Do: make your nectar with 4 parts boiled water to 1 part sugar. Don’t: make your nectar too sugary. It can damage the hummingbirds’ kidneys and livers.
- Do: use only organic granulated white cane sugar. Don’t: use any synthetic sugars or brown sugars.
- Do: clean your feeder 2 times a week. Don’t: purchase feeders that are difficult to clean or have pockets where bacteria can build up.
- Do: purchase a feeder with red on the lid, bottom perch or all over. Don’t: add red food dye to the nectar mixture.
- Do: place your feeder in a place that gets both sun and shade. Don’t: leave your feeder in full sun as it may ferment.
- Do: hang two or more feeders. Hummingbirds don’t like to share. Don’t: expect birds to share. They may be visiting Texas, but they haven’t mastered good Texas manners.
Other things you may want to add to your hummingbird space are perches, a water source, and a protein feeder.
Planting trees or tall shrubs is a great way to add perches to your hummingbird garden. However, if you have a smaller space that cannot support planting large shrubs or trees, adorable hummingbird perches are available for sale at many retailers and online.
While hummingbirds get most of their hydration from nectar and hummingbird feeders, they enjoy having a water source to clean the sticky sustenance from their plumage. However, traditional birdbaths are too large for hummingbirds, and the stagnant water is also unenticing. Misters, dripping water and mini waterfalls are great for hummingbirds as long as they’re kept clean.
Hummingbirds love eating small bugs. Many species of gnats, caterpillars, aphids, spiders and ants are enjoyed by hummingbirds.
Many of these insects live in and around trees. But trees can also support the full life cycle of hummingbirds. While they’re not necessarily looking for a permanent home in the fall, trees are a nice temporary shelter for hummingbirds as well as a potential food source.
If you want to host a variety of bug snacks for your hummingbirds, there are new protein feeders, one of which is called the “Humm-Bug” feeder that re-uses your fruit scraps to naturally attract bugs.
Even leaving a pile of dead leaves nearby will attract insects to your garden but be sure to position them in a way that does not cause rot or harm to your other plants.
Whatever method you choose, just keep in mind that hummingbirds cannot live on nectar and sap alone, so they need a protein source to stay healthy.
Creating a beautiful hummingbird garden takes time and effort, but once you’ve mastered the care and placement of your hummingbird paradise, it will become a lovely escape where you can enjoy the beauty of nature.
Hummingbirds You Might See in Autumn
The most commonly spotted hummingbirds in Texas during the autumn migration are Ruby-throated and Rufous hummingbirds. But in the Southeastern region of the Lone Star State, other species of hummingbirds have also been spotted. If you are lucky enough to spot these hummingbirds, you can report your sightings at hummingbirdcentral.com.
Peak numbers of hummingbird sightings are reported in Texas in early September when hummingbird enthusiasts typically spot as many as 25-40 hummingbirds at a time as part of the fall migration. Most are Ruby-throats, with an occasional Rufous in the mix at the feeders. Black-Chinned have also been spotted occasionally, especially in September.
Hummingbird enthusiasts, enjoy!