To the delight of bird-watchers, ruby-throated hummingbirds will begin appearing in Missouri over the next month.
The first birds begin arriving in early April and nest in mid-May. During the summer, broods travel and forage with their parents.
Though August is when Missouri hummingbirds begin migrating south, it is also when the state often sees peak numbers as northern birds pass through. By early October, most hummingbirds are gone from Missouri.
Not even 4 inches long, the tiny birds hover and dart around open woods, clearings, gardens and parks with wings beating an average of 55 strokes per second.
According to Journey North, a website where the public can report sightings of birds, butterflies, earthworms and frogs, two Missourians said they have already seen hummingbirds.
The Journey North citizen scientist map includes one sighting in Florissant on March 14 and one sighting Monday in Kansas City. Last spring's map shows that in Mid-Missouri, many participants caught their first glimpse of a hummingbird between April 12-25 last year.
"Hummingbirds are important pollinators for many plants that require a long-billed pollinator and they also eat numerous insects," state ornithologist Sarah Kendrick said. "They bring a lot of joy to many people who feed and watch them, and draw people in to learn more about other birds and nature."
Hummingbirds are especially attracted to red and orange tubular flowers. Flower nectar can provide up to 90 percent of the hummingbird diet — a strong plan to attract the birds should include plants.
Native Missouri plants including cardinal flowers, jewelweed, royal catchfly, fire pink, wild bergamot, trumpet creeper, honeysuckles, red buckeye and columbine are all favorites.
Another way to attract hummingbirds is by hanging a hummingbird feeder filled with nectar solution.
"During migration, many fly non-stop over the Gulf of Mexico from the Yucatan Peninsula to the Gulf Coast of the U.S. — and then they do it again in the fall," Kendrick said. "That's why so many use feeders in the spring — they've just arrived, and they're hungry."
A mixture of four parts water and one part sugar can attract the birds. Combine the ingredients by boiling the water, but let the nectar cool before filling the feeder. Because most feeders are already red, the bird's favorite color, there is no need to add red food coloring.
"Adding red dye to hummingbird nectar is completely unnecessary — the birds are still attracted to the red of the feeder, and the dye could be harmful to the birds," Kendrick said.
Avoid honey or artificial sweeteners. Feeders should be kept clean and nectar should be changed weekly or whenever it becomes cloudy to avoid the growth of bacteria.
The birds nest in trees and shrubs, usually 10-20 feet above ground surrounded by leafy cover using grasses, spider webs, plant fibers and lichens.
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, some of the greatest threats to hummingbirds are cats and collisions with windows.