A Celebration of Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are often described as the jewels of the avian world – brilliantly colored balls of energy that dart through summer sunshine leaving trails of pollen and magic in their wake. The collective nouns for hummingbirds include ‘glittering’, ‘shimmer’ and ‘bouquet’ – all aptly descriptive of the wonder of these tiny creatures that migrate for thousands of miles and fill our summers with joy. Revered by many Native American cultures as a messenger of the gods or a harbinger of good luck, it is easy to understand the deep affection that people feel toward these tiny creatures that appear so vulnerable and yet are feisty and resilient.

a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, photographed by local photographer, Jane Gamble
Credit: Jane Gamble

While there are more than 330 species of hummingbirds in the Western Hemisphere, and a dozen different kinds of hummingbirds in the western part of the country, east of the Great Plains the Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the most common visitor. Here in the Capital Region, we can expect to see Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) return to our gardens and feeders in April or May after their migration from as far away as Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama. While the Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the sole species to breed in eastern North America, occasionally other species of hummingbirds from outside their normal range visit the area. Whether they simply got ‘lost’ during migration, or were blown off-course by storms, these ‘vagrants’ are a source of much delight to local birders who relish the opportunity to see a species that is out of the ordinary.

The return of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird to its summer home is celebrated in many ways. Photographers vie to post the first photo of a male hummingbird with its brilliant ruby red throat (gorget), while others track location reports on eBird or fill special hummingbird feeders in eager anticipation of their arrival. Whether photographer, bird-enthusiast or just a lover of the species, one of the best ways to enjoy the thrill of a hummingbird’s visit is to fill our gardens with the nectar-rich flowers that they crave. Native Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans), Beebalm (Monarda didyma), Cardinal Flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) and Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadense) are irresistible to hummingbirds, and many other pollinators as well. Yes, red and orange tubular flowers are sure-fire winners when it comes to attracting hummers!

For those without a garden, it is easy to host hummingbirds by maintaining feeders. It is amazing to watch a hummingbird suspend itself in space on tiny wings that beat up to 53 times a second, remaining perfectly still and simultaneously drinking deeply through its slender bill. There are a few important things to remember if you are going to feed hummingbirds. Homemade nectar is just a simple mixture of one-quarter cup of white granulated sugar per one cup of water. Boil the water and add it to the sugar to dissolve it completely. Once the mixture has cooled, add it to the feeder and refrigerate the remainder for later use. Do not add food coloring and do not use honey or brown sugar – these can injure hummingbirds. The nectar must be changed frequently – during hot weather, sugar water ferments rapidly to produce a toxic alcohol. When the temperature is above 90, the nectar must be changed daily. In lower temperatures, change the nectar every few days and remember to rinse out the feeder between fillings to prevent the build-up of dangerous mold. Also, be sure to place your hummingbird feeder far out of the range of outdoor cats who pose a real threat to small birds.

a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, photographed by local photographer, Barbara Saffir, hovering over a hand
Credit: Barbara Saffir
a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, photographed by local photographer, Barbara Saffir, flying toward a bee
Credit: Barbara Saffir

For those who can’t get enough of the beauty of hummingbirds, a group of local photographers are mounting an exhibition this summer at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria. The title of the show is “A Celebration of Hummingbirds” and it will feature works from more than 20 area artists and include hummingbirds from all over the Western Hemisphere. All profits from the sale of photos will be donated to the Friends of Green Spring, a non-profit organization devoted to maintaining the gardens and furthering public education and outreach. The show runs from June 28 through October 16, 2022, at the Green Spring Gardens Historic House and is free to the public. The reception will be held on July 10, 2022, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the historic house.

Author Jane Gamble is a Fairfax County Park Authority volunteer, local photographer and 2020 recipient of an Elly Doyle Special Recognition Park Service Award.

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news2/social-hub/ for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

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