Where Have the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds Gone?

JUNE 9, 2024, UPDATE:  As I was writing this post on June 4th we were starting to see Ruby-throated Hummingbirds trickle back to our feeders.  While sitting on our screened back porch the evening of June 2nd Clay had a female visiting a nearby feeder regularly.  I had both males and females hovering outside my office window (where I normally have a feeder hanging, but hadn’t hung one yet).  On June 5th I hung that feeder and enjoyed a steady procession of hummingbirds (plus their buzzing wings distracted me).  By June 7th some favorite feeders were emptying in two days.  Sure enough, Japanese Honeysuckle was DONE!  The garden is full of bugs for hummingbirds, but June is a relatively quiet time in my garden for hummingbird nectar plants, so feeders are key!  As of June 9th, Coral Honeysuckle is no longer covered in blooms, but  will continue to bloom sparsely until the frost.  Lyre-leaved Sage, Wild Columbine, and Red Buckeye are all done (and in seed).  Foxglove Beardtongue is waning.  I can’t wait until the late June/early July hummingbird favorites bloom: Red Bee Balm, Wild Bergamot, Blazing Star, Trumpet Creeper, and many other nectar-rich & insect-rich natives!

Originally written on June 4, 2024

This past spring was one of our best springs for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (I’ve peppered this post with photos from spring 2024).  I’ll quantify that in a bit.

I hung our feeders on April 16, 2024, a little later than usual.  That evening at 5:04 p.m. the first one appeared.  In following days and weeks they were daily visitors to our five feeders, which are scattered around the yard so returning females can feed in peace and be more inclined to nest in our yard.  Each day we witnessed chases, and a female came in to drink and bath several times at our fountain.

They were drawn to all the spring-blooming goodies I’ve planted to attract them (Lyre-leaved Sage, Wild Columbine, Coral Honeysuckle, Red Buckeye, Coral Bells, blueberries, and Pinxterbloom Azalea).  Since their diet is also made up of soft-bodied insects (the protein they need), they find those “a plenty” in our half-acre of native plants.

By early May a few of our feeders were being emptied of their 2 ounces in 2 days.  So, after washing these feeders (which I do every 7 days or sooner if the solution turns cloudy), I refilled them with 4 ounces of solution (instead of my normal 2 ounces for slow periods).  Those feeders were also emptied in 2 days.  Hmmmmm!  This was unlike any spring we’ve experienced when 2 ounces per feeder easily lasts a week.  This rather intense and steady Ruby-throated Hummingbird action lasted until the evening of May 18, 2024.  Then they were gone, or so it seemed.

The next day I looked around and, sure enough, Japanese Honeysuckle had just begun to bloom, right on schedule.  Each mid-May through mid-June Ruby-throated Hummingbird sightings drop off abruptly.  Many assume that they’ve left, but in fact they are feeding on blooming Japanese Honeysuckle instead.

Tonight while sitting on our screened porch, Clay witnessed a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird come repeatedly to the feeder hanging from our back porch.  Maybe she has young already.  As I sit here on this cool June 3rd evening, the sweet scent of Japanese Honeysuckle drifts in my open window.  Yes it is highly invasive, and we’ve removed it and are always on the lookout for seedlings in our woods and elsewhere on our property.  But a mass of it covers the chain link fence that surrounds our backyard.  Because it grows up and over the chain link fence from each of our neighbors’ yards (to either side), we let it be.  It is too mighty a task to remove it.

We have a few more weeks of infrequent Ruby-throated Hummingbird sightings.  Why?  Because they will continue to feed instead on Japanese Honeysuckle as long as it is blooming (@ mid-May – mid-June).  As a long-time naturalist and wildlife gardener, I’ve shared this observation/fact in my Hummingbird Fact Sheet for over 30 years now (point 5 under “Feeder Maintainance,”) but still people are caught by surprise when activity drops way off.

But they’ll be back, so be sure to keep your feeders well maintained with fresh solution.  And be sure to provide native nectar plants they are drawn to, like Foxglove Beardtongue, a great native perennial during the quiet bloom period from late May to mid-June.

If any of your neighbors are swayed to hire one of the Mosquito and Tick Removal companies, speak to them about your hummingbirds and share that the sprays used by these companies impact hummingbirds, the insects they need to feed on, and many, many beneficial insects.  Read my post, “Help! A Private Company is Spraying The Neighbor’s Yard for Mosquitoes.” It contains many more details on this topic.  And just today, June 4, 2024, there was an excellent article on this topic (“What are Eco-Friendly Ways to Control Backyard Bugs“) from the New York Times climate desk.

Be sure to read my other Hummingbird POSTS:

Ruby-throated Hummingbird — Part One — SPRING ARRIVAL
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds: How to Attract Them

Happy Wildlife Gardening,
Pat

Landscape Design With Birds and Pollinators in Mind

Hi Gang,

This summer I am teaching a “Landscape Design With Birds & Pollinators in Mind” class twice in Avalon. These 2-hour indoor classes are co-sponsored by the Avalon Environmental Commission and the Avalon Free Public Library. The classes are FREE but registration is required. Details follow:

June 14 (Friday), 2:30-4:30 p.m.
(same class offered Fri., August 16, but at a different location)
“Landscape Design with Birds and Pollinators in Mind”
by Pat Sutton
Registration required; Space limited to 20
Where: Avalon at the Tennis Building, 250 39th St, Avalon, NJ 08202

August 16 (Friday), 2:30-4:30 p.m.
(same 2-hr class offered Friday, June 14, but at a different location)
“Landscape Design with Birds and Pollinators in Mind”
by Pat Sutton
Registration required; Space limited to 20
Where: Avalon Free Public Library, 235 32nd St, Avalon, NJ 08202

DETAILS ABOUT THESE CLASSES:

Registration is required.

For the June 14th CLASS Avalon property owners began registering May 17. Registration opened up to others on May 31.

For the August 16th CLASS Avalon property owners may register beginning July 19. All others may register beginning August 2.

To register, please call the Avalon Library at 609-967-7155 or stop by their circulation desk at 235 32nd St, Avalon, NJ 08202.  At registration, participants will receive Pat Sutton’s handout, “Landscape Design with Pollinators and Birds in Mind,” which includes instructions on creating a sketch of their property required for the class. Be sure to read this handout over prior to the class so that you get as much as possible out of the class.

The property sketch should be emailed to Pat 3 days prior to the class (so by the end of the day on Tuesday, June 11th for the June 14th class and by the end of the day on Tuesday, August 13 for the August 16th class). The property sketch should have the registrant’s name in large, bold letters on the sketch in a spot that will be included when it is photographed or copied and sent to Pat.  Photograph the property sketch (so that your name on the sketch shows up), and e-mail the jpg or pdf scan to Pat Sutton (Pat’s e-mail is at the top of her Landscape Design HANDOUT received upon registration). In the e-mail subject line registrants should enter: “Landscape Design – June 14 or August 16 (whichever day/class they signed up for) – their full name.”  If you feel more comfortable sending Pat a few photos of the area you would like to transform into a native plant habitat, by all means send photos instead, but please don’t crash her computer with many HUGE photos. If you have any questions, reach out to Pat (but hopefully everything is explained in her handout and these instructions).

The first half of the class will cover resources and a slide program about the topic. During the second half of the class the group will brainstorm the projected images of each participant’s rough sketch. This brainstorming session should result in participants heading home with ideas and plans to enhance each of their properties for pollinators and birds.

Happy Wildlife Gardening,
Pat

Doug Tallamy in Avalon, NJ, on Mon., August 26, 2024 (7 pm)

Hi Gang,

Doug Tallamy is returning to Avalon, NJ, this August to present a brand new program.  I’m intrigued and looking forward to hearing it.  Like me, he gets e-mails, calls, and requests to answer questions folks have.  Often, these requests are from folks who have read his 4 excellent books, heard him speak, jumped in to planting native plants, but they want and need more information.  Well, Doug Tallamy plans to include many of those questions and his answers in this new program.  Mark your calendar and don’t miss it!

Monday, August 26, 2024
7:00 p.m.
Doug Tallamy presents:
“I Know You’re Very Busy but  …
I want to learn more about nature gardening”
WHERE: Avalon Community Center
3001 Avalon Avenue
Avalon, NJ 08202
FREE, no preregistration needed

ABOUT THIS PROGRAM in Doug Tallamy’s words:  Nearly every day I get emails from people who have read my books and heard my talks and yet still have questions about ecological landscaping. These are good, thoughtful questions about ecology and evolution, biodiversity, invasive species, insect declines, native and non-native plants, conservation and restoration, residential and city landscapes, urban issues, oak biology, keystone plants, Homegrown National Park, monarchs, supporting wildlife at home, and more. In this talk I address as many of these queries as I can with hope that my answers will further motivate people to help restore ecosystem function where they live, work, play, worship, and farm.

Doug Tallamy is the T. A. Baker Professor of Agriculture in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, where he has authored 111 research publications and has taught insect-related courses for 41 years. Chief among his research goals is to better understand the many ways insects interact with plants and how such interactions determine the diversity of animal communities. His books include Bringing Nature Home, The Living Landscape, co-authored with Rick Darke, Nature’s Best Hope, a New York Times Best Seller and The Nature of Oaks, which won the American Horticultural Society’s 2022 award. In 2021 he cofounded Homegrown National Park with Michelle Alfandari. His awards include recognition from The Garden Writer’s Association, Audubon, The National Wildlife Federation, Allegheny College, Ecoforesters, The Garden Club of America and The American Horticultural Association.

This program is sponsored by the Avalon Environmental Commission and the Avalon Free Public Library.

Change the course of dwindling bird, butterfly, and moth numbers by gardening for LIFE with native plants.  Learn from the guru who has taught so many so much, Doug Tallamy: Entomologist, professor at the University of Delaware, and author of four  highly educational, eye-opening, and award-winning books.

Don’t miss this opportunity to hear Doug Tallamy speak.  Too, please spread the word.  Let’s grow our numbers!    Bring your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and your landscaper (so you can speak the same language)!

Pat

Hair Cuts Needed For Some Native Perennials

Hi Gang,

I’ve been chipping away at my wildlife gardens since sometime in March.  I am quite sure that as recently as two weeks ago I could still easily spot all the baby Black Walnut trees coming up in my perennial gardens that squirrels had planted for me.  I kept trying to bring that task up to the top of the list.  Too, just two weeks ago there were many bare areas in the perennial garden.  In just two weeks perennials have exploded, there are hardly any bare areas, and those Black Walnuts, well, good luck finding them now.

The lushness and fullness of a perennial garden in late May is joyful to behold.  All of sudden my asters were three to four feet tall.  So I got my clippers out and gave them and a few other fall-blooming perennials a HAIR CUT .  I cut back New England Aster, Common Blue Wood Aster, Smooth Blue Aster, and Tall Sunflower (my stands of White Wood Aster did not yet need a haircut).  Why haircuts, you might ask.  It is quite simple.  If you want these fall-blooming perennials bushy and full of flowers when they bloom, they need haircuts now, otherwise by fall they will be so top heavy that they are likely to flop over from the weight of flowers on long, unbranched stalks.

Years ago Flora for Fauna (native plant nursery) owner Karen Williams shared this sage advice about maintaining one of my favorite native perennials, New England Aster, and I’m about to share it with you.  Though this post is for folks with plants that are several years old and flourishing, not for brand, spanking new plants that have just been put into the ground this year.

NEW ENGLAND ASTER
2 HAIR CUTS: Memorial Day & 4th of July

Blooming New England Aster is a magnet for Monarchs and other pollinators, here on October 2nd in my garden

New England Aster can get very tall and top heavy by the time it blooms in the fall. And the last thing any of us want is for its lovely spread of glowing purple flowers, nectar, and joy to be laying on the ground come fall.

To help it grow into a many-branched, bushy plant instead of a tall, gangly, top-heavy plant, all you need to do is to give it 2 hair cuts on or around the 1st two holidays of the growing season: Memorial Day and 4th of July. Of course these dates are not single-day events, but roughly when you want to give New England Aster its hair cuts.  Too, you can be the judge if you need to do your hair cuts earlier.  With the cool and relatively wet (and very pleasant) spring we’ve had in southern NJ in 2024, I noticed that my plants needed hair cuts quite a while ago.  Know that you can jump start the process by several weeks to a month some years!

As a wildlife gardener I don’t clean up and toss the cuttings, but instead leave them on the ground at the base of the plant.  That way any caterpillars that went for a tumble with the cuttings can climb back onto the plant and continue to munch.  Doug Tallamy (author of Bringing Nature Home, Nature’s Best Hope, and The Nature of Oaks) shares that 112 species of butterflies and moths lay their eggs on our native asters, making asters one of the TOP 20 perennials used by butterflies and moths for egg laying.  Don’t be surprised if some of your cuttings take root and become additional asters!

New England Aster in need of its first haircut, otherwise this plant will certainly flop come the fall blooming period
New England Aster after its first haircut.  I cut a good foot or two off the top of each stem (hedge trimmers work great . . . no need to be fussy and cut stem-by-stem).
13 days later, the New England Aster is already branching heavily where each stem was cut.

Around Memorial Day, I cut each stem 1/2 (or 2/3) off (or about a foot or two off the top, depending on how tall it is, if that is easier for you to remember). I use big shears and just chop  away. What happens next is that each cut plant stem sends out 2 or more new shoots where it has been cut, in other words it branches and becomes more bushy!

E. Cottontail caught in the act of giving Common Blue Wood Asters a hair cut on May 28th one year

Some of my asters get regular haircuts  from plentiful E. Cottontails (they must think our yard is one large salad bowl crafted just for them).  I’ve planted the lovely fall-blooming, shade loving Common Blue Wood Aster, Symphyotrichum cordifolium, under our Tulip Tree and in our woods.  Despite hungry rabbits it has flourished and spread into other beds, our meadow, the perennial garden, and elsewhere and that pleases me.  It is so plentiful that it keeps the rabbits busy and away from most other asters.   We’ve fenced our yard, so deer are not an issue for us.  But other gardeners share that deer routinely give their asters hair cuts.

Around 4th of July, I give my plants their 2nd hair cut (not back to the 1st cut, but cutting back some of the new growth since Memorial Day). You may want to be more creative for this hair cut and cut the many stems in your plant different lengths. For instance, give the stems in the foreground more of a hair cut, the stems in the middle less of a hair cut, and the stems in the back just a little hair cut. This way your plant stems will bloom at different heights.

You may find that some plants haven’t grown as tall as others, so you may choose to pass on the 2nd hair cut for some plants. If so, you’ll find that these plants will bloom earlier. This staggers the blooming period so that you have New England Aster nectar, color, and joy far longer in your wildlife garden.

Sutton fall gdn-w-sig
My garden on September 27th full of mounds of blooming asters, thanks to hair cuts earlier in the year.

A bit more advice: once given hair cuts, New England Aster has “ugly legs.” The stems below the 1st haircut look “not so nice” . . . the leaves darken and fall off and the stems are quite bare. So you’ll want to have other perennials in the foreground blocking that view, so you’re not looking at ugly bare legs.

You can give 1-2 haircuts to some other fall-blooming perennials that grow tall and flop, so they’ll instead branch and become more bushy:
Goldenrod
Sedum
Sunflower

I love Tall (or Giant) Sunflowers and so do the Monarchs when they are migrating through in the fall
But if I’ve forgotten to give Tall (or Giant) Sunflower the 2 haircuts, it can be a beast to prop up or tie up, and keep from falling over, as you can see
Seaside Goldenrod chopped back after its 1st haircut. As it continues to grow I often spot stems I missed, grab the clippers and take care of business

For some summer-blooming plants that grow too tall for your garden, you can give them one haircut around Memorial Day, forcing them to branch, become bushier, and bloom lower. I sometimes do this with some of my favorite summer nectar plants so that I have an easier time seeing and photographing pollinators on them:
Culver’s Root
Garden Phlox (I tried this for the 1st time in 2023)
Ironweed
Joe-pye-weed
Sneezeweed
Blue Vervain
various Bonesets

Culver’s Root responding to its haircut, branching nicely!
I gave the Culver’s Root stems in the foreground a haircut, but left the back stems untouched.  This way the untouched stems will bloom on time and the  branching stems (due to a haircut) will bloom a bit later, and so the plant will offer nectar for a longer period

You can always experiment on other fall-blooming perennials that have flopped in your garden. If you’re not sure how hair cuts will turn out on plants other than those I’ve mentioned, try giving a hair cut to one stem ONLY (or if you have several plants of Cut-leafed Coneflower, for example, in your garden, give one of them hair cuts so you can compare results with your uncut plants). Then see how your plant reacts and whether you like the results.

Don’t hesitate to ask a question, but please use the Comment Box at the end of this post, so others can benefit from your question and my answer.  Maybe scroll down through previous questions; you may find that your question is already answered.

Happy Wildlife Gardening,
Pat

2024 Tours of Pat Sutton’s Wildlife Garden

This year I am excited to share that I will be leading tours of my wildlife garden for the first time since COVID. It’s been a long time since the last tour (2019) and I’ve missed sharing my wildlife habitat and all the wonder unfolding in it, plus it has evolved as I’ve learned more, as plants have grown and spread, and as I’ve acquired additional Chocolate Cake nectar and host plants. I will be leading these tours for CU Maurice River, a non-profit organization (registration will be required through CU Maurice River, not through me).

In this post I’ve included photos of the garden in late June when the tours will occur(as well as late June garden visitors).  Don’t let the photos of ornate bees, flies, & wasps deter you from signing up for this tour.  We’ve never been stung in our garden.  All these beautiful pollinators are far too busy gathering nectar and pollen, avoiding predators, seeking mates, and selecting nest sites to show any interest in us!   Details follow:

“Tours of Pat Sutton’s Private Wildlife Garden”
47 Years in the Making
Saturday, June 29, 2024
(RAIN DATE: Sunday, June 30, 2024)
Morning Session: 9:30 a.m. to Noon  (SOLD OUT a/o 5-31-24)
Afternoon Session: 2:00 to 4:30 p.m. (SOLD OUT a/o 5-31-24)
Limit / Session: 20
COST/tour: $30 (CU Maurice River member), $40 (nonmember)

These tours are SOLD OUT as of 5-31-24.  Please email info@cumauriceriver.org  OR call (856) 300-5331 to get added to a waitlist

Contact CU Maurice River at the office (856) 300-5331 to register and pay for this garden tour or do so on their website.   For the Morning Tour register HEREFor the Afternoon Tour register HERE.

Sign up for the session that best fits your schedule (morning or afternoon tour), and join Pat Sutton for a late-June tour of her 47-year-old wildlife garden in Goshen (Cape May Co.), NJ, when some of her favorite nectar plants are in bloom and drawing in pollinators.

Pat’s gardens showcase the many different ways a habitat can offer food, cover, and water. This one-half acre property shelters 202 species of native plants, including 127 native perennials (plus Partridge Pea, a native annual), 60 native trees, shrubs, & vines; 9 native grasses, and 5 native ferns. Pat’s garden plant signage includes common & latin name, year planted, source of plant, and often specific wildlife that benefits from the plant.  Pat’s wildlife habitat includes two wildlife ponds (that numerous frogs, toads, dragonflies, and damselflies breed in), many and different water features, bird and butterfly feeding stations, a pocket meadow of wildflowers and grasses (see 1st photo in this post), extensive shade gardens in under shade trees, wildlife corridors, shrub islands, a woodland of native plants (saved from a jungle of Multiflora Rose and Japanese Honeysuckle in 2009), and a full-sun pollinator garden.

Over the 46 years Pat & Clay have lived at this site (since 1977), they’ve tallied 213 bird species including such unlikely species as Varied Thrush, Pileated Woodpecker, Golden-crowned Sparrow, and Black-headed Grosbeak (wintered). They’ve also tallied 79 butterfly species (the 2nd highest butterfly yard list in NJ)! But a real scare in the last 6 or so years has been a drastic drop in diversity and numbers of butterflies (and moths), despite Pat continually adding to their property’s offering of native nectar & host plants.

Fortunately, other pollinators (bees, wasps, flies, day-flying moths, and beetles) caught Pat’s fancy. They seemed to be abundant, but in reality, they too are probably far fewer during today’s “Insect Crisis,” than they once were. Pat readily admits that “in the good old days, we were so dazzled by the clouds of butterflies dashing about the garden that we barely noticed the other pollinators.”

With less travel during the Pandemic, Pat explored her wildlife gardens almost daily, savoring the myriad of native plants and the many pollinators attracted to them. In previous years she’d dabbled at learning bee, wasp, and fly pollinators, but they are tough! With the help of iNaturalist and Heather Holm’s book Wasps, she earnestly studied and documented the pollinators benefiting from her wildlife habitat.

Late in 2023, Pat was given hope (and great joy) when she tallied up the pollinators (beyond butterflies) benefiting from their diverse ½ acre property. She’d photographed 111 pollinators, including: 37 wasps, 31 flies, 26 bees, 9 beetles, and 8 diurnal moths nectaring in the gardens. That project is ongoing. You can check out Pat’s iNaturalist sightings HERE (once there click on “Sightings”).

During this tour you are sure to see butterflies and many of the other pollinators that have caught Pat’s fancy, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and other songbirds, and learn of many native nectar and host plants, as well as enjoy many fun garden features and design ideas.

This totally educational experience will benefit and dazzle long-time gardeners and new-to-wildlife-gardening participants alike.
Native plants will be available for sale at two nearby sites the day of these tours.

Upon registration, participants will receive instructions for the tour.

Some Sources of Native Plants in 2024

Most of May, Wild Columbine fills our sunny perennial garden (seen here), the woods, and all edges of our yard . . . all from a few plants gifted to me in 1992 by a fellow wildlife gardener. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are drawn to it as well as other pollinators like this American Bumble Bee (May 9, 2024).

Hi Gang,

This spring my garden took so much of my time (everything takes longer when you are in your 70s) that I created an update of “Some Sources of Native Plants” that I hope will not be so labor intensive for me in the future.  But what that means, is that YOU will have to follow the website links I’ve shared to learn of nursery opening dates and hours, pop-up sale dates, and non-profit native plant sale dates & details yourself.   My list includes THE BEST sources of native plants that I feel comfortable recommending.  So, check it out and visit websites and facebook pages to learn of each of their hours and 2024 offerings!  Consider yourselves very, very fortunate that there are so many sources of native plants.   That was NOT the case when I began planting natives in the late 1970s and 1980s, or even in the 1990s or early 2000s!

You will find my 6-page “Some Sources of Native Plants in 2024” at the end of this post, already updated to its 2nd Edition (5-20-24).

To help people find the top ranked plants in their county Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, is working with National Wildlife Federation’s Native Plant Finder (a work in progress).

A number of websites have searchable Native Plant Databases with filters to help you generate lists of plants suited for various sites on your property.  Some of my favorites follow:  Prairie Nursery, Prairie Moon Nursery, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and Jersey-Friendly Yards Website  which has filters for “native plants only” (@ 317), wildlife value, region, ecoregion (barrier island/coastal, Pinelands), deer resistant, drought tolerance, salt tolerance, and many more filters.  Have at it and see what may work in your yard!

PLEASE NOTE: many native plant nurseries are not like the nursery down the road. Often they are owned, maintained, and run by a caring native plant grower who is surviving by also working a 2nd job or sometimes even a 2nd full-time job that covers their health insurance and most of their income. This being the case, they are not available 24-7 to answer all your questions. But when they are open or hosting a pop-up sale, they eagerly and gladly share their knowledge and will guide you towards the best native plants for your site. These same growers collect their own local native seeds or cuttings (they do not dig up from the wild), and they do not use systemic Neonicotinoid Insecticides that would cancel out future generations of butterflies and moths (more on Neonics below). So, don’t panic when their milkweeds have aphids; but instead realize that if there are no aphids, it means the grower has spent hours hand picking them off. Know too that growing from seed can be a lengthy process. The Turk’s-Cap Lily, Lilium superbum, that I purchased from Clemenson Farms Native Nursery in 2014 (now a patch of 44 stalks a/o May 2024) took the Clemensons 8 years to grow out from seed to plant that could be sold. Understand too, that some natives are slow to break ground in spring so are not going to be available during early-season sales: milkweeds, Partridge Pea, and Joe-pye-weed to name a few.

Once hooked on wildlife gardening with native plants, it can be a real challenge to find native plants.  Yes a few have been mainstreamed, and the nursery down the street may carry them.  But BEWARE OF CULTIVARS OF NATIVE PLANTS.  Cultivars are plants created or selected for specific characteristics such as early blooming or color, often at the expense of nectar, berries (the plants may be sterile), and sometimes even the leaf chemistry is changed so the plant can no longer be used as a caterpillar plant.  We (wildlife gardeners) want the nectar, the berries, and we want the leaf chemistry intact so our butterflies can create the next generation!

That said, some straight natives might be ill behaved and total thugs, overwhelming other plants in your garden and leading to hours and hours spent thinning them every single year.  This is the case with Cutleaf Coneflower.  In 2009, a friend shared a cultivar of this plant with me (Cutleaf Coneflower, Rudbeckia lacinata “Herbstsonne,”) that is a Chocolate Cake, always full of pollinators, and not a thug at all because it is sterile.  I’ve raved about my Cutleaf Coneflower for years, many have planted the straight native, and been frazzled by its rambunctious wanderings.

Be careful too that your plants are Neonicotinoid free.  Neonicotinoids are systemic (get into every part of the plant, including pollen, nectar, even dew) pesticides that are applied to many commercially-available nursery plants and are harmful to bees, caterpillars, moths, butterflies, and other beneficial pollinators.

Speak up when you purchase plants.  Ask if the nursery uses Neonicotinoid Insecticides. If they don’t know what you are talking about, it sounds like a nursery to avoid. If they proudly share that they do not use Neonicotinoid Insecticides (verbally and/or on their website), they are a nursery “in the know” and a nursery to support. The Xerces Society’s publication, “Protecting Pollinators from Pesticides: Buying Bee-Safe Plants,” addresses asking nurseries these important questions and is available HERE.  There is a complimentary Xerces Society publication for nurseries, “Offering Bee-Safe Plants: A Guide for Nurseries,” available HERE.  Let nurseries you frequent know about it.  If you find that any of the nurseries on my list are “in the dark” and still using Neonicotinoids, please alert me ! ! ! 

Around the world steps are being taken to protect pollinators from neonics. In 2018, the European Union voted to completely ban all outdoor uses of three types of neonics (citing their impacts to honey bees). Canada followed suit, planning to phase out all outdoor use of three specific neonics in 3-5 years (2021-2023) because of impacts to aquatic ecosystems. In 2016 Connecticut became the first state in the nation to restrict the use of neonicotinoids when the legislature unanimously passed An Act Concerning Pollinator Health (banning sales of neonics for use by general consumers in backyard garden settings). Soon after, Maryland passed a similar bill that restricts the sale of neonics and bans their use by consumers.  And in January 2022, New Jersey became the 6th state to pass a similar bill to save pollinators by classifying bee-killing neonicotinoids (also known as neonics) as restricted use pesticides.

Educate yourself about Neonics by reading the following:

  1. Xerces Society’s “Protecting Bees From Neonicotinoids in Your Garden, 2nd version (includes list of products with neonics in them).”
  2. Xerces Society’s How Neonicotinoids Can Kill Bees, the Science Behind the Role These Insecticides Play in Harming Bees (in-depth study, 2nd Edition)
  3. Xerces Society’s “Neonicotinoid Movement in the Environment” POSTER (how neonics move through the landscape and are being found even where they were not used)
  4. American Bird Conservancy’s  Neonicotinoid Insecticides Harm The Little Creatures, including how 90 percent of food samples taken from Congressional cafeterias contain neonicotinoid insecticides (highly toxic to birds and other wildlife) .

HUGE IINSECT DIE-OFF / INSECT APOCALYPSE

  1. A car “splatometer” study finds huge insect die-off
    Nov. 13, 2019, by Damian Carrington, Environmental Editor, The Guardian
    Measuring how many bugs fly into car windshields might sound silly. But to scientists predicting an “insect apocalypse,” the numbers are deadly serious.
  2. Insect apocalypse’ poses risk to all life on Earth, conservationists warn        Feb. 12, 2020, by Damian Carrington, Environmental Editor, The Guardian
  3. The Insect Crisis, The Fall of the Tiny Empires That Run the World, by Oliver Milman. 2022. A devastating examination of how collapsing insect populations worldwide threaten everything from wild birds to the food on our plate.

BIRDS ARE VANISHING

  1. “Birds are Vanishing from North America”
    The number of birds in the United States and Canada has declined by 2.9 billion, or 29 percent, over the past 50 years (1970-2019), scientists find (Science, 2019).
  2. “A Neonicotinoid Insecticide Reduces Fueling and Delays Migration in Songbirds,” by Margaret Eng, Bridget Stutchbury, Christy Morrissey.  Science, 13 September 2019, Vol. 365, Issue 6458, pp. 1177-1180.

WHAT WE CAN DO

Here are just a few of the things that each and every one of us can do:

1. Plant NATIVES, especially Keystone Species (read Doug Tallamy’s books to understand what Keystone Species are).  If you live in the East,  the “Eastern Temperate Forests – Ecoregion 8″ plant list should be the backbone of your plantings!  If you live elsewhere, chose your Ecoregion HERE for your list of Keystone Species.

2. Ask nurseries you frequent if their native plants have been treated with Neonicotinoids (see Xerces Society’s document, “Protecting Pollinators from Pesticides: Buying Bee-Safe Plants,” for tips and how to ask these important questions) . If they don’t know, ask them to find out. If the answer is yes, don’t purchase and explain why, that Neonics are hazardous to the wildlife you are trying to attract and benefit.

3. Leave fallen leaves on the ground: they are full of insect life, they protect tree and shrub and perennial roots, they break down and naturally nourish your soil, and they prevent erosion. Listen to Doug Tallamy’s talk about his latest book, The Nature of Oaks (search youtube Doug Tallamy Nature of Oaks), and learn that oak leaves are the BEST fallen leaves to LEAVE on the ground because it takes them so long to break down (3 years or more). All that time (3+ years) they are providing for an abundance of LIFE that needs fallen leaves to survive. Heather Holm calls these leaves “Soft Landings” for the many caterpillars feeding on the tree above to land in and then nestle down into as they metamorphose into the next life stage before emerging as an adult butterfly or moth the following year.   To truly preserve the life in leaf litter do not mow it / mulch it (that would chop up all that life using it).

4. DO NOT USE Pesticides (including Organic – they KILL too) or Herbicides or synthetic Fertilizers

5. Turn outdoor lights OFF at night (use motion sensor lights instead)

6. Remove as many invasive plants as possible on your property

7. Share some of your native “Chocolate Cake” perennial divisions (that are also Keystone Species: Asters and Goldenrods, for example) with others to help get them hooked

8. Read and give Doug Tallamy’s books (Bringing Nature Home, Nature’s Best Hope, and The Nature of Oaks ) to family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors.

9. If you ever have a chance to hear Doug Tallamy speak, BE THERE and bring your neighbor, friend, family member, landscaper, lawn care service worker so they can learn to speak the same language. In the meantime Google “YouTube videos (or podcasts) Doug Tallamy” and you’ll have dozens to choose from, many of which are keynote talks he’s given about the importance of insects, native plants, fallen leaves, and much more. Watch Doug Tallamy’s presentations and what you learn may change your life and/or the way you view life. Share video links with neighbors, friends, family members, co-workers.

10. Read and give Heather Holm’s books about beneficial pollinators (Pollinators of Native Plants; Bees, An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide; and Wasps, Their Biology, Diversity, and Role as Beneficial Insects and Pollinators of Native Plants) to family members, friends, co-workers, and neighbors to help you (and others) understand beneficial pollinators. You’ll learn key practices like leaving stem stubble during spring garden clean up and standing dead trees (these stems and dead trees provide pollinator nesting sites), utilize fallen branches and tree trunks to line garden or woodland paths (ditto: potential nest sites), leave fallen leaves, and avoid too much hardscaping, mulching, and turf so that ground-nesting pollinators have safe places to nest.

Some Sources of NATIVE PLANTS: 2024
by Patricia Sutton
click here for the 6-page printable pdf

2024: 2nd Edition (5-21-24)

 

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds: How to Attract Them

Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Coral Honeysuckle, a GREAT native spring nectar source that often reblooms all summer long

Hi Gang,

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are migrating north! There was a real HIT of them yesterday, Monday, April 15, 2024, when many reported seeing the first ones in their Cape May County, NJ, yards.  I was away and got home late in the day.  You can bet that one of my first tasks this morning was to make hummingbird solution, fill a few feeders, and place them where they could easily be seen from inside the house.

You can monitor Ruby-throated Hummingbird migration north (AND enter your own sightings) on the 2024 Hummingbird Central  map and on the  Journey North  map.  When you go to each of these sites,  be sure to set the date for these migration maps to 2024.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have been surging north from their wintering grounds (northern Panama and Costa Rica, north to southern Mexico) since mid-February and March.  They will steadily move north with each good migration weather day, the opening of important nectar plants, and warm enough days with insect life.

Native nectar sources that I planted for hummingbirds and other pollinators are about to bloom: Coral Honeysuckle, Wild Columbine, and Red Buckeye to name a few.

Why Feeders?

You might wonder why I recommend putting out a hummingbird feeder, which is obviously an artificial nectar source. When hummingbirds arrive, my garden is still dirt! Without well-maintained feeders, “on-the-move” Ruby-throated Hummingbirds will keep going.  Nothing much is in bloom.

Why More Than 1 Feeder?

In spring I hang 6-8 feeders scattered around our yard, so that returning males (they migrate first) can’t take control of our whole yard. I want females to settle in too and consider nesting in our yard. I’ll space the feeders out. I put one feeder on each end of my front porch (and enjoy them from the front porch rockers). I hang one from a shepherd’s hook on our back porch, easily viewed from the kitchen and sunroom. I hang one from the arbor into our perennial garden. I hang one from a tree limb at the back of our garden. And I hang one at the back of our woods.  This way females will have options, places to set up their own territory and nest in our yard, away from bossy, territorial males (who DO NOT share, even with females they’ve mated with).  When activity picks up I add two more, one outside my office window and one outside our screened porch.

The Proper Solution for a Hummingbird Feeder

The solution I use (that is most like nectar) is 1 part sugar and 4 parts water. I make a quart at a time and refrigerate what’s left. I’ll only put two ounces into each feeder in the spring (and in late fall) because use is light and the last thing any of us want to do is waste sugar water (sugar cane fields are gobbling up important habitat). I mark my calendar so that each week, like clockwork, I empty and clean the feeders with hot soapy water, then rinse them with boiling water, and then put in 2 ounces of fresh solution (when temperatures heat up, I clean the feeders every 3 days).  NO red dye is necessary; the feeders have enough bright red parts to attract hummers and red dye is cancer causing (and outlawed in many countries).  Hummingbirds have long tongues and can easily reach the 2 ounces of solution.  I don’t fill the feeders with more solution until activity gets crazy and that doesn’t happen until young are on the wing and during migration when so many birds are tanking up and moving through our habitat.

Keep an eye on Journey North’s Ruby-throated Hummingbird MAP  and on Hummingbird Central’s MAP to see their movement north so you are ready for them.

The site I recommended for 23 years, Hummingbirds.Net, is still available.  On this site you can view 23 years of spring migration maps (1996-2018) for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, but there have been no LIVE maps since 2018. The creator of this great website is no longer able to maintain it because of technical (and expensive) changes (his explanation can be read at the top of the page HERE).

If you are a new wildlife gardener, be sure to also provide:

  1. a pesticide-free property (since hummingbirds also feast on soft-bodied insects and spiders)
  2. a habitat filled with native perennials, trees, shrubs, and vines that provide nectar attractive to hummingbirds from spring thru fall!

Some Sources of Native Plants in 2024

We are so fortunate to have a number of native plant sales and reputable nurseries in this region.   Be sure to support them.  Here is my post:  Some Sources of Native Plants: 2024.

All About Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds

To read more about Ruby-throated Hummingbirds check out my additional post below.  You may also want to print my Ruby-throated Hummingbird Fact Sheet (the reverse side covers Hummingbird Feeder maintenance and gardening for hummingbird info).

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds – Part One: They’re Back

  • my favorite hummingbird feeder (nature centers sell them, as does Amazon)
  • spring nectar plants that have worked for me in the Mid-Atlantic Region to lure hummingbirds to settle in and nest in your yard.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds – Part Two: Summer Nectar – COMING SOON:

  • summer nectar for the Mid-Atlantic Region including many natives and a few non-natives (that are not problematic).
  • proper feeder maintenance during the heat of summer
  • the importance of insects
  • places to bathe

Happy Wildlife Gardening,  Pat

Pat Sutton’s Wildlife Garden

Hi Gang,

I’ve had fun updating the page about “Our Wildlife Garden,” which is a history of how our  garden came about, changes over time as I learned more and more, and recent additions with each new native plant nursery that is born in our area (and that I want to support).  You can find this page in the top “ABOUT” header, which also includes a page about me, another about Clay, and another about media covering us.

Click HERE to read About “Our Wildlife Garden”

Enjoy,
Pat

Pat Sutton’s Gardening Gang – Join via this Website

Hi Gang,

An amazing friend helped me move my website to Go Daddy on March 7, 2024.  After a wonderful week in South Carolina, I had a chance today, March 19th, to speak to Constant Contact (the fee-based service I subscribe to for my Garden Gang alerts) and they reassure me that both “Join Pat’s Gardening Gang” buttons / links on my website are working.  YEA!

So, if you are not already a member (already getting my e-mailed alerts) and would like to learn of programs and workshops I am giving hither & yon, wildlife garden tours I am leading, wildlife garden tips, nature notes (like when to expect returning hummingbirds), reminders of native plant sales, excellent learning opportunities, etc. sign up today!

Happy SPRING!

Pat

Water in the Winter Wildlife Garden

Heated bird baths are life savers during wicked winter weather, and that has finally come our way.  Have you set up one or two or three to provide birds with drinking and bathing water through snow storms and stretches where all natural water sources are frozen solid?  If not, read on!

Mourning Dove and Brown Thrasher at our heated bird bath

 Wildlife needs are pretty basic: food, cover, and water.

FOOD needs can be met by planting (or preserving) native nectar plants and native berry-producing and seed-producing plants.

Two of our brush piles near feeding station to provide important winter cover

COVER is crucial so that birds and other wildlife can avoid becoming a predator’s next meal.  Cover also provides safe places to nest, roost through the night, or get out of bad weather.  Native evergreens like Red Cedar, American Holly, and Waxmyrtle offer excellent cover for wildlife.  If your yard is wide open and without adequate cover, gather fallen branches and make a winter brush pile.  You’ll be amazed by all the action it attracts as birds dash for the safety it offers when a hungry hawk flies through the yard.  Or collect discarded Christmas trees and place them near bird feeding stations and bird baths, so that birds are not too vulnerable when they come to feed or drink or bathe.  And next spring seriously consider planting a Red Cedar (or American Holly or Waxmyrtle) or two or three!

Providing WATER is just as important as providing food and cover

Songbirds lose water through respiration and in their droppings. To replace lost water, most songbirds need to drink at least twice a day. In order to stay fit and healthy birds also need to bathe to keep their feathers in good condition. Bathing loosens dirt and makes their feathers easier to preen. Preening is a daily ritual where birds carefully clean, rearrange, and oil their feathers (one-by-one) with their bill — spreading oil along each feather from the preen gland. This daily preening successfully waterproofs their feathers and traps an insulating layer of air underneath to keep them warm. Keeping their feathers in perfect condition through daily preening is a matter of life and death. Well maintained feathers enable birds to fly at a moment’s notice and regulate their body temperature.

E. Bluebirds were drawn to our heated bird bath on January 5, 2016, when the temperature was 11 degrees F.

Birds face difficult times when water is scarce or nonexistent during deep freezes like have experienced this week and will undoubtedly face again this winter or during drought periods.

Heated Bird Bath

Providing water in the wildlife garden is something many accomplish easily spring through fall, yet fail to do once freezing winter temperatures settle in. There are solutions even in the dead of winter.  A heated bird bath coupled with an outdoor socket is the key. We use an outdoor power cord to connect the two.

We’ve had our Pole Mounted ERVA Heated Birdbath (photo above) for over 25  years.  The pole with its additional leg for support, when driven into the ground, makes this birdbath very sturdy so it remains standing no matter what!  In the summer months I use the same stand to hold a large plastic dish/tray (like you’d put under a large flower pot) full of gooey fruit for butterflies.  So even though expensive, this heated birdbath has served me (and wildlife) very, very well.  Beware that most of today’s standing heated bird bath designs are tipsy by comparison (bird baths balanced on inadequate tripod legs), looking like they’d topple over every time a frisky squirrel leaps up.

As of January 20, 2024,  the Pole Mounted ERVA Heated Birdbath is available at 1st State Seed Garden Supply (best price, $15 less than other sites) and at  Nature HouseBest NestAmazon,  Freeport Wild Bird Supply,  Feed the Birds, Walmart, and probably elsewhere.

Some heated bird baths rest on the ground and come with additional hardware so they can be attached to a railing like this one (photo above).  If far from cover, place some cut evergreen branches nearby, as we have.

Wildlife gardening friend Jean Riling uses a Bird Bath De-icer unit to keep her bird bath water from freezing (photo below).  Ecosystem Gardener Carole Brown uses a heated dog bowl.

Garden Gang member Steve Mattan shared that he uses a special plug to control when his heated bird bath turns on and off (the plug / thermostatically controlled outlet powers ON at 32-Degrees and OFF at 50-Degrees ).  How cool is that?  Clay & I unplug our extension cord when it’s warm and plug it back in when temperatures drop, but this special plug can save the day if you’re not paying attention.

Shy away from “artistic” bird baths that may look pretty but are not as serviceable to birds: too deep, too fragile and likely to break if they topple over, or (most important of all) are too hard to keep clean. The heated bird baths we’ve used are made of a hard black plastic material that is very easy to clean with a  good scrub brush and a little muscle.

If You Have a Wildlife Pond

If you have a wildlife pond and are thinking of putting a de-icer into it to make that your winter water source for birds, this could lead to some serious problems.  If indeed large flocks of birds descend on your pond to drink, their droppings will accumulate in your pond and you could face an algae problem during the warm month fueled by all these bird droppings.

Remember, birds need cover to avoid hungry predators. Place your heated bird bath near a safe retreat like an evergreen tree or shrub or near a brush pile or, as we have, place some cut evergreen branches around it.

Stay away from chemicals!

Some folks, who don’t know better, add chemicals to keep their bird bath water from freezing (like glycerine, anti-freeze, or salt). This is a death sentence for the birds. These chemicals can destroy the waterproofing capability of birds’ feathers, or poison the birds.

Hermit Thrush at our heated bird bath

During lengthy periods of frozen conditions water is in such demand that heated bird baths become heavily soiled. To avoid the spread of disease, maintain your heated bird bath with care by scrubbing it out with a soft bristle brush, rinse it with fresh water to wash out any residual bird droppings, and refill it with fresh water at least once (and often twice) a day. With heavy use heated bird baths may be emptied by flocks of birds twice a day or more. We keep a jug of water handy by the backdoor to easily facilitate this task.

Gray Catbird at our heated bird bath

Beyond helping birds survive brutal winter weather, our heated bird baths give us great pleasure. We’ve had excellent looks (and photo opportunities) at some real skulkers like Hermit Thrush, Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher, and other secretive birds not normally seen in our yard in winter.

Winter can be a stressful time for birds. Lengthy stretches of sub-zero weather can freeze solid every last bit of available water. Natural foods can be buried by snow. Heavy snow or freezing rain can creep into the deepest cover where birds are roosting.

Let’s do what we can to help birds survive a tough winter. Add a heated bird bath or two to your wildlife habitat in winter.