The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


April 13, 2014

Coming soon to a garden near you: Hummingbirds!

CAMERON — One of the things I look forward to each spring is the northbound migration of ruby-throated hummingbirds. Until 1997, that meant waiting until one showed up at my feeders. But that year a website (, began mapping hummers as they moved north.

The first hummers usually arrive on the Gulf coast in February. From there, their northward movement is largely determined by weather. Michigan-based website owner Lanny Chambers relies on volunteers to submit reports of the first hummingbirds they see.

This year the first reports came from the Florida panhandle on Feb. 21. Since then, they have been moving steadily northward. As of April 9 there were ruby-throats in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, southern Illinois and Missouri.

I usually hang one nectar feeder on the back porch on April 15; the earliest record I have for a hummingbird is April 22. If the mild weather continues, hummers might beat that date this year. Look for the red-throated males to return about a week before females.

A few years ago, I detected a curious pattern in the return of the hummingbirds. When they reach southern West Virginia, they diverge. Some go east and work their way up the east coast. Others head northwest through Kentucky and Ohio. It leaves a hummer-free gap in West Virginia and central Pennsylvania. Perhaps the cooler temperatures at higher elevations discourage movement through the mountains. By late April, however, reports usually come in from throughout West Virginia and much of Pennsylvania.

If you have not yet hung a nectar feeder, do it this week. The nectar recipe is simple — mix one part table sugar with four parts boiling water, cool, and refrigerate. Do not use honey; it can harm or even kill hummers. Red dye is unnecessary because nectar feeders are red, and that’s the color that catches hummers’ attention. If you’re offering nectar for the first time, enhance the feeder’s appeal by tying an 18-inch length of red ribbon to the feeder.

For now, one or two feeders will suffice. In the spring before nesting begins, hummer numbers at feeders can usually be counted on one hand. When young come off the nest in July, however, feeding stations attract females and young from surrounding areas. From mid July through August, I can usually count 10 to 20 hummingbirds (and some years many more) at my feeders.

I’m often asked if commercially prepared nectar is better than the homemade recipe made with table sugar. Boxed mixes are OK, but expensive compared to ordinary table sugar. I prefer to make my own nectar.

Boxed nectar mixes may advertise that they are fortified with vitamins and minerals, but hummingbirds satisfy their nutritional requirements from natural foods, including soft-bodied invertebrates such as spiders, aphids, and flies, which make up at least 50 percent of their diet.

Other products that might tempt you are jugs of what appears to be premixed nectar. But if you read the label, you’ll find that some of these products require added sugar. It’s just colored water that lacks the most important and expensive ingredient.

Feeding hummingbirds is like feeding seed-eating birds. It’s not necessary. Birds can find plenty of natural foods. But we offer nectar to attract hummingbirds to places where we can watch them simply because we enjoy them.

Another tip to pull in the early arrivals is to get one or two hanging baskets for the porch near the feeders. Colorful flowers, especially red ones, may attract attention when a single feeder does not. Later in the spring a variety of potted flowering plants on the porch or deck attracts their attention as well.

And when fruit spoils, don’t throw it out. Place it in the hummingbird garden. Fruit flies and other small insects will quickly be attracted to rotten bananas, and hummers eat these soft-bodied invertebrates. Insects provide the protein and nutrients that nectar lacks.

Perhaps the best way to attract hummingbirds is to plant native, nectar-bearing flowers. Trumpet honeysuckle is a hummingbird magnet; other nectar-bearing plants to look for at native plant nurseries and garden centers include trumpetcreeper, cardinal flower, scarlet bee balm, eastern columbine, and spotted jewelweed.

— Dr. Scott Shalaway can be heard 8 to 10 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling) or online at Visit Scott’s website www.drshalawaycom or contact him directly at or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV  26033

Text Only
  • Some books for the rest of summer

    Stretching out in a hammock with a good book is a great way to relax on a warm summer afternoon. Here are a few titles that have recently caught my eye.

    July 27, 2014

  • Creating a week to remember

    After my traveling shoes were placed neatly beside the door, it was time to spend some much needed time around home.

    July 27, 2014

  • There are some changes on the way

    Hunters who have found themselves driving out of their way to check in a deer, turkey, or bear will no longer have to waste the time or gas starting in 2015. 

    July 27, 2014

  • The cure for the summertime blues: Go camping

    In case you haven’t noticed we are looking right down the gun barrel at winding down on another summer.

    July 26, 2014

  • 071714 Coda and Callie.jpg Coda and Callie’s excellent adventure

    How is it something that you profess to love so much can cause you so much anxiety and grief? No, I’m not talking about dealing with your children (or your spouse). This is worse. This is about dogs. More specifically, hunting dogs. 

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • 071314 Chris Ellis.jpg DNR’s ‘outdoor summer school’

    Attention all West Virginia hunters and trappers. It is once again time for outdoor summer school and the course materials are hot off the presses.

    July 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Meet the Eurasian collared-dove

    Back in 1974 a local pigeon fancier imported a flock of about 50 Eurasian collared-doves to the Bahamas. Ultimately he released the birds, and they took to living in the West Indies. By the late 1970s some had reached south Florida, and by the late 1980s, some had been seen in Georgia and Arkansas.

    July 13, 2014

  • July in W.Va.: Recreational opportunities abound

    It’s July in the West Virginia mountains, which brings vibrant orange tiger lilies, blooming rhododendron, and of course fireworks. Usually the heat and humidity is in full force, but so far the weather has been nice.

    July 13, 2014

  • Shotgun 101: Shoot more and live better

    “God is not on the side of big battalions, but on the side of those who shoot best.”
    — Voltaire

    July 9, 2014

  • Fireflies are living lights

    At recent Fourth of July fireworks displays, spectators squealed with delight at the annual spectacle that illuminated the night sky. And I’m sure more than a few compared the spectacular pyrotechnics to the subtler displays of fireflies that punctuate backyards, parks, and campgrounds all summer long. We call these displays “nature’s fireworks.”

    July 5, 2014

Web Special Sections
  • Special Web Sections

    Click HERE for stories about natural gas and Marcellus shale gas extraction.

    Click HERE for stories about the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

    Click HERE for stories about the passing of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

    Click HERE for stories from The Greenbrier Classic PGA TOUR event.

    August 6, 2010

Helium debate
AP Video
Texas Scientists Study Ebola Virus Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow Southern Accent Reduction Class Cancelled in TN Raw: Deadly Landslide Hits Indian Village Obama Chides House GOP for Pursuing Lawsuit New Bill Aims to Curb Sexual Assault on Campus Russia Counts Cost of New US, EU Sanctions 3Doodler Bring 3-D Printing to Your Hand Six PA Cops Indicted for Robbing Drug Dealers Britain Testing Driverless Cars on Roadways Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle At Least 20 Chikungunya Cases in New Jersey Raw: Obama Eats Ribs in Kansas City In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast Raw: Otters Enjoy Water Slides at Japan Zoo NCAA Settles Head-injury Suit, Will Change Rules Raw: Japanese Soldiers Storm Beach in Exercises Raw: Weapons Fire Hits UN School in Gaza Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship Broken Water Main Floods UCLA