About Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

Ruby-throated Hummingbird – Hatching Year Male

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are iridescent flying jewels. Known for their incredible maneuverability and stamina these avian helicopters may be small in size but they are certainly large in appeal.

Arriving here in Tennessee in early April and gracing our gardens and yards into October, Ruby-throated hummingbird are one of our favorite backyard visitors.

SEAR researches both Ruby-throated and wintering hummingbirds in Tennessee. The map above shows the banding locations in Tennessee.

Read more below to find out how to attract, care for, and maintain hummingbird feeders!

Attracting Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

The best way to attract hummingbirds to your yard is a combination of feeders and nectar-producing plants.  Even a few brightly colored blooms will attract hummers to you garden.  Add well-maintained feeders, and you have a recipe for success.

There are many types of hummingbird feeders in store these days.  We recommend that you purchase one that is easy to take apart and keep clean and has a clear glass or plastic container so you can see the condition and level of the sugar-water.  Please avoid purchasing metal feeders.  They get hot in the sun and they rust over time, leeching rust into the nectar which is harmful to hummingbirds.

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Some of Our Favorite Plants for Hummingbirds


  • Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

  • Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)

  • Perennial salvias

  • Purple Splendour Salvia (Salvia guaranitica)

  • Lantana (perennial species)

  • Hosta (species)

  • Autumn Sage (salvia greggii)

  • Penstemon (species)

  • Giant Cigar (Cuphea micropetala)

  • Little Cigar (Cuphea ignea)


  • Scarlet Sage (Salvia Coccinea)

  • Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia)

  • Shrimp Plant (Justicia brandegeana)

  • Fire Spike (Odontonema strictum)

  • Impatiens (species)

  • Fuchsia (Magellanica)

  • Jacobiana (Justicia species)

  • Petunia (species)

  • Four-O-Clocks (Mirabilis jalapa)

Trees & Shrubs

  • Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus Arboreus drummondii)

  • Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia)

  • Desert Honeysuckle (Anisacanthus wrightii)

  • Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles speciosa)

  • Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii)


  • Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)

  • Cardinal Climber (Ipomoea x multifida)

  • Cypress Vine (Ipomoea quamoclit)

  • Morning Glory (ipomoea species)

  • Firecracker Vine (Manettia cordifolia)

Feeding Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

Please DO NOT purchase commercial “hummingbird food” which is essentially expensive sugar water with red dye.  Even the “clear” commercial hummingbird food that claims to have vitamins and electrolytes specifically for hummingbirds should NOT be purchased.

Many commercial “hummingbird food” preparations contain Red Dye #40, which is an artificial colorant derived from petrochemicals, more specifically coal tar.

Red Dye #40 has proven carcinogenic and mutagenic (meaning that it induces tumors) in rats and mice. Further, it decreases reproduction rates and increases the incidence of both internal and skin tumors in these animals. It is banned in Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, Austria, Sweden, and Norway, but is still in use in the U.S.

Because it has not been directly tested on hummingbirds, manufacturers of artificial nectars containing red dye claim that no proof exists that it is harmful to hummingbirds. But neither is there any research that indicates that red dye is not harmful to hummingbirds.

The FDA has also set limits for human consumption of red dye and recommends that people not ingest large quantities of a single dye product. However, when we set up a hummingbird feeder with dyed nectar, this is just what we’re encouraging hummingbirds to do. And that’s the core of the problem.

A hummingbird taking artificially dyed nectar may be ingesting the dye in concentrations that are 17 times the accepted daily intake recommended for humans, and 12 times higher than the concentration found to induce DNA damage in mice. And they may be ingesting it every single day, all summer long.

It’s true that no solid research yet exists to prove that red dye is harmful to hummingbirds. Hummingbirds are not humans; are not mice. But all hummingbird feeders have red parts that serve to attract the birds, so the dye is unnecessary at best, and potentially harmful at worst. Artificial nectars have little if any added nutritional value over sugar water. To avoid causing any possible harm, stick to the home-made formula of one part white table sugar to four parts water, and let the red feeder parts do the work of attracting hummingbirds to my door.

If you chose you may boil the water, remove it from the stove and then stir in the sugar.  Do not “cook” the sugar-water.  However if you have good quality tap water that you drink you can simply mix your solution using the hot water from the tap and cane sugar.

PLEASE DO NOT USE ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS, HONEY OR RAW SUGAR it will harm your birds.  In the fall when our feeders are buzzing with activity you may choose to mix your sugar water in larger batches and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.  But always check the quality of solution before filling you feeders.

Maintaining Your Feeders

When outside temperatures go above 80 degrees, change sugar-water every 2-3 days or sooner if nectar appears cloudy.  Do not fill your feeders completely if you only have a “few” hummers.  This will cut back on waste.

NEVER “top-off” the sugar-water always empty completely, rinse, and refill with fresh nectar.  About once a week you will really need to give your feeders a good cleaning to remove any black mold that may have accumulated. It works best to do this at night or with a system of rotating feeders.

Cleaning Hummingbird Feeders

The easiest and most effective way to do this “deep” cleaning is to dismantle your feeders and submerge them in a solution of ¼ cup of household bleach to 1 gallon of hot water.  Let them soak for at least 20 minutes and then rinse, rinse, rinse and refill and rehang.  Please do NOT use soap to clean feeders it leaves a residue.

During winter months you can stretch out the changing of sugar-water to 7-10 days but always watch and change sooner if the nectar gets cloudy.  Sugar water freezes at 27 degrees so always PARTIALLY fill feeders in winter to avoid breakage when temperatures get low.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Images

Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Bottlebrush plant by Teresa Gemeinhardt
Ruby-throated Hummingbird at feeder photo by Teresa Gemeinhardt
Ruby-throated Hummingbird Adult Male photo by Teresa Gemeinhardt
Ruby-throated Hummingbird Adult Male photo by Teresa Gemeinhardt
Ruby-throated Hummingbird photo by Teresa Gemeinhardt
Ruby-throated Hummingbird photo by Teresa Gemeinhardt
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds photo by Teresa Gemeinhardt
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds photo
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds photo by Teresa Gemeinhardt