Patrick McMillan: Hummers & the Plants they Love!

Patrick McMillan captivated more than 130 SIB members and guests on Wednesday February 22 with his talk on the Life and Biology of Hummingbirds.  His presentation included beautiful photos and unbelievable video of hummingbirds from his travels throughout the Americas and in his backyard at the South Carolina Botanical Garden in Clemson, SC.  Did you know …

  • Hummingbirds are New World birds found only in the Americas, mainly South America.  There are more than 340 species of hummingbirds.
  • Depending on the species a hummingbird’s wings can flap on average around 50 times per second, and can reach as high as 200 times per second.
  • The hummingbird can hover, fly forwards, backwards and even upside down.
  • Hummingbirds drink the nectar of flowers which gives them a good source of glucose energy. They will catch insects every now and again for a protein boost.
  • A hummingbird’s bill varies dramatically depending on the species. Most have a fairly long, thin bill that allows them to reach down to the nectar of a flower. With the bill slightly open they use their tongue to quickly lap up the nectar inside.
  • Apart from insects, hummingbirds have the highest metabolism of all animals due to the need to keep their wings rapidly beating. Because of this the hummingbird visits hundreds of flowers each day and consuming more than their own weight in nectar each day.
  • Because they need to conserve energy hummingbirds do not spend all day flying, they spend the majority of their time perched digesting their food. To conserve energy overnight a hummingbird enters a hibernation-like sleep state called torpor.
  • Depending on the species hummingbirds live on average 3 to 5 years. But have been known to live as long as 12 years.
  • Most hummingbirds of the United States and Canada migrate over 3000km south in fall to spend winter in Mexico or Central America. Some South American species also move north to these areas during the southern winter.
  • Before migrating, the hummingbird will store up a layer of fat equal to half its body weight in order to slowly use up this energy source while flying.

Patrick provided a review of excellent food plants which would do well to attract and provide nectar for hummingbirds.  All of the plants he mentioned in his talk do very, very well in common garden conditions in the SC Lowcountry and are easy to grow. Here is his list of ten favorite for our area and the information about each, many of which are local and none are considered invasive. Also remember that any red, tubular flower is bird-pollinated and it’s fine to experiment with others you might find in your garden center locally.

Note: Move your cursor over each photo to identify the plant or click to enlarge photo. The full list with links are below the photos.

  • Lonicera sempervirens Scarlet Honeysuckle – native to SC – flowers in the early spring and sporadically throughout the year.
  • Aesculus pavia Red Buckeye – native to SC – flowers in spring. A small tree that is perfect for a shady yard.
  • Erythrina herbacea Coral Bean – native to SC – flowers in spring.
  • Erythrina x bidwillii Bidwill’s Coral Bean – a hybrid that flowers throughout the year. Sterile so it is not invasive.
  • Lobelia cardinalisCardinal Flower – native to SC – flowers in late summer.
  • Ipomopsis rubra Scarlet Gillia – native to SC and throughout the southern portions of the US. An annual or biennial that reseeds itself. Flowers in summer.
  • Silene subcilliataSmooth Scarlet Catchfly – native to east Texas. Not invasive. This species is one of the only reliably perennial red-flowered catchflies.  Flowers in the fall. (Not commonly commercially available but is available from Plant Delights –
  • Malvaviscus drummondii Texas Turkscap – perennial bush that flowers throughout the summer well into the fall.  Native to Texas and across the Gulf Coast.
  • Anisacanthus wrightiiHummingbird Bush – perennial bush that flowers throughout the year. Attractive to hummers as well as Sulphur butterflies.
  • Salvia greggii Gregg’s Salvia – A short-statured bush that flowers throughout the season, is not invasive and is native to Texas.

According to Seabrook Island resident Don Smith, “I am not familiar with Ipomopsis rubra, Silene subcilliata, or Anisacanthus, nor can I find them on any of several “deer lists” I have. Furthermore, I don’t ever recall seeing any of these plants at our nurseries, so I doubt folks will find them except perhaps on line. Deer do nibble on my Texas Turkscap. All of the rest of the species on the list are on the “deer generally don’t eat” list.”

Article submitted by Nancy Brown, SIB Communication Chair
Photos contributed by Ed Konrad and Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Author: sibirders

SEABROOK ISLAND BIRDERS / “watching, learning, protecting” Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) are residents, renters and guests of Seabrook Island, SC who have an interest in learning, protecting and providing for the well-being of the incredible variety of birds that inhabit Seabrook Island throughout the year.

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