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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Now is the time to get out your feeders

Would you like to encourage hummingbirds to your backyard?   I would recommend planting plants that will attract hummingbirds, and yes, even hanging some hummingbird feeders.  

My neighbor and I had a competition to see who would get more hummingbirds, she had feeders, and I had the plants.  Turns out, we got hummingbirds at both places.  Typically they would hang out at my flowers throughout the day, and spend the morning and evening at her feeders.  As the plants are currently not blooming, it is a great time to get your hummingbird feeders out for the early arrivals.  I have had success using the sugar water mix that can be found at and is the recipe that I have posted below.  Check out their website for great information about hummingbirds. They have done some really exciting work in the banding of hummingbirds and finally figuring out some of the awe-inspiring migration patterns of these small birds.

    • pour four cups of hot tap water into a large pot or pan (glass, enamel, or stainless steel, if possible; try not to use aluminum).
    • Add one cup of table sugar (DO NOT use honey, artificial sweeteners, or other sugar substitutes).
    • Stir until all sugar has dissolved.
    • Cover the pan, place on a hot burner, and bring the mix to a rolling boil for 1-2 minutes; be careful not to let water evaporate (if you do, the mix can become too concentrated).
    • Let mix cool and pour into in well-cleaned feeders.
    • Boiling, which retards mold growth, is NOT necessary if your hummingbirds are draining the feeders within three days.
    • Red food coloring is unnecessary, especially after birds have found the feeders; besides, modern hummingbird feeders all have red plastic bases and/or yellow flowers the birds can easily see. NOTE: There is no evidence that food coloring currently available in grocery stores or in commercial hummingbird nectar mixes is harmful to humans or to hummingbirds, but it IS an additive.
    • Store excess mix in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks (check for fermentation or mold; if the mix is cloudy, discard it). Some people freeze their mix and safely store it for much longer periods. In any case, let mix warm to room temperature before filling feeders.
    • The water:sugar ratio of 4:1 is typical of the sugar concentration found in many flowers used by hummingbirds. There is no concrete evidence stronger sugar concentrations will hurt hummingbirds, but even a 3:1 mix spoils much faster than 4:1, and 2:1 is too syrupy and a real waste of sugar. In hot weather when energy demands are not as high for hummingbirds, you can even cut the mix back to 5:1 or 6:1 and save even more money on sugar.
Now, my favorite part, the plants that will attract hummingbirds.  Start to scan the local listings as many organizations are prepping for their spring plant sales.  With the warm spring, you should realize that some plants that typically are still blooming at the plant sales will be past their prime by the dates of the sales.  Here are some of my favorite plant recommendations for hummingbirds:

Native Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) I would recommend purchasing this plant from a native plant sale, or a native plant nursery.  If you try to purchase this from a local hardware store, or a non-native nursery, they may be trying to sell the Japanese version of the plant as the native version! The Japanese version will spread, and it is very invasive.  Make sure that you are purchasing the correct plant.

Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) This is a hardy plant that does well in shade conditions, but will also handle the sun.  This is a hit with hummingbirds and native pollinators.

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) This plant has fantastic color, and it attracts hummingbirds.  This is a win-win for your garden.
Aquilega canadensis

Beardtoungue (Penstemon digitalis) This is one of my favorite native plants.  It will tend to disperse itself nicely throughout a garden and will attract hummingbirds.  It is an upright white flower.

Columbine (Aquilega canadensis) This is one of the earliest blooming plants that hummingbirds enjoy.  Planting this with a feeder will ensure that the early migrants will have an adequate food source.  One note about this plant is that it does not like competition.  The best way to keep it growing in your garden is to disturb the soil occasionally in early spring (late Feb/early March) so that the seeds will take hold.  I find that my columbine has a tendency to grow in between the rocks bordering my garden where nothing else appears.  This is not where it was initially planted!  

Water: Hummingbirds love baths so make sure to incorporate some type of water feature in your garden.  

Nesting: Hummingbirds like to nest in places where they won't be discovered easily.  They like dense shrubs, so if you plant some dense shrubs around your yard you may be rewarded with a hummingbird nest!

Enjoy the spring, and the ruby throats as they come to visit your yard!  

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