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Get a Hummer. May 27, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening.
Tags: ,

Gas prices got you down? Get a hummer or two and you’ll soon feel better.

Say what?! Not a Hummer, a hummer—as in hummingbird. These colorful, aggressive little critters are guaranteed to brighten anybody’s day, and you don’t have to drive anywhere to enjoy them.

Here in the East, we typically have just one resident hummingbird, the ruby-throated, though rufous hummingbirds are becoming more frequent visitors. Of course, you lucky Westerners have bazillion species swarming your yards and feeders. But we’re not bitter.

Actually, for once, we’re not bitter. Okay, we would love to host a rufous hummingbird here at Hawk’s Haven. But we’re really quite happy with our ridiculous little ruby-throats and their crazy antics.

Hummers seem like happy, innocent little busy beelike birds, but the males think they’re golden eagles or something. They’ll dive-bomb anything, including you and your windows, if they perceive you as rivals for anything from food and females to air space. Fortunately, they’re harmless, unlike, say, yellowjackets and other beelike bombers. So we can appreciate the humor of these little Napoleons without worrying about our safety.

And they really are entertaining. Until this morning, our friend Ben had forgotten about their obsession with one of our office windows—the one directly in front of the computer. It’s a shaded window, so there’s no way that they could see their reflection. But they still buzz it enthusiastically, squeaking all the while. Doubtless they’re looking at our friend Ben frantically typing inside and muttering “I’m gonna get you, Ben!!!” The abuse I’m forced to endure.

So, like millions of others, Silence Dogood and our friend Ben love our hummingbirds. But unlike others, we draw the line at setting out nectar feeders for them. The thought of constantly mixing up sugar-water, watching for disasters like fermentation and the dreaded black mold, sterilizing our feeders, and endlessly refilling, all the while fearing invasions from ants, bees, wasps, and the like is just too much for us. Not to even get into the warnings about mixing up the wrong proportions of sugar to water or, God forbid, using some other kind of sweetener. (In a word, don’t.) Refilling a tube feeder with sunflower seeds is one thing. Taking on a part-time job is something else.

Besides, we’re gardeners. Hummingbirds evolved to get their nectar from plants, not feeders, right? And here at Hawk’s Haven, we’re fortunate enough to have a range of hummingbird favorites that keep the little terrors hanging around quite happily until the onset of cold weather causes them to migrate to their tropical wintering grounds.

We typically see our first hummingbirds when the columbines and hyacinths bloom. From there, hostas and jewelweed, monarda (bee balm), salvias (like our beloved pineapple sage, which will bring hummers right up onto the deck), lantanas, fuchsias, trumpetvines, nasturtiums, and rose-of-Sharons keep these high-octane avians going. (Our friend Ben has always found the expression “eat like a bird” amusing. Pretty much any bird will eat ten times its weight in food every day, but hummingbirds, constantly in motion as they are, must consume many more times their weight to stay alive.) I’ve often seen them buzzing our cannas, too.

There are many other “hummingbird plants,” and not all of them have red flowers. Hummingbirds do associate the color red with nectar, thanks in part to hummingbird feeders, but they’ll sip very happily from white, pink, lavender, purple, blue, and orange flowers, too. Check to see which hummingbird nectar plants thrive in your area.

Our friend Ben thinks that growing hummingbird-attracting plants rather than setting out feeders serves three purposes: It attracts the hummers, it saves work, and it treats us twice, with blooms as well as our beloved ruby-throats. It doesn’t get better (or easier) than that!   



1. Weed Whackin Wenches - May 27, 2008

We went round and round with the whole feeder issue. And decided not to put one out. Putting out a feeder is not just about the pretty birds. If the feeders aren’t maintained and cleaned properly the birds can become ill and even die.

When we first planted something on the hillside we had no design in mind. But it turns out that the plants we were putting in all said ‘attracts hummingbirds’ so we went with that. We have several Anna’s. The males are florescent magenta. Our hillside is full of plants to provide the hummers with nourishment. Of all the tube-like flowering plants we’ve put in their favorite is NOT a red flower. It’s the blue & black salvia.

Good for you!!! And you’re right, I think feeders are scary ’cause feeders gone bad mean hummer deaths. All salvias are super-faves for hummers, I think. And, oh drool, I envy you those Anna’s!!!

2. deb - May 27, 2008

We have the little green guys flying around. I feed them. To avoid mold and fermentation, I just mix up smaller batches. The nectar runs out fast. Then birds bug me to refill them. Works for me.

Ha! I can see them now, lined up at the window squeaking “Feed me! feed me!!!”

3. Cinj - May 28, 2008

I used to put out humming bird feeders too, but I decided I’d rather just attract them the natural way by planting flowers. They seem to enjoy my petunias every year. I have several other plants too, but so far none of their other favorites are blooming yet. They become more frequent visitors later in the spring/summer. We only have ruby throated hummers here. Our old garden also saw a couple of orioles too, but so far none of those birds here.

Well, I hope you get some orioles, too. We have them here every year, but I’m not sure if they’re nesting or just passing through. We do have a lovely bluebird family next door, though!

4. letsplant - May 28, 2008

Great post!! Catchy title too!!


5. walk2write - May 28, 2008

The hummingbirds are quite elusive here in the Florida garden, probably because of our cats. You have to be outside early in the morning (while the cats are being fed inside) to catch them visiting their favorite flowers, notably Mexican petunias (Ruellia).

Yes, Mexican petunias are great hummingbirds plants, as are true petunias (especially the species petunias), as Cinj noted earlier. It’s always amazing to me to watch them hovering in front of a flower! Mercifully, our cats ignore them (and vice-versa).

6. Lin - May 28, 2008

We enjoy seeing the hummers so much that I don’t mind maintaining feeders and a garden full of flowers for them–and lots of other birds. I bought feeders that hold small batches of nectar and clean them frequently. Haven’t had any problems with mold and it’s not really that much work. 🙂

Our good friend Cole recommends the flat, saucer-shaped feeders with flat feeding ports because they’re much easier to clean than the tube feeders or feeders with projecting ports. Makes sense to us. I had to laugh when I read that you “don’t mind maintaining… a garden full of flowers,” though, Lin—I guess not! Wish I could see a picture! Do you all get lots of hummingbird species?

7. Zoe Ann Hinds - May 28, 2008

Don’t feel bad because you don’t like to mess with hummingbird feeders. These days there are so may plants that attract hummingbirds, so the birds will have plenty of food souces. It may surprise you to know that a hummingbird will visit betwen 1000-2000 plant booms a day, so they sure won’t go hungry.

Goodness, Zoe, that’s quite a statistic! And you’re right, they certainly won’t go hungry! As I’m typing this, a ruby-throated male is buzzing my office window. I still wonder what he sees in here!

8. Becca - May 29, 2008

The other day, ElfGirl looked out our front door and said “I saw a green and black and white bird out there!” Since she’s three, I gave her some leeway for a wonderful imagination. The next day, James and I saw not one but TWO green and black and white birds. That’s right, our little elf saw a hummer.

Awwww, she’s in for a great summer! And wait ’til the lightning bugs come out!!!

9. jodi - June 1, 2008

So very very true….there’s nothing like a hummer or seventeen to bring a smile to our faces. Especially when they come to my office window to let me know the feeders are empty yet AGAIN! (I’m filling them about every twelve hours at the moment. )

Yep, they’re hungry little critters!!! But so worth it!

10. JMcQ - a hummingbird enthusiast - June 2, 2008

Hummers are fascinating! I do maintain 3 feeders as I have had some difficulty with getting the appropriate plants growing on my patio, which is where I wish to attract the birds to. I do have 2 plants fairly well established this year in large pots, so we’ll see how they get through the Arizona desert heat.

I really enjoyed reading your post.

Thanks! And good luck with your plants! It’s really exciting when the hummers come right up onto the patio or deck, especially if you’re sitting out there! And you must get quite a few species. I’m jealous!

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