Gardens and yards are humming again. Yes, hummingbirds, the smallest and perhaps the most entertaining of all the bird species, are back. They are so named because they flap their wings so fast, up to 80 times per second, they make a humming noise.
These little charmers can make for hours of delightful and free entertainment in the backyard. Their iridescent colors and ability to hover in mid-air by flapping their wings in a figure-eight pattern have earned them the reputation of being colorful performers.
The recent climate changes and destruction of some of their natural habitats have helped them to be a more common backyard sight in the last few years. You can attract more of them by adding feeders and by knowing which flowers to plant.
They have a long, tapered bill that enables them to get nectar from long tubular flowers by actually licking their food from the centers. Flowers such as fuchsias, petunias, impatiens and geraniums are excellent choices to attract them. They eat while hovering, so blooms that protrude above the foliage are good choices. Also, select flowers with multiple blooms in open clusters and ones that have a long bloom time.
The color red does indeed attract them because they see colors from a distance. Any shade of crimson from pinks, bright reds and oranges will help ensure they visit your yard. This is why most feeders are usually red. You can buy the commercial packets of food and mix with water or just make your own by adding 1 cup sugar for every 4 cups water. It is best to boil this mixture and let it cool, but never add red-food coloring as it may be harmful to the hummers. Another no-no is never use honey because bacteria and fungus tend to thrive in it.
The downside of the sweet nectar is it usually attracts more than hummingbirds. Ants in particular have a habit of crawling into the feeders. There have been many theories how to remedy the ant problem. Some put petroleum jelly on the wire attaching the feeder to the hook. However, a better solution is putting a moat of water between the feeder and the hook so the ants can never get down to the feeder. You can buy these or just make your own with a water bottle. Cut the bottle in half and drill a hole in the bottom just large enough to feed the wire through that attaches the feeder to the hook. Set the moat on top of the feeder and seal around the hole with bathtub sealer so the water will not leak out.
Some other interesting tidbits about these little hummers…
* Some are so small they can be caught by dragonflies, trapped in spider webs and stuck on thistles.
* They can fly up, down, right, left and backwards.
* They must eat twice their body weight in food every day because of their fast metabolism, which is 100 times that of an elephant. A hummer’s heart beats 1,260 times a minute. They eat an average of seven times per hour, visit 1,000 flowers each day and remember every flower they have been to.
* They hear better than humans, see farther than humans but have little or no sense of smell. What a shame they can’t smell all the flowers they visit.
* Females do all the nest building, raise the young by themselves and do not mate for life. Those male hummers really are slackers!
* Many plants depend on them for pollination as they rub their forehead and face in each flower to get nectar.
*They do not hitch a ride on the backs of Canadian geese when they migrate south for the winter. Some do travel more than 2,000 miles twice a year during migration times. Before they start on their journey, they store a layer of fat equal to half their body weight.
* At night they go into what is called a torpor to conserve energy, much as a bear does when it hibernates.
Our little friends are quite interesting, but then all of nature usually is when you take time to pause and enjoy all the fascination it provides around us.