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Hummingbird gardens are for everyone

I know I enjoy many birds that come through the garden during the summer and other times of the year.

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A female hummingbird goes for red canna flowers that are in full bloom later in the season.
Contributed / John Zvirovski
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Of all the birds that visit our garden throughout the year, I think the Ruby-throated Hummingbird captivates us most. I’m not sure if it is the delicate features it exhibits, the fast flap of the wings, or their ability to remain somewhat elusive. I know I enjoy many birds that come through the garden during the summer and other times of the year. I am also aware that many of these bird species are only around here during a portion of the year before heading south for the winter months.

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John Zvirovski, Jamestown Sun garden editor
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

Other than putting out food for the birds, there aren’t many plants you can place in the yard to entice them. Usually, they just hunt for insects or seeds in the lawn or wet soils. The hummingbird is one of those exceptions. If you know your plant materials and what the little guys enjoy, you can create a garden of attraction for them.

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Hummingbirds are very unique, as they are the smallest bird around, and only the Ruby-throated Hummingbird is seen in our area. They measure only about 2 to 3 inches in length with a similar wingspan. The female is usually a deep green color, sometimes with a white breast. The male is a bright green with a brilliant ruby throat.

Weighing in at less than an ounce, these little guys can flap their wings at a rate of anywhere from 15 to 200 beats per second, with a heart rate that can reach 1,250 beats per minute. With this kind of activity, hummingbirds need to consume their own body weight in nectar per day just to stay alive. It is the quick flap of their wings that create the humming sound when they fly past. Some say it resembles the sound of a bee. These quick speeds allow it to be the only bird that can hover and fly backward when it needs to. Sometimes they will see you in the garden and hover in front of your face just to see what you are up to before flying off.

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With the type of energy they expend on flying, they tend to burn off just as many calories as they consume. When the weather gets cold, they conserve this energy by standing still on a branch and fluffing up their feathers to stay warm. Their heart rate will drop to nearly 100 beats per minute and the stillness of their wings will allow them to nearly be in a hibernated stage through the night. When the temperatures warm up again, they return to normal activities in the garden.

Many people hang feeders in their gardens filled with colored sugar water to attract them. Usually, these containers are red along with the fluid in which they are filled. I have tried this myself with feeble results. If I do catch a hummingbird using it, it is usually for a couple of days in the spring and a couple of days in the fall before they have left. The things that I see using my feeder are the woodpeckers, hornets and wasps. Not necessarily what I want to attract to the feeder.

The benefit I have is that the gardens are full of many different flowers that tend to attract the little guys in the early mornings or evenings. With a good variety in the beds, I know they are out feeding quite often. I use to think they were just not around much as I never spotted one. Turned out, I was just not in the garden at the times they were, so I kept missing them. I found that they truly enjoyed my wave petunias on the deck the best. I saw them there nightly while I took a time out from working among the plants. The next best thing is the blue and red salvias that they seem to adore!

There are many plant types that you can plant in the garden to bring the hummingbirds around. Some say that they prefer the color red, but I have found a good variety of nectar producing flowers with high sugar content will bring them in regardless of color.

Some common plants that are found in many gardens consist of bee balm, butterfly weed, bleeding heart, begonia, cannas, delphinium, foxglove, petunias, lilies, gladiola, geranium and even snapdragon. Others are columbine, cleome, nasturtium, phlox, lantana and zinnias. As you can see from the list of perennials and annuals, there are plants for full sun, part sun and shade to attract hummingbirds. Regardless of your situation, you can still bring these guys into the yard for a season of enjoyment.

Some woody plant materials that produce good nectar-filled flowers are the vining honeysuckle, morning glory, and trumpet creeper. Shrubs such as butterfly bush, weigela, and flowering currant create a nice attraction also. Trees like the buckeye, horse chestnut, black locust, flowering crabapple and hawthorns will bring them into the yard along with giving them places to nest.

The season is over half done, but the gardens are at their peak to attract these kind souls. It is not as difficult as one would think, it just takes a variety of beautiful flowers to bring them into the gardens. With the vast variety of flowers, not only will you enjoy all of the color that will flood your gardens, but you will also be assisting in the survival of one of our smallest birds that grace our world.

Related Topics: GARDENINGHOME AND GARDEN
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