Splendid Jewels

     The first flowers of spring and a cacophony of new bird song brings relief to the winter weary. Some of us mark the coming of the new season with the first robin, the return of bluebirds, or the endearing courtship of cardinals. When winter finally relinquishes it’s icy grip the true birds of summer make their way back in waves of color and sound. Among our favorite fair weather residents is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. A creature so small, we can’t help but be amazed at the incredible journey it must make to reach us. From wintering grounds in Mexico and South America the ruby-throat may cross the Gulf of Mexico in a 500 mile nonstop flight. Because the hummingbird weighs only one tenth of an ounce it may use all of it’s energy reserves to make this dangerous trip.
     We can expect the first hummingbirds to arrive in Minnesota late in April and early May. Attracting these flying jewels to your home or cabin is easy! Hummingbirds love flower nectar and they also eat many small insects. Hummingbirds are attracted to flowering plants like Bee Balm, Cardinal Flower, Columbine, Honeysuckle, Trumpet Creeper and Morning Glory. If you haven't the space for traditional flower beds, hanging baskets and planters filled with Nasturtium, Snap Dragon, Impatiens, and Fuchsia can work just as well. When planning a garden for hummers be sure to select plant varieties that are hardy in your region and bloom at different times. Hummingbirds favor red or orange blossoms.
     Adding a nectar feeder to your yard will increase your enjoyment of these amazing birds. They may even nest nearby and bring their young to your feeders! Hummingbirds are not shy, so place the feeder close to a window or on a deck where you can watch comfortably and often. Change the nectar frequently, it tends to spoil rapidly in warm weather. Every three or four days is advised, more often if temperatures are high. Keep feeders clean, wash them in a mild bleach solution and rinse well before refilling. You can make your own nectar by combining four parts water to one part sugar and boiling for four minuets. Boiling inhibits the growth of mold. No need to add red food color. The extra nectar may be refrigerated for a week. For an extra treat, fill a fine mesh bag with over ripe bananas and hang it near a nectar feeder. The sweet fruit will attract a colony of fruit flies that Hummers find irresistible!
     Sometimes one hummingbird takes over a feeder and drives everyone else away. This territorial individual has decided to defend “his” food source. They may even dive bomb you when you try to fill the feeder! If this conflict plays out in your yard, add nectar feeders in different places. One hummer will have a harder time defending multiple feeding spots. Ants and wasps are often a nuisance at feeders. Ants can be foiled by using a special ant trap. A mote of water creates a barrier that ants can’t cross. Other barrier solutions may also work including rubbing mineral oil or “Avon Skin so Soft” on the feeder chain. Wasps tend to become a problem later in the summer and may need to be lured away or trapped. Several wasp trap designs are available and are very effective.
     Hummingbirds, like other birds, love to bath though you will probably never see one at your bird bath. The bath water is to deep and their legs are so short they can’t even walk! Install a mister and you will have many eager bathers! A mister can be added to your birdbath or set up in a sunny location near some shrubs.
     There are many books about hummingbirds and several good web sites. www.hummingbirds.net is a good place to start. With a little help from the flowers you’ll have hummers all summer!

Kelly Larson
Northern Flights Wild Bird Store
Bemidji, Minnesota 218-444-3022