March 22, 2010

Stop in for a Drink!

Stop in for a Drink!
By Brenda Erler
Your garden can be designed to attract a number of nectar-drinking birds including orioles, mockingbirds, grosbeaks, and some warblers, but the most well-known nectar drinker in the east is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Not only does high-calorie nectar (and an occasional insect) provide these birds nutrition, but the birds, in turn, may carry pollen from plant to plant for valuable crosspollination. Plus, it’s just plain fun seeing them in your yard! How can you put out the welcome mat? First, make sure you provide a complete habitat that offers food, water, shelter, and nesting places. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are naturally attracted to forest clearings and edges, so they are drawn to suburban and rural gardens that offer a variety of trees, shrubs, flowers, and grassy areas. Their tiny nests are usually located in the fork of small stiff tree branches. Their nests are highly camouflaged by lichens “glued on” with spider silk. If you have no trees, consider putting a small dead tree or a few branches close to a flower bed to provide perching spots. A small water feature such as a shallow bird bath, garden mister or pump-fed waterfall may prove irresistible. Artificial feeders are often used to attract these little gems, but a more natural way of providing food for hummingbirds is to use flowering plants in your garden. Certain flowers have coevolved with hummingbirds to enable their mutually beneficial relationship. You don’t need a large flower bed to attract these birds. Small flower beds, hanging pots, window boxes or trellises may all bring hummingbirds to your yard. However, you do need to choose your plants wisely. Here are a few considerations:
1. Choose bright red, pink, or orange flowers that are
tubular in shape. The nectar is found at the base of the
tube, luring hummingbirds to probe with their beaks.
Since most birds have a poor sense of smell, it is the
color and shape, not the fragrance, that will attract
2. Plant flowers that bloom at different times throughout
the season so a food supply is always available. Try to
find some flowers that start blooming in early spring
when the birds begin to migrate through.
3. Plant flowers in large groups of three or more to provide
more nectar.
4. Provide a few plants that produce soft fibers.
Hummingbirds often use the fluff from cinnamon fern
stems, pussy willow catkins, thistles, or even dandelions
to line their nests.
5. Avoid pesticides. Let the birds take care of insect pests
for you.

A few of the best nectar plants for this area include bee balm (Monarda), Columbine (Aquilegia), Coralbells (Heuchera spp. with red or pink flowers), Cardinal Flower (Lobelia), Hyssop (Agastache), Jewelweed (Impatiens spp.), Salvia, and Honeysuckle
(Lonicera). Visit Kirkwood Gardens this summer to get even more ideas for hummingbird-attracting plants. Look for red dots on maps located throughout the garden. These dots designate plants that are especially attractive to hummingbirds.

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