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Bring on the Hummingbirds

Story by Angela Dion
Photography by Nancy Fuerele

Few birds are as attractive to gardeners and nature lovers as the hummingbird. Ranging in length from two to eight inches, it is the smallest of all birds. Everyone loves the little birds with the vibrant, iridescent colors and interesting wing flapping patterns. Attract a lot of these tiny treasures to your yard this summer and you'll be the envy of all of your neighbors.

In Southern Maryland the main hummingbird found is the Ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris). Ernest Willoughby, a Lexington Park resident and officer on the Southern Maryland Audubon Society, comments, "Occasionally we get the Rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus), which is always rare anywhere east of Colorado."

A hummer garden is an excellent way to attract hummingbirds. In addition to providing a natural diet, a hummer garden also attracts birds to a feeder. If you plan carefully you can have a yard full of hummingbirds throughout the season.

Since hummers have excellent eyesight, they seem to be attracted to the color red. Lee Duer of the Wild Bird Center in Waldorf suggests the five best plants to consider for a hummingbird garden are: Trumpet Creeper, Beebalm, Honeysuckle, Cardinal flower and Spotted Jewelweed. Willoughby agrees, "The native hummingbird flower is the Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans). It grows enthusiastically throughout Southern Maryland."

Experts believe that one-half of a hummer's diet is made up of small arthropods such as fruit flies, gnats, mosquitoes, aphids, spiders, caterpillars and insect eggs. These bugs will be attracted to your garden and thus attract the hummingbirds. The hummingbirds pollinate plants and help with insect control by eating many small insects in your yard.

However, some insects may be unwanted in your garden. To get rid of ants, Duer suggests an ant trap or catcher. Willoughby cautions against using insecticides, which may harm the small insects hummingbirds eat. Some pesticides may even be harmful to hummingbirds. He recommends rotenone or pyrethrum as insecticides. "They are natural botanical insecticides and do not harm birds or mammals."

Once the garden is in place, it's time to set up several hummingbird feeders. Duer says, "Place the feeder where you and the hummingbird can easily see it." Willoughby adds, "To attract hummingbirds, the more feeders the better. Males are territorial and lay claim to a feeder from which they try to drive out other hummingbirds, particularly rival males." Having several feeders will prevent the territory wars. If squirrels are a problem, hang your feeders from a bracket or pole so squirrels can't reach them.

Fill the feeder with a solution that contains one part sugar to four parts water. When the temperature is over 80°F, change your feeder solution every 3-4 days, flushing the feeders with hot tap water. Duer adds, "During extremely hot weather the nectar should be changed every day. Use clear glass or plastic feeders so you can keep track of the amount of sugar water and its condition."

Willoughby cleans his feeders regularly as bacteria can build in the sugary solution. "I sterilize the feeder with a bleach solution every time I refill to suppress the recurrence of bacteria." Use a solution of 1/4-cup bleach to 1-gallon water. Let the feeder sit in this solution for about an hour.

Provided sufficient food, water and shelter are available, hummingbirds will arrive in mid April. Duer comments, "The best thing about tax day [April 15] is that the hummers are due back."

"Hummingbirds visit feeders most frequently in August and September when adults and young are fattening up for their migration," Willoughby said. The birds are usually out of Southern Maryland by mid October. However, last year a North Beach resident made the news (www.washingtonpost.com; On the Trail of a Fleeting Subject) by having a hummingbird at his Calvert County home in mid-December-the temperature was in the mid 20s.

Duer suggests readers get educated about hummers before attempting to attract them. She concludes, "When you're satisfied from your newly educated perspective that you are prepared to properly host these tiny creatures…experience the inner satisfaction of knowing you've done your part in allowing all of us to enjoy this special little bird during this special time of year with us."

Some of Mr. Duer's nature photographs can be seen on-line in our Multimedia Gallery.

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