Archive for Sunday, May 16, 2004

Colorful feeders help attract hummingbirds

May 16, 2004


The brightly colored blooms and sweetly scented aromas of landscapes today are enjoyable.

To add real life and movement to your floral display, try to attract hummingbirds to the landscape this year. Their aerial wizardry and antics will provide hours of enjoyment as they hover, fly backward and zip around the garden.

Although most hummingbirds are just passing through, here are some tips for helping the winged jewels feel at home:

The most common species in our area is the Ruby-throated hummingbird. However, two or three other species visit eastern Kansas. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are about four inches long and weigh an eighth of an ounce. They can travel at speeds up to 63 miles per hour when diving but normally fly at half that rate. Their wings are remarkable. They can beat between 40 and 80 times per second. This allows them to do what no other bird can do -- suspend themselves in midair.

To keep up their energy level, hummingbirds depend on flower nectar and small insects. While homeowners may find it difficult to provide insects, it is easy to provide artificial nectar and flowers. Basically, any flowering plant that has a trumpet-shaped flower and is in the red/orange sector of the color spectrum will be quite attractive to hummingbirds. Plants such as Butterfly Bush, Lantana, Coral Honeysuckle, Cypress vine, Coral Bells, Bee Balm and Beard Tongue (or other penstemon species) are good to try.

To increase your chances of success, try using a commercial feeder. Various feeders are available. Most are brightly colored and are made of either glass or plastic. Pick one that is easy to fill, take apart and clean. Cleaning is important as the sugar water will start to spoil in a week or less in warm weather.

There are several mixes available on the market to make artificial nectar. However, they are nothing more than sugar water. To make your own mixture, add one part cane sugar to four parts water. Heat the mixture to a boil then let it cool. No other additives such as food coloring are needed. Hummingbirds are attracted to bright colors but colored nectar has no benefit. In fact, the red dye, honey or artificial sweeteners can harm them. Unused sugar water can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.

Feeders are best hung close to other nectar sources and near trees or shrubs so birds may perch between feedings. Positioning the feeder close to a window may help to view the birds but may not be the best location for attracting them. Do not give up if they can't find the feeder right away because it may take time for them to locate the source of nectar. Until the hummingbirds find the feeder, do not fill it completely. This will reduce waste and cleanup. Cleaning the feeder is important. The sugar water should be flushed and rinsed weekly under normal weather conditions. During the summer when temperatures get higher than 80 degrees, it is best to flush every three to four days. Thoroughly clean the feeder with a scrub brush and a weak bleach solution monthly. Rinse well and avoid using soap.

This time of year, you will be feeding spring migrants that are working their way north. However, many hummingbird watchers indicate that August and September are their best months. Contrary to some beliefs, the feeders should not be taken down in the fall. Hummingbirds will not hang around at the feeder but will continue to move south due to the length of day. Leaving the feeder up will help provide a hearty meal for their long journey.

- Bruce Chladny is horticulture agent at K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County. For more information, call him at 843-7058 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

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