Have you heard that distinctive buzz in your garden? The sound that announces that the hummingbirds are back?
Our local hummers include three that will nest here in the Roaring Fork Valley: the Broadtail, our most common nesting hummer; the Calliope, a migrant that breeds at high elevation; and the Black-chinned hummingbird, which commonly nests here. The Rufus migrates through in July and August and will occasionally nest here. Ruby-throated hummingbirds, common in the eastern part of the state, are rare here in western Colorado.
Hummingbirds are a joy to watch and they also help your garden by pollinating flowers. To encourage these jeweled visitors, select plants that provide nectar from May through the first frost in late August or early September.
Along with nectar, hummers love to eat small bugs like gnats, aphids and spiders. A hummer sometimes will eat the bugs out of a spider’s web and then eat the spider as well, using the web to help build her nest.
Hummingbirds also need shade to rest, cool off and a spot to build a nest for their young.
A feeder may entice a hummingbird to nest in your yard or nearby. The feeder should not be the only source of food in the yard but should complement your gardens.
Hummingbirds are most attracted to plants that bloom with tubular, red flowers. Although hummers have no real sense of smell, they do have excellent sight. Your best choice for a hummingbird garden is to select an assortment of flowering plants that have overlapping bloom periods. Choose a mix of perennials and annuals, and leave a few wildflowers in the garden. (As a plus, butterflies like many of the same plants favored by hummingbirds.)
When their favorite food sources are in bloom, hummingbirds will ignore feeders. But continue to maintain your feeders, as the tiny birds will be back. Peak periods for attracting hummingbirds are from mid-April to the end of May and from July 4th to the end of September.
If you choose to feed hummingbirds, keep the feeder very clean and replace the solution every three to five days, more often in hot weather. You can make a good nectar solution by mixing one part table sugar with four parts water. Be a careful cook: Too much sugar could lead to liver damage. Red food coloring and honey are damaging to hummers as well. Honey could result in the bird’s death from a fungus disease.
Hang your feeder in the open and hang red ribbons near it to help the hummers find it. Clean the feeder with hot, soapy water and rinse it with boiling water every week or so. If a bird tastes fermented or moldy sugar water, it may not return.
Leave your feeder up until mid-October. Feeders will not prevent hummingbirds from migrating.
Lynn Dwyer is the owner of Dwyer Greens nursery in New Castle.