Saturday, March 14, 2009

Master Gardener: Attract hummingbirds to the garden at Songbird Prairie Bed and Breakfast

Although snowflakes still could fall, it's time to get ready for the hummingbirds.

An old wives tale states: "When the first red flowers bloom the hummingbird will be returning soon" -- usually around the middle of April when red and pink azaleas are first blooming.

In central Ohio and Northwest Indiana two species of hummingbirds visit feeders.

The commonest is the ruby-throated hummingbird. Although both sexes are iridescent green, the male has a black throat patch that reflects bright ruby red in sunlight. The juvenile looks like the plain female. They are about three inches long and weigh only two to three grams.

A rarer sighting in Ohio is the rufous hummingbird. This species is native to the Northwest United States, from California to Alaska. It likely is to show up at a feeder in September or October. The male has an iridescent red throat and non-shiny reddish brown back. His tail is orange with black tips. The female has a white throat with a few red feathers. Her tail is orange, green and black with white tips. The rufous is aggressive at feeders although it is slightly larger than the ruby-throated.

Hummingbirds will return to areas where feeders had been placed the year before. Many of the available feeders are red and will have several ports for feeding. If trees or shrubs are near a feeder, the birds will rest there between feeding. A simple solution of sugar and water can be used to fill the feeder. The formula is one part sugar dissolved in four parts boiling water, boil for 2 minutes and cool. Don't add red food coloring because it can harm the birds' organs.

Hummingbirds are enjoyable to watch at the feeder. There is usually the most activity early in the morning and late evening. Increased activity also has been observed before thunderstorms. Hang several feeders near your windows and enjoy the summer treat.

Hummingbird gardens planted to attract the birds also will attract butterflies. A diverse mix of annuals, perennials, vines, shrubs and trees works best. The annuals provide quick color and nectar. The perennials shrubs and trees will bring the birds back year after year. The annuals can include fuchsia, lantana, four-o'clocks and nicotiana. Bee balm, columbine, hollyhocks and cardinal flower are a few of the perennials that will attract the birds. Trumpet vine, butterfly bush, Rose of Sharon and weigela would make attractive additions. Choose plants with bright colors that grow at various heights. A hummingbird needs about 1,000 blooms each day to survive. So the addition of a feeder near the garden will assure a plentiful food source.

Margaret Graft is a Master Gardener volunteer. Barbara from Songbird Prairie is also a Master Gardener! 877-766-4273


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