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What's bugging you? June 5, 2019

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One of the events I look forward to each spring is the arrival of the first hummingbirds. My first sighting came April 15. I rushed to put out my three feeders to feed these hungry, high energy birds. But it wasn't until May when more hummers arrived following the early scouts.

Let's face it, hummingbirds are the true jewels of our gardens. Their antics around feeders provide hours of cheap entertainment. But there is more to feeding our hummers than putting out artificial feeders. After all, we are gardeners, aren't we?

The recipe I use for my feeders is 1 cup of granulated white sugar dissolved in five cups of water that has previously been boiled. This insures that there are no living contaminants in your nectar. I find no need to add red coloring to my nectar. Every time you refill your feeders you should clean them out thoroughly with hot water.

While hanging up feeders in your yard will attract hummingbirds, the best and most satisfying way to get to know our tiny feathered friends is to provide flowering plants for them.

And adding hummingbird-attracting flowering plants bring added beauty to the landscape and an appreciation and understanding of how the natural world is interconnected.

Making your yard a hummingbird magnet is easy to do. By providing an assortment of colorful flowering plants, you will be rewarded with the company of these wonderful wild birds. You will also help ensure their future by replacing food and habitats that have been lost due to human activities like agriculture and urbanization.

Planting a variety of plants with different blooming times will help to keep hummingbirds happy all season. Plants that attract hummingbirds in late spring and early summer would include penstemon, columbine, and coral bells. Plants that attract hummingbirds in mid-summer through the fall would include Texas red yucca, hummingbird mint, bee balm, salvia, and hummingbird trumpet. The presence of these later bloomers will ensure an abundance of food for hummingbirds at the height of their southward migration.

Even more plants that attract hummingbirds include butterfly bush, trumpet vine, petunias, and honeysuckles. Added to the sugar diet of these hummingbirds are the many insects they feed upon to satisfy their protein needs. So it behooves us not to excessively spray insecticides in our yards. These birds, along with bees and other insects will appreciate this.

We basically have three species of hummingbirds in our area, the black-chinned, the broad-tailed and the rufous. The black-chinned and broad-tailed hummers arrive first in the spring, followed by the rufous in the summer. The females of these species are pretty plain with iridescent green backs and heads with whitish ventral surface feathers. Immature hummingbirds are difficult to tell apart from females. Male broad-tailed hummingbirds have a rose-colored throat and green head. The black-chinned male hummer has a black throat with a purple stripe below. The male rufous has an unmistakable solid rufous (brown) back with an orange-red throat. And they are extremely pugnacious, chasing all trespassers away.

You may also see another hovering visitor in your hummingbird garden. This would be the white-lined sphinx, a rather large moth whose caterpillar has a horn on its rear end (not the tomato hornworm moth).

So enjoy these tiny flying hummingbird jewels while they visit us during a brief time during the summer months. They will fly south in the fall as cold weather returns and nectar sources dwindle.

Jim Leser retired to Cedaredge in 2007 after a career with Texas A&M University Extension in entomology. He is a member of the Cedaredge Tree Board and a Colorado Master Gardener.

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