Friday, March 23rd, 2012
I never could keep those hummingbird feeders clean. Periodically I’d buy one with all good intentions, mix the red liquid according to the instructions, hang the darn thing, and then promptly forget about it. Next thing I knew, the elixir had gone rancid, or ants had had their way with it or it would be empty, with hungry hummingbirds darting hopefully around the brightly colored plastic. As a dedicated birder wanna-be, I knew a neglected hummingbird feeder was bad business; it could breed disease. I also was aware that if one starts to feed birds, one should continue and not leave our avian friends high and dry.
So, for the hummers at least, I decided to go the natural route and provide food as Mother Nature does. I made sure I had bee balm and columbine in my garden, as well as penstemon, phlox, nasturtium and petunias.
It was clear, however, that the favored flower of my visiting hummingbirds was a honeysuckle vine. I planted ‘Alabama Crimson’ on the arbors over the backyard steps and it quickly drew a host of hummingbird visitors. They sip the nectar with their long tongues as soon as the vine flowers in mid-spring, and continue all season, as honeysuckle remains in almost constant bloom.
If you choose to grow honeysuckle make sure you’re using native trumpet honeysuckle, lonicera sempervirens, not the invasive japonica, which rapidly becomes a shrubby mess that takes over if given half a chance.
Trumpet honeysuckle is a sturdy, perennial, non-fragrant twining vine which grows to some 15 feet. It’s deer resistant, and bears large, trumpet-shaped flowers which are characteristically reddish-orange, appearing in abundance in spring, and less prolifically throughout the remainder of the growing season. The flowers give way to small berries which are attractive to birds. It’s a perfect companion for sun-drenched arbors, trellises and fences, and can be shaped by pruning. The plant is afflicted by no serious insects or diseases, but give it humus-y, rich soil with good drainage.
With my many hummingbird-attracting flowers, the lovely creatures now whiz by my head as I work in the garden, dance playfully through the sprinkler when it’s in use, and drink from the various blossoms throughout the yard. Ruby-throated hummingbirds, the species who visit my Bethel garden, seem fearless. Tiny as they are, they are adventurous and will chase off presumed interlopers.
One memorable day several years ago one became trapped on our screen porch, which is adjacent to the honeysuckle. Panicked, he couldn’t find his way out the open door, and so I determined to save him additional stress. I stood on a chair and gently cupped my hand around his diminutive body, carried him out the door and to the safety of the backyard. I’ll never forget the tiny hammering of his heart, and the warmth in my hand. I’d like to think that he and his progeny are a part of the colorful hummer scene in my garden each year.
Remember, in order to have happy hummingbirds in your garden, it’s important to provide shelter and nesting sites as well as food and water. Their nest will be constructed of plant down and spider webs, and camouflaged with lichen, making it virtually impossible to spot. Hummingbirds generally lay two pea-sized eggs, and incubation takes approximately fifteen days.
Hummingbirds add grace, interest and color to your garden and are well worth attracting. So if you’re having trouble keeping up with the plastic hummingbird feeders, go natural!