Getting Buzzed

Its getting more and more dangerous to walk around the yard these days. Ruby-throated hummingbirds have been duking it out over the various resources available, including the one feeder. We suspect a nest in one of the Norway Spruce trees but are too short to verify our suspicions.  Regardless, any walk through the yard may be interrupted by the buzz of hummingbird wings as they whiz past our heads.

For me, this is a tremendous triumph. I've tried before to bring more hummers to my home (in my current location and others). The difference this time is a more integrated approach. Like other birds, hummers need habitat--places of shelter, sources of water and, of course, dinner.

Previously, I would try a hummingbird feeder and one or two plants that hummingbirds favor. For my trouble, I would get one or two hummingbirds, but they would be occasional visitors--not the regular assault we are getting right now. So what changed?

First, we have plenty of evergreens that provide shelter during storms or when the need to hide from predators arises. Second, a tall shrub sits directly beside one of the bird baths--making it easy to dash in and dash out as necessary. The biggest impact, however, seems to be that the grocery is stocked all season long.

Last year I noticed that when the bee balm (

monarda didyma

) was in bloom (

photo at right

), the hummers would ignore--yes, you read that correctly--


the feeder hanging right beside the flowers. You couldn't


them drink.  Evidently, bee balm qualifies as a gourmet menu item. This year, the three plants that had been trying to keep up with the demand had spread to a much larger footprint, ensuring more deliciousness available for passing hummers.

Operation Ruby Throat

has a

top ten list

of native hummingbird favorites. Of this top ten, Native Backyard included bee balm, trumpet honeysuckle and cardinal flower in our original plans. Bee Balm blooms first of these three, with trumpet honeysuckle and cardinal flower blooming at approximately the same time (now!).  Later we added a rhododendron to the mix, which blooms before the bee balm. Just recently we picked up a


, because it is less aggressive than trumpet creeper, and we really don't have the space to let the trumpet creeper run wild.

Other plants the hummers like that we've put into place are agastache, blueberry, chokeberry, coral bells, iris, penstemon, phlox and zinnia. For a really nice, comprehensive list of possible flowering plants for hummingbird habitat check out

Birds Amore

. Please note that not all plants on their list are natives--but most are. Our Ruby-Throats seem to really, really like the agastache (

pictured at left

)--which has bloomed for weeks, now. The shape of the bloom is right and it has been a completely carefree plant--so we


another variety, of course!

One of the concerns for us here is that there is no question that higher temperatures have altered the blooming patterns of some of our natives. So if we had planned for lobelia to be blooming in the fall--and it's already past it's peak--then something else needs to be blooming during "fall." Yes, we will continue to have a feeder available. A diet of sugar water, however, does not a healthy critter make.

I was amazed when I first saw video of hummingbirds eating insects. The truly amazing thing is that I ever assumed that hummers didn't need protein. Duh. Recently, a friend of mine sent an email of this


that slowed the whole process down--fabulous filmmaking. But I digress. The other key to our success this year has to be an increase in insect life. By cutting back on pesticide use and increasing the diversity of plant life, we have essentially opened a meat department for the hummingbirds (and other songbirds).

My sister lives on the west coast and gets to enjoy a variety of hummers--some of which have found her apartment balcony and the salad bar she's set up for them. We have to be content with just ruby-throated hummingbirds--but I confess that its still a thrill to "get buzzed."

Native Plant Societies

Where Wrens Go When They Fledge

Where Wrens Go When They Fledge