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HUMMINGBIRDS, AN ORCHARD ORIOLE AND A DAY OF FIRSTS

Both ruby-throated hummingbirds and orchard orioles reside in my backyard during the spring and summer.  Over the years, these birds have been key players in some of my most memorable wildlife sightings.  Recently, they transformed what was otherwise a typical spring day into one I will never forget—a day of three firsts.

This trio of events began while I was standing beneath a cherry tree listening to the songs of gray catbirds and orchard orioles. 

All of a sudden, a male ruby-throated hummingbird flew up to a nearby patch of Wendy’s Wish salvia and began thrusting its bill into the plants’ long, slender, maroon blossoms. 

Although the plants had been blooming for several weeks, this marked the first time I had seen these new additions to my backyard visited by rubythroats. 

Then, early in the afternoon, as my wife and I were standing in our sunroom I happened to spot a bird land on a stalk topped with a torch-like cluster of red hot poker blooms.  I quickly grabbed my binoculars and focused on the bird.  Much to my surprise, the bird proved to be a female orchard oriole. 

       As my wife and I watched, the bird pushed her bill upward into a number of drooping, slender, orange-red blooms.  The oriole fed at two more stalks of the odd flowers before flying to a nearby birdbath where she drank before flying off. 

       This sighting was my second first of the day.  While my wife and I planted the red hot pokers to provide nectar for hummingbirds, until then, we had never seen red hot poker blossoms visited by an orchard oriole

       To top it all off, late in the afternoon, my wife was watering plants on our deck as I stood on the ground between the deck and a nearby flowering dogwood tree.  While talking to my wife a flash of red originating from something on the ground not twenty-five feet away caught my eye.  When turned my head toward the source of the red color, I realized that the afternoon sun had set the gorget of a male rubythroat aglow.  Then it suddenly dawned on me that a pair of hummingbirds were mating.  I called to my wife in hopes she too would see the bird.  When I walked a couple of steps toward the deck, the male lifted a couple of feet off the ground, hovered, and then returned to its mate.  A few minutes later, they both flow away.

       My wife and I were spellbound.  Never in our wildest dreams did we ever imagine we would witness anything like this.

       I was indeed extremely fortunate to experience three firsts in one day. 

       Each day when I walk into my backyard, I wonder what I will see next.          

THREE OF THE VERY BEST PLANTS TO ATTRACT HUMMINGBIRDS AND BUTTERFLIES

Here is my list of the three plants that should give you the best chance of attracting hummingbirds and butterflies to your yard this summer.

LANTANA – The variety I prefer is Miss Huff.  This cultivar will produce flowers from late spring into fall.  Additionally, it will survive winter when the thermometer plummets into the single digits.

RUBYTHROAT VISITING MISS HUFF LANTANA

Miss Huff will reach a height of four to five feet and will spread outward as far as you will allow it.

Throughout most summers, Miss Huff does not require any water.  In fact, if you give it too much water, it will produce an abundance of foliage and fewer flowers.

The plant is carefree during the growing season.  However, the tall canes should be removed over the winter.

BUTTERFLY BUSH – This shrub is a great addition to practically any yard.  Although most butterfly bushes bear flowers ranging in color from purple, white, orange, yellow, to almost black.

In addition, miniature varieties can be grown in planters.  This offers those of you that do not have very large yards or live in condominiums the opportunity to attract hummers and butterflies to your patios or other small spaces.

Deadheading spent blooms encourages the shrubs to continue producing crops of flowers all summer long.

In winter, it is a good idea to cut the shrubs back within a foot to a foot and a half of the ground.

Butterflies will nectar on butterfly bushes more often than will hummingbirds.

ZINNIAS – Zinnias are an old time garden favorites that are still extremely popular among gardeners.  Butterflies seem to prefer flat-topped varieties as opposed to those with rounded flowers.

Plant this annual in bunches, as butterflies seem to be attracted more to mass plantings over single flowers planted here and there.

Deadhead the flowers and the plants will produce a new crop.

After flowering season has passed, do not cut down the spent plants.  American goldfinches and other birds will eat the dry zinnia seeds.

 

 

ODD RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD BEHAVIOR

       Recently I had the honor of speaking at the Spring Garden Symposium in Plains.  Plains Chautauqua, the Magnolia District of the Garden Club of Georgia, Inc., and the Rosalyn Carter Butterfly Trail sponsored this wonderful event.

       One of the reasons I thoroughly enjoy making presentations such as this is that it gives me the opportunity to meet fantastic people that enjoy and appreciate nature.  In addition, over the years, I have learned volumes about wildlife and plants from the folks that I meet at these events.  Such was the case in Plains.

       This time, a woman from Oglethorpe recounted to me something she witnessed taking place just outside her window that added to my knowledge about ruby-throated hummingbirds.

It seems that she just happened to notice a rubythroat fly up to a planter filled with various plants, including a cotton plant festooned with balls of cotton.  As she watched, the hummingbird flew up to a cotton ball, dislodged a snippet of cotton fibers and fly off.  She said she could not believe what she saw until the bird returned again and again for bits of cotton.  I told her that I had never heard of a ruby-throated hummingbird collecting bits of cotton.  I also said that I believe there is a good chance the bird was using the soft, white cotton fibers to line its nest.

       A quick check of the literature revealed that rubythroats are known to line their nests with down collected from a number of plants such as milkweed, thistle, and ferns, but not cotton.

       I am convinced that people throughout the state are harboring a wealth of information about wild plants and animals that is unknown to the scientific community.  In this case, the woman that reported a hummingbird collecting cotton fibers may be the first or only person that has ever witnessed and reported this odd behavior.

       I find it exciting to know that, even though we are living in the early twenty-first century, there are so many unsolved mysteries swirling around the natural world.

       If you have ever seen something unusual such as this, please let me know.  The knowledge you possess may help us better understand and appreciate the plants and animals with whom with share the world.

THE HUMMINGBIRDS ARE BACK – UPDATE ON ARRIVAL DATES

For those of you who have not yet seen a hummingbird, I am happy to report that ruby-throated hummingbirds have arrived back in Georgia.

From the handful of reports that I have received to date, it appears that the birds are late this year.  In my case, a bird finally arrived in my backyard nine days later that the typical March 18 arrival date.

Here is a summary of the reported earliest 2017 arrival dates for six Georgia Counties:

Bibb – March 26, Forsyth – March 26, Monroe – March 23, Pulaski – March 23, Upson – March 22, Taylor – March 22. If you have not yet reported the date the first rubythroat made an appearance in your yard this spring, I would appreciate it if you would let me know when it arrived.

HAVE YOU SEEN A RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD YET?

Over the years, more often than not, my wife and I typically see our first ruby-throated hummingbird of the year at our Monroe County home on March 18.  However, friends in Colquitt and Bluffton in southwest Georgia usually see their first hummer during the second week of March. This year has been different.

A rubythroat has yet to make an appearance in our backyard this spring. As such, this is the longest we have had to wait for a hummer to show up.

Eloise and Bill Doty reported that their first rubythroat suddenly appeared at a feeder hanging in their Taylor County backyard at 4:30 p.m. on the afternoon of March 23. Sadly, they have not seen the bird since.

When I let Bill and Eloise know that their report was the first I have received this year, they advised that Mary Ellerbee told them she saw a ruby-throated hummingbird at here Upson County home March 22.

I would love know if the birds are late in arriving this year or folks simply have not taken the time to report their sightings.

With that in mind, please let me know when a rubythroat arrives in your backyard.

WHAT TYPE OF HUMMINGBIRD FEEDER SHOULD I BUY?

With a bewildering array of hummingbird feeders on the market today, it is not surprising that I am frequently asked, “What type of hummingbird feeder should I buy?”

Whenever this question is posed, I tell folks that I personally prefer feeders that are easy to clean, have perches, and feature components that are red.

I like a feeder with perches for two reasons.  While I have no data to prove it, I am of the opinion that hummingbirds seem to linger longer at a feeder that is equipped with perches. Since on an average, hummingbirds feed for one to two minutes five to eight times an hour, I want to enjoy the birds’ iridescent beauty for as long as I can.

In addition, if a feeder does not have perch, a hummingbird is forced to hover while it feeds.  Hovering requires the bird to expend more energy than any other form of movement.  As such, I want a hummingbird to use as little energy as possible while it is trying to dine on the energy-rich nectar offered at my feeder.  This is important to a creature that has an extremely high rate of metabolism.  This rate of metabolism is so high a hummingbird often consumes 50 percent of its weight in food each day.

The reason I am a fan of feeders that are easy to clean is simple–cleaning a hummingbird feeder is a chore.  If there is any way to cut down on the amount of time I have to spend keeping a feeder clean, I am all for it.

It is extremely important to keep feeders clean.  If a feeder is allowed to be contaminated with fungi and bacteria, it becomes a health hazard for the hummingbirds that use it.

With this in mind, I select feeders that are easy to disassemble and do not have hard to clean areas where bacteria and fungi are difficult to remove.

All my feeders feature some parts that are red.  Although hummingbirds will feed and flowers of varying colors, for some reason, they are drawn to red objects. This is illustrated by the fact that sometimes they will hover if front of a woman wearing red lipstick, or a person wearing a red hat.

Although some beautiful feeders will never hang in my backyard simply because they do not possess the features I am looking for, I never have a problem finding a suitable new feeder. More importantly, the hummingbird seems to love them.

 

BACKYARD SECRET: RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS FEED ON MUCH MORE THAN NECTAR

As we all know, nectar is the primary food eaten by ruby-throated hummingbirds. However, did you know that they also dine on tree sap and tiny invertebrates? It is true.  In fact, small animals can make up ten percent of their diet.  The list of diminutive animals ruby-throats prey on includes spiders, caterpillars and bees, mosquitoes, gnats, aphids and even fruit flies.