Monday, February 22, 2016

Get Ready for the Hummingbird Migration!

Extension Master Gardeners shared a great post with a map on Facebook today sharing the hummingbird migration routes. Here in south central Virginia, we can expect our little feathered friends to return to the area sometime around April 10th. That date isn't set in stone, however. Depending on the weather and I assume the birds themselves, the migration may be a little later or earlier.

Coming soon to a garden near you!

Why do hummingbirds migrate? Hummingbirds sip nectar from flowers and yes, hummingbird feeders, to fuel their incredibly high metabolisms.

Here are a few facts gardeners might like to know about hummingbirds:

  • Hummingbirds sip nectar from flowers, tree sap, and ingest tiny insects caught in nectar and sap.
  • Their wings beat 80 times a minute. Because of their rapid heartbeat and other factors, they eat a very high sugar diet, and eat frequently, to get enough calories to survive.
  • They can eat at a rate of 13 licks per second!
  • A hummingbird's nest is the size of a walnut.
  • Hummingbirds hover in place by moving their wings in a figure-8 patterns.

Plant Flowers to Support Hummingbird Migration
Planting flowers, shrubs and trees to help hummingbirds through their migration period as well as during breeding season and beyond is a great idea. Purdue's Cooperative Extension offers a free, downloadable fact sheet on how to attract and nurture hummingbirds in the garden.

You can plant several different species in your garden to help the hummingbirds. You don't have to create a special hummingbird garden. Simply work in a few shrubs and perennials among your existing plants to offer hummingbirds an enticement to stop and socialize.

Trees that appeal to hummingbirds include the Tulip Poplar, Ohio Buckeye and Horsechestnut trees.

Common rhododendron (purple) and azalea (white) attract hummingbirds.

Shrubs to attract hummingbirds:
  • Rhododendron spp. (Common Rhododendron and Azaleas)
  • Hibiscus moscheustos (Rose Mallow)
  • Clethra spp. (Pepperbush)
Columbine attracts hummingbirds.

Perennials to attract hummingbirds include:
  • Aquilegia canadensis (Columbine)
  • Phlox spp. (Phlox)
  • Monarda spp. (Bergamot, Bee-Balm)
  • Lobelia cardinalas (Cardinal flower)

  • Campis radicans (Trumpet Creeper)
  • Passiflora spp. (Passionflower)

Nectar bird feeders are, of course, a fun way to easily feed hummingbirds. But when you add plants to your garden to help hummingbirds, you also help other pollinators such as butterflies, bees and many other insects.

So here's to the return of spring...and the return of hummingbirds to the area. It's coming soon and spring is just around the corner!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Don't Forget the Birds in Your Garden!

Make sure to include bird feeding and bird watching in your list of wintertime gardening activities. It's a myth that if you start feeding the birds in your backyard, you'll make them dependent on humans for food.

During the mid to late winter, natural food sources dwindle. Birds must work harder and fly longer to find sources of food. That's why backyard bird feeding helps local bird populations. It provides food at a time of year when birds really need a helping hand.

A few tips from the University of Maine's Cooperative Extension website regarding feeding backyard birds...

  • Choose different types of feeders if you plan to hang more than one. Tray feeders, like the one above, are great for birds who peck their seed from the ground. Tube feeders provide perches for smaller birds like finches and sparrows to find seed. Suet block feeders support insect-eaters like woodpeckers and flickers. A variety of feeders will help the most birds, but even one feeder is appreciated.
  • Keep feeders clean. Make sure to scrub them thoroughly before you put them away for the season. A mild bleach and water solution can be used to disinfect them.
  • Add a variety of seeds to tube and other seed feeders. Black oil sunflower seeds appeal to many species of birds. A songbird mix provides a wide variety of seeds.
  • Grow your own! Next year, add a row of sunflowers to your garden. The seeds are enjoyed during the blooming season but you can also dry the seeds to add to feeders during the winter. You can even dry the flower heads on the stalk, then hang them upside down from the stem in a tree to feed birds.
  • Keep squirrels from feeders by hanging feeders on a thin wire between two trees. Squirrels can jump up to 20 feet, but a thin wire makes it difficult for them to reach a feeder. Squirrel baffles, or plastic shelves above and below the feeder, can also challenge squirrels and deter them from enjoying a banquet at your feeder.
  • Place meal worms out for those birds who need an insect treat now and again. You can just place them on a tray for the birds.
  • Make your own feeder. Take a stale bagel, smear it with peanut butter, press it into seeds and hang it with a cord from a tree. Instant bird and yes, squirrel feeder.

These and other backyard birding tips may be found on the University of Maine Cooperative Extension website.