Wild Things…
By Karen Vizzi
   Although my wild garden is located in the heart of the city, there is an amazing diversity of species that visit or make a home in its tiny ecosystem. There is one reportedly common critter, however, that continues to elude my vigilance - the hummingbird. 
   I have been hanging feeders and planting the right plants for years and so far, there have only been two brief sightings. Each of these visits lasted about 5 seconds, adding further to my frustration because now I know they are out there! Friends who are blessed with abundant “hummer” sightings tell me to be patient…that it may take several seasons to attain the level of habitat excellence that these discriminating beauties seek. So in the meantime, I continue to read up on the requirements and here is what I have learned. 
   Of the 300-plus species of hummingbirds, only the 3-¾ inch ruby-throated hummingbird is seen regularly in the eastern half of North America. The hummingbird diet is mostly nectar, which they sip from flowers and sugar-water feeders. Hummingbirds are attracted to tube-shaped flowers, as their long beaks are ideally suited for reaching deep inside a flower. The books will tell you that bright red is the sure-fire attractant. Red impatiens, red annual salvia (pictured), red monarda (bee balm) and scarlet pineapple sage are good choices for a hummingbird garden. But my split-second visits occurred on a purple buddleia (butterfly bush) and a pink phlox, so apparently they will also look for some of the same flowers that attract butterflies.
   Bright red sugar-water feeders are readily available and will enhance the environment when placed near a planted area. I use a mixture of 1 cup of white sugar to 4 cups of water, which is boiled and cooled. Contrary to some advice, it is not necessary to add red dye to the sugared water and may even be harmful to the birds. Another critical component is to keep the nectar fresh and the feeders clean. The sugared water will turn rancid quickly, especially on hot days, so be sure to change the nectar frequently and wash out the feeders before refilling. The feeders can be washed with a vinegar and water solution. Avoid using any kind of soap, which may leave a residue.
   Most species, including the ruby throat, spend winter in the tropics so hummers are mighty migrants. They are supposed to be particularly fond of human handouts (feeders) in the fall when they are fueling up for the journey south and many natural sources of nectar are fading. It is not true that keeping feeders up late in the season will tempt the birds to stick around. Hummingbirds, as well as many other migratory birds, are prompted to begin their trip by a change in the amount of daylight hours. Feeding them will not disrupt the natural instinct to leave when they should.
   So in spite of it all, I will continue my quest to attract the elusive hummingbird. Next year, I will try different red flowers and maybe add another feeder or two. I will press on because I know they are out there… and I just love a challenge!

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