Heart Strings

No photos. Just a moment of sharing. Last week and today I presented a slideshow tour to teachers from different elementary schools and middle schools about the process involved in the creation of the habitat at my son’s school, and this evening I got to share the story with the latest NWF Habitat Steward trainees. It’s just been one of those feel-good days. How warm my heart gets when I take moments to really reflect on all the accomplishments of the past year and the goals of the year to come… the lives I’m touching by the work that I’m doing. Tomorrow I get to go out into the habitat with language arts students to find real-life examples of words based on the root “foli-” (leaf), and next week I get to spend time with Kindergarteners showing them the wildlife in our habitat and looking for signs of fall. It all just feels really good. Ya know?

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with the red tape I run into from time to time — or frustrated by little snags along the way. Sometimes I wonder how in the world I got into such an enormous project (the finger points right back to me). Thank goodness for those who help where they can or take on big, big jobs and ongoing roles (one of them reads this blog and he knows I’m talking mostly about him right now). Thank goodness for my family, who never complain when they have to cook their own dinner or get volunteered to volunteer. It’s certainly been a learning process, this project. But it’s all worth it, seeing those kids loving nature (and seeing all the happy wildlife, too).

Yeti Spotted

Not the big furry kind. Not even the big-footed kind. But around our yard, we’re seeing some giants and never-before-been-seens that just seemed to appear out of nowhere.

We’d seen evidence of the giant swallowtail visiting our yard –eggs, munched-on leaves — we even enjoyed fostering some bird-poop caterpillars for awhile. But until this weekend, we had never actually set eyes on the giant butterfly itself. When it appeared, I stalked it all over the yard with my camera.

giantswallowtaila09-28-10.jpgOf course, the best pictures are of it on the invasive Lantana I have yet to pull. Drat that pink-and-yellow Lantana! But between the hyper dogs, curious kids, and unwillingness of the butterfly to rest for even a fraction of a second, I’m lucky I got any shots at all. 

giantswallowtailb09-28-10.jpgGiant toadstools and other mushrooms are appearing all over my yard. I’m sure they are all deadly. You won’t find me seeking out edible mushrooms anywhere except the wild grocery store. But who can resist letting a sleeping gnome rest under a toadstool of that size?

toadstoolgnomea09-28-10.jpgEven with the gnome there, I don’t think one gets enough of a size comparison. So here’s a shot with my son’s hands as he places the gnome for me.


I absolutely love how mushrooms look underneath. This one was already overturned, presumably by rambunctious wrestling dogs. I guess this is a variety of Amanita mushroom — that definitely means poisonous. I finally decided to order a book on Texas mushrooms. I’d love to be able to ID them better… and then pull them out of the yard with gloves on.



txmushroomb09-28-10.jpgWe’ve got two Southern Leopard Frogs living in the big pond. They are so much fun. It’s like a game we play, the humans trying to catch a glimpse of a frog before it dives under the water. The second frog is more skittish than its companion. In fact, it let out the cutest chirp when it decided that at 5 feet away I was way too close — it chirped and zipped underwater with a splash. Not this other guy — he watches me for a long time. I think he secretly likes posing for a camera.



So many plants are beyond huge now. The Common Tree Senna is getting to be 4-5 feet tall and has its first blooms just now appearing.


Texas Poinsettia (Wild Poinsettia, Fire on the Mountain, Euphorbia cyathophora) is making an appearance. However, every spot I found it was not in a spot I originally planted it. I cast narrowed eyes at this potentially naughty spreader. Oh well, it’s native and very pretty.


 And we have a new bloom on the Exotic Love Vine.

lovevinea09-28-10.jpgNow take a look at where it is on the Cousin Itt of a plant that it has become. Sigh. Where’s Waldo?

lovevineb09-28-10.jpgHere’s another Waldo hunt. The hummingbird feeders have become buried under the Black-Eyed Susan vines. Good thing I have plenty of others around for the hummingbirds.


Oh, happy big black carpenter bees, always on the blue sage plants. They are so hard for me to get a picture of — always wanting to land on the opposite of the bloom from where I’m standing. This carpenter bee was so heavy that the entire bloom would sag down when the bee landed for a bit of nectar.


Speaking of blue sages, this Salvia plant is one that I bought spur of the moment in the spring. It’s sending forth giant stalks of beautiful violet blooms. Is it Majestic Sage, or a close cousin? I regret not actually writing down the name.


Not to be outdone, Tropical Sage is in bloom. So pretty.


Squatter alert! This squirrel seems to have taken up residence in one of our Screech Owl houses. Not only that, but it’s a thief, taking some of our row cover but not quite getting it inside. Evidence, mister! You are caught red-pawed! There was a rag hanging off one of the lower limbs, too. Little naughty squirrelsy.

squirrelowlhouse09-28-10.jpgThe garden never ceases to surprise me. I love hunting for yetis and other whatnots around the garden.

The Bewitching Black Witch Moth

First a tarantula, and now a Black Witch Moth (also called a Bat Moth). It’s not even October yet — way too early for Halloween!

blackwitcha09-26-10.jpgThis large noctuid beauty earned one of its names simply from its shape and size — the wing span is at least 5 inches across. I imagine at night it would be quite easy to mistake such a flying creature as a bat. The lovely irridescent “comma” is one of its strongest ID markers. From the pale stripes going through the center of the wings, this particular moth can also be identified as a female.


The Black Witch Moth, Ascalapha odorata,  has quite a bit of folklore about it… some consider its presence to be a curse– that the moth is a harbinger of death– particularly if it enters your house. Other people believe that if the moth flies over you, you will lose your hair. Fortunately, neither are the case here — phew! Yet another belief is that the moth is the embodiment of a lost soul, and still one more is that the moth is actually an indicator of good luck — as in winning the lottery. Well, I suppose I should have entered the lottery on the day I saw this lovely girl — I guess I blew it.

blackwitchc09-26-10.jpgEdit: Apparently the pupa of the Black Witch Moth was what killer Buffalo Bill put in his victims’ mouths in the novel “Silence of the Lambs” (the movie used a different species). Whoa. 

Our moth girl was missing a leg and seemed rather frail. It was clear that she wasn’t going to live much longer, so I can only hope that she enjoyed a full life. I’m glad I got to meet her.

Thinking about the full metamorphic life cycle of moths and butterflies — here’s the larval stage of another kind of moth. The dark horn is going to remind tomato growers of a moth they aren’t particularly fond of, but this hornworm is actually the caterpillar stage of the Snowberry Clearwing Hummingbird Moth, on Coral Honeysuckle. As with other hornworms, these caterpillars are very well camouflaged on the green leaves they feast upon.


My cat keeps turning on my printer and making pages print. Time to get her out of here — and me into the garden!

The Wandering Cassanova

That might be a trick title. You’ve been warned. Even if only briefly.

A couple of days ago my neighbor called me excitedly to tell me about what she’d saved from her ever-naughty cat. “It’s a big tarantula!” she said. Well, I’m all for saving tarantulas (and I was secretly jealous that the tarantula wasn’t in my own yard — I live for those kinds of discoveries).

txbrowntarantulaa09-20-10.jpgMy friend brought the tarantula right over. It’s a Texas Brown Tarantula, and its dark coloration is a pretty fair clue that this guy is, well, a guy. Male Texas Browns get those dark colors as they complete their final molt toward sexual maturity, and then it’s off to the races! They will wander long distances until they find a lady friend, and I’m pretty sure that’s what this handsome, hairy guy was doing until that ever-naughty cat noticed it. By the way, Mr. Tarantula was completely unharmed. The cat’s ego might have suffered some, however, when my neighbor threw her keys at it to get it away from the spider.

txbrowntarantulad09-20-10.jpgIsn’t this tarantula GORGEOUS? Just look at those pretty eyes. Simply hypnotic.

txbrowntarantulab09-20-10.jpgWhen we realized that the tarantula had probably been wandering in search of a female, we knew we wanted to let it continue on his way. Apparently males only live for a few months after they reach sexual maturity, and we wanted our guy to have a chance at getting a girlfriend. However, we invited it to stay a couple of days at our home so that my son could show it to his classmates this morning at school. And we offered it a few juicy grasshoppers — apparently it chose the largest, a brown one. The green ones had to endure a couple of days of sheer terror.

txbrowntarantulaf09-20-10.jpgNow, I must tell you a little about the Texas Brown Tarantula. First of all, don’t be scared. They can get big, yes (this guy had about a 5-inch leg span). But they are not aggressive, and that’s why so many people keep them as pets. Even if they were to bite, probably due to the human’s fault, it wouldn’t be more than like a bee sting. No, the only two spiders in Texas that we ever worry about are the Brown Recluse and the Black Widow Spider. Tarantulas, they are just lovable furry creatures.  

txbrowntarantulac09-20-10.jpgI don’t know whether Texas has a state spider, but the giant Texas Brown Tarantula fits right in with any number of our “Big” mottos (We grow ’em big in Texas; Go big or go home; Everything’s big in Texas; and so forth).

txbrowntarantulae09-20-10.jpgThe spider was quite calm and nonchalant throughout its stay, and when we released it, it just started up its traveling once again — in no hurry, just at a nice steady pace. I love watching the way it moves its legs.

txbrowntarantulag09-20-10.jpgIt walked right past a toad (the tarantula was larger than the toad, in fact) and began crawling up the fence. Never stopped (boy, that toad did, however). Just climbed right over, and right back down the other side. Good luck, Cassanova!


Similarities in the Garden

The sweet smell of Almond Verbena drew me out into the garden this morning. Apparently I wasn’t alone. As soon as the sun began coming up, a few flies and hoverflies were sampling the nectar of the fragrant flowers.

almondverbena09-19-10.jpgAs I took in the aroma, I noticed how similar the Almond Verbena is to other plants in my garden, and I set out to match it up.

The pigeonberry is in full bloom, a lovely white and faint pink at the moment, though it will show off more pink colors before long, I’m sure.

pigeonberry09-19-10.jpgBut the longer stalks of tiny white blooms of the Texas Kidneywood really match up well in size to the Almond Verbena.

kidneywood09-19-10.jpgIf you take a closer look at the leaves, however, they are like night and day. Whereas the Almond Verbena has lush, ample green leaves, the Kidneywood is covered in tiny leaflets.

And these leaflets made me think of the Fragrant Mimosa, which was still a baby during blooming season.

fragmimosa09-19-10.jpgBut look at those thorns!

Near the Almond Verbena is a special Tecoma Stans variety called Sangria.

tecomasangriab09-19-10.jpgWith that hint of orange in the yellow tubular flower, it looks so much like the bloom of Crossvine. Actually, my other Crossvine has the opposite color pattern of this one (yellow on the outside, orange-red on the inside), and it would look even more like Sangria were it in bloom.

crossvine09-19-10.jpgThe butterfly flower of the Gaura plant is so fairy-like.

gaura09-19-10.jpgAnd so is that of the Mexican Anacacho Orchid. I’m so glad this little plant toughed it out and survived a term in an ill-draining location, a transplant to a new spot, and last year’s terrible freeze. It seems so much happier now.

mexanacorchid09-19-10.jpgLastly, the Cigar Plant is quite inviting to the hummingbirds with its red tube-like flowers.

cigarplant09-19-10.jpgJust like the hummer magnet, Firebush.

firebush09-19-10.jpgIt’s a small world, after all.

History Lesson — Making Pokeweed Ink

roughszh09-05-10.jpgI’ve recently learned to recognize pokeweed, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s on our school campus (the picture above isn’t from school; it’s from a recent visit to McKinney Roughs). Well, shortly the plant won’t be at the school any longer. All parts of it are considered highly toxic to humans, and for our kids’ safety, the plant has to go (it was right by the Kindergarten wing, as well). I apologize to the nearby birds — I’ll plant three more berrying plants in my own yard just to make up for it. It’s such a shame — what a great native wildlife plant.

I did get the pokeweed berries off right away, since they might look enticing to a hungry youngster or foolish adult, and I’ll pull the whole plant out very soon. Then I did what any good mom would do — I took the poisonous berries home right away to do a project with my kids. No, not that kind of project… geez!

According to multiple sources, fermented pokeweed ink was used to write the Declaration of Independence, as well as letters during the Civil War. (Edit: Thanks to Dana R., who contacted the National Archives and found out that the Declaration and the Constitution were written in iron gall ink — this means another ink-creating experience awaits me!) Native Americans used the berry juice to decorate their horses and dye cloth, and even used it for war paint. But given that the toxins from the juice can be absorbed through the skin, you won’t find me recreating that part of history.

What did appeal to me, however, was making ink. I donned gloves and carefully crushed them to all sorts of juicy greatness.

pokeweedinkb09-13-10.jpgI then strained the mixture through pantyhose into a funnel (this last part was cool — with my gloves on and all the red juice squeezing out from the stained lump, I looked like a surgeon massaging a heart — granted the heart was about the size of that of a chicken, but still it was c-o-o-l cool). And from the funnel, the juice flowed into a small bottle.

pokeweedinkc09-13-10.jpgNext I added a pinch of yeast to the liquid to help it ferment. I’m keeping the liquid out of the sun, too, so that it doesn’t turn brown right away from the UV rays. That cork is just there for show right now, as I need to let the gases escape during fermentation. 


I’m going to teach the kids a little calligraphy, I think, to go along with the ink. Hopefully in a few days I’ll get to update the ink report with sample writing. What fun! (EDIT: My son ended up using the ink for a nifty visual for his Social Studies project on the American colonies.)

Note: I talked to a teacher about making this a lesson for the Social Studies classes at school, but the timing was all wrong for either studying about Native Americans or the later American history. Perhaps if I still have ink, I can share it with them then. Or maybe I’ll be able to find some more pokeweed berries elsewhere and enjoy another project.

Dude, You’re a Big Amphibian

My son was cleaning leaves out of the front pond and soon came rushing in to tell me that we had both a huge toad and a huge frog at the pond. Naturally, I rushed back out with him with my camera in hand.

Sure enough, the female toad was huge — round even. I just had to get a close-up of her beautiful warty skin.

toad09-11-10.jpgBut when I saw the frog, I was really amazed at its size. To date, when we’ve had frogs, they’ve all been cute little things. This was a by gosh big’n. I supposed it’s not big by frog standards, but it’s big by my home wildscape standards. Is a good ol’ fashioned American Bull Frog?

frogb09-11-10.jpgAfraid of scaring it off while I took pictures, I whispered gentle, soothing sounds toward its tympanic membrane, or tympanum. Ah, biology classes. You served me well. I’ve remembered those terms since high school. The tympanum — the circular spot near each froggy eye — is how the frog hears. Sound waves hit the membrane and cause it to vibrate, and the information is conducted to the frog’s internal hearing structures. Humans have them, too — we call them eardrums. Ms. Toad above has them, too. Scroll up and see.

froga09-11-10.jpgAnyhoo, I’d like to dedicate this post to my late Granddaddy, who moved all the way from England to the U.S. and met my grandmother, both of whom later had my dad, who ultimately with my mom had my sisters and me. Granddaddy often told us this poem–one of many, actually — but this was a personal favorite.

What a funny thing a frog are
‘E ain’t got no tail almost hardly
And when he sit he jump
And when he jump, he sit
On ‘is lit’l tail that he ain’t got almost hardly. 

I think our froggy would have liked it. I should have whispered that to its tympanum, too, before it hopped away.

Go Orange

Purely by accident, my photos of the day are showing off the warm colors of the season. How perfect as we transition from late summer to fall. I might as well confess that I’m a Longhorn fan, too — so “Go Orange” has multiple meanings this time around. But red and yellow, count, too. They, after all, combine to make orange. All in the realm of warm!

I’ve been waiting all year for my Exotic Love Vine to bloom, a plant I… ahem… fell in love with during my trip to Mexico last fall.

lovevine09-09-10.jpgJust before the rains from Hermine arrived this past week, evidence of blooms first appeared on a vine stem, and happily the steady downpours did not hurt the blossoms before I could get a picture. I do hope that soon our wonderful plant will be covered in these vibrant flowers.

The plentiful rains have encouraged other freshly-hydrated plants to bloom, and the garden is filled with new buds all over. The Texas Lantana is bright with color, and the butterflies are flocking back to it. Here’s a Gulf Fritillary, blending in so nicely with the orange and yellow flowers.


Our young pomegranate tree has three lovely fruit on it. Though I might wish for more, I’m thrilled that we’d have even three fruit in our first year of having the tree. I can’t wait for them to ripen.

At the pond, a fiery Flame Skimmer stands out against the green bog-loving plants.

And the Blackfoot Daisies have revived along the garden path. I like the way they provide a nice look against the decomposed granite.

It occurs to me that this time last year I was eagerly watching our pumpkins turn from green to orange. Clearly this is not a new theme. But it certainly is a mood-boosting one!

And just to mention it, our new decomposed-granite (and orange-ish!) garden path held up quite well in the heavy rains. No mush! The only area that we’ll need to touch up is a portion of the upper pathway, where compaction was at a minimum, and that’s our fault for not giving it the equal time that we did to the rest of the garden path. That the overall pathway stood the test of a major flood-causing rain lets me know that we made a good choice on our plan. Still, we’ll make the minor repairs to the upper pathway and determine how best to guide waterflow just off to the side a bit, where the garden itself can absorb the excess water.

Go orange!

Trekking Through the Roughs

roughse09-05-10.jpgYesterday morning our hiking crew of friends and family visited McKinney Roughs Nature Center, an LCRA park near Bastrop in Central Texas. Not to be confused with McKinney Falls State Park, the Roughs is home to 18 miles of pleasant hiking trails that take one through peaceful woodlands, past wildflower meadows, and along the scenic Colorado River.

The park is located where four distinct ecological regions converge: East Texas Pineywoods, Riparian, Blackland Prairies, and Post Oak Savannah, and these regions can seem to suddenly switch on you as you walk along the trails. I think of three words when I picture my time at McKinney Roughs — “beauty,” “solitude,” and “wildlife.” Birds, butterflies, bees, lizards, spiders, turtles, mammals — everywhere you turn, you either see wildlife, or you see evidence of it. Wildflowers line the paths, vines climb the trees, and sunlight filters through the trees to highlight shrubs or snags or other interesting elements of nature.

A little anole welcomed us at the front gate, though he did hang out among some thorns. Good for him.


Up at the visitor’s center, spectacular flowers and berrying-plants provide a colorful scene, alive with zooming hummingbirds, busy bees, and fluttering butterflies. The building in the photo is the Natural Science Center, closed except for educational purposes, but all about the grounds, demonstration gardens teach visitors about native plants, wildscaping, and water conservation through rain collection. There’s even a tepee to sit in. And the visitor’s center itself holds large aquariums and terrariums, with all sorts of live creatures inside. So much to do, and so much to learn.


If all that wasn’t enough, McKinney Roughs offers even more– nature programs for youths, dorms for groups, stargazing and kayaking programs, and vertical challenge courses, including a climbing tower.

roughsr09-05-10.jpgBut the park trails are truly the “diamonds in the Roughs.” They are well made and easy to traverse. Dogs on leashes are allowed, as are horses. It says something good about a park when people bring their horses from across the state to take them on the trails.

roughszd09-05-10.jpgWe chose about a 5-mile route, traveling on several connecting trails. The paths took us through all four ecological regions, letting us see quite a variety of plant species and terrain. Pine needles in portions reminded us when we were in the pocket of isolated hardwoods known as “Lost Pines.”


The paths took us to overlooks and valleys, dry creek beds and the river, and through woods and meadows, but always the trail was well defined and constructed, particularly whenever a slope was present.

roughszm09-05-10.jpgAnt lions left little pits in the sand along the paths.

roughszc09-05-10.jpgAll around were plants I’d never seen before, and I realized that while I can identify many native species, it was clear I had a lot more to learn. But many of my favorites were around.

Like American Beautyberry…


Texas Persimmon, with its beautiful peeling bark…


Inland Sea Oats, with seeds in transition from green to brown, and so many others.


While I could identify this next plant as a bird-friendly Pokeweed due to its very dark red berries, I didn’t know much about it, so I looked it up. Turns out it’s very dangerous to mammals, sometimes even lethal — so don’t eat it. This is a time where the saying “You eat like a bird” best NOT apply.


Another new one for me — this appears to be Tall Gayfeather, also known as Tall Blazing Star, Liatris aspera. The stalk was indeed so tall that it needed the support of a younger plant.


And this is Coral Bean, Erythrina herbacea. Thank goodness it didn’t have different colored seeds — I might not have ever identified it otherwise. Not surprisingly, those beans are toxic.


It was hard to resist taking pictures of all the wildlife we saw. And ohhhh, we saw a lot. What a joy to experience nature at its best.

Near the visitor’s center, this Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly worked really hard to make it as difficult as possible for me to take a picture of it, but I finally got one. It’s on Pride of Barbados — not a true native, but a sun-loving wildlife-friendly neighbor from the south. 


Well, actually I did get two photos. I believe this is another Pipevine Swallowtail, though its markings are less vibrant. It’s on Tropical Milkweed.

roughsv09-05-10.jpgIt was pretty neat to see so many different species of Swallowtails all in the same vicinity. Here’s an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.


And a good old-fashioned Black Swallowtail on Texas Lantana.

roughsz09-05-10.jpgNearby, a Gulf Fritillary drank from a Turk’s Cap.

roughsq09-05-10.jpgOff in the woods, a pollinator favorite was Shrubby Boneset, or White Mistflower. Bees and butterflies all flocked to it.


Here’s an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Female, a dark morph.


And, of course, the Mistflower-loving Queen.

roughsu09-05-10.jpgBut Mistflower wasn’t the only plant the pollinators loved.

roughsf09-05-10.jpgSolitary wasps collected nectar and pollen, as well. This digger wasp is a wonderful predator of grasshoppers and katydids. I wish it lived at my house.

This black-and-white wasp is a Mason Wasp, Monobia quadridens.

roughsh09-05-10.jpgDown at the river, we soaked our feet in the cool flowing waters.

roughsza09-05-10.jpgWe weren’t alone — fishing birds fished, bumblebees bumbled. And damselflies joined us at the water’s edge, often resting on our feet and toes. This American Ruby Spot stood out among the more common blue-bodied damsels.

That’s just the perfect shade of green on its body to go with the red on its wings.

roughszb09-05-10.jpgA water bug army showed off surface tension physics at its finest.

roughsb09-05-10.jpgWe lingered awhile at the river, taking the time to rest and eat a few snacks. Then it was back on the trail.

Occasionally we had to dodge and duck under cobwebs that stretched across paths. But with them we sometimes found beautiful spiders, many of them orange Spiny-Backed Orb Weavers. But the larger garden spiders stole the show, I’m afraid. Big, beautiful, and very, very still. This lovely lady is an Argiope aurantia. She posed for many views. Interestingly, her web also held a male spider (missing one leg) and several baby Argiope spiders. It really surprised me that she would be so tolerant of other spiders on her web. Well, perhaps not so tolerant of the male, obviously…


The view of her underside looks enough like the parasitic Alien facehugger to give even me the creeps. But she’s utterly fascinating — look at the way she positions herself on her own web strands. Do you see the tension she holds on select threads? Poised and ready to nab any creature who foolishly gets too close to her web…


Argiope aurantia has another name than just Garden Spider. It’s also known as the Writing Spider, named for the zig-zags it makes in its webs, seen in this view of a different female.

roughsl09-05-10.jpgNot to be outdone, other spiders at the Roughs created spectacular tunnel webs and dense webs that seemed almost like blankets.


At last we made it back to the visitor’s center, finishing our trip with a tour of the aquariums and terrariums. And after our hike, we enjoyed a late lunch at the Roadhouse in Bastrop. Great food. I had to skip dinner, I was so full. 

McKinney Roughs has become one of my favorite parks in Texas. I’m so glad it’s close to Austin, as I know we’ll enjoy going back. Next time we’ll be sure to take our dogs with us. If you are in the vicinity, it’s a trip worthwhile.


Hummingbirds Are on the Move — Feeding Tips

It’s that time of year again — hummingbirds are already flying toward their winter destinations. If you live anywhere south, it’s the perfect time to make sure your gardens are extra welcoming to the little zoomers. I’m seeing lots of Ruby-Throats right now, males and females both.

hummera09-02-10.jpgHummingbirds love both nectar plants and feeders in the garden. If you can provide both, you’ve got a great chance to attract the little cuties. I always say that you should get your native plants in the ground right away but use feeders to help the hummingbirds find your garden faster.

hummerb09-02-10.jpgHummingbirds are very much attracted to tubular flowers in the red and orange color range, but some visit a variety of nectar plants. Some of the hummingbird favorites I plant in my garden include:

* Signifies native to Texas 

  • Flame Acanthus (shown) *
  • Turk’s Cap *
  • Firebush
  • Cigar Plant
  • Standing Cypress *
  • Autumn Sage *
  • Tropical Sage *
  • Other Salvias
  • Crossvine *
  • Coral Honeysuckle *
  • Red Yucca *
  • Lantana, Texas *
  • Zinnias
  • Purple Coneflower *
  • Butterfly Bush
  • Yellow Bells *
  • Texas Betony *
  • Red Columbine * 

Hummingbirds also eat insects and small spiders for their protein, so it is important to avoid using pesticides in your hummingbird garden. Mosquitoes, gnats, aphids, fruit flies, midges, and more provide important nutrients in the hummer diet — what wonderful garden helpers hummingbirds are!



Hummingbirds love shallow running water. I have a variety of water features at my house for birds in general, but today I decided that it is my new goal to put in a special birdbath created especially with hummingbirds in mind. I’ll put it in the backyard garden they frequent the most. I want to get a picture of a hummer taking a bird bath in a birdbath!



When choosing a feeder, the top priorities are:

  • Is it easy to clean, including the inside of the basin? See below for more info on cleaning.
  • Does it have an all red basin? See the info about bees below.
  • Is it made of a safe material? (in other words, no metal)

My favorite hummingbird feeder is the Hummzinger — it has a little perch for the hummers and it is oh so easy to clean. A built-in ant moat keeps ants from reaching the feeder.

hummerd09-02-10.jpgThe company also makes a window version — my parents love using one on their camper. We keep ours on the kitchen window. It uses little suction cups, and it lets you watch the little flyers up close.

hummerf09-02-10.jpgFeeders don’t have to be gorgeous. You really want them to be functional, and that means easy to clean and red in color. Pretty simple really.

hummerg09-02-10.jpgAnd no metal parts — iron from rust and iron that leeches from metal can kill hummingbirds in a short amount of time.

badfeeder08-17-10.jpgFilling the Feeder

The following recipe has become the standard for safe hummingbird nectar:

Nectar Water Recipe

4 parts water to 1 part white cane sugar


  • Never use food coloring or another additive, and do not use turbinado, raw sugar, honey, or brown sugar — these can be dangerous or even deadly.
  • It is not necessary to boil the water first.
  • It is okay to change this recipe to 5 parts water in the hot summer and 3 parts water in the cold winter, but if in doubt, stick to 4:1 recipe.
  • You don’t need to fill the feeder to full each time — put in an amount that is likely to be used in that short time period.

Bees, Wasps, and Ants

Bees and wasps are attracted to the color yellow, so they are drawn to feeders that have little yellow flower parts. If you are having trouble with bees or wasps and your feeder has yellow flowers, either remove the yellow part or replace your feeder with one that has an all-red basin.

Ants can be avoided by using a feeder with a built-in ant moat or by purchasing an ant moat that hangs above the feeder. Use plain water in the moat and never add anything to it, since small birds sometimes like to drink water from the moat.

Cleaning Your Feeder

Be sure to clean your feeder every 3 days and replace the sugar water. This prevents the growth of black mold and the spread of disease between hummingbirds.

To clean, open the feeder up and use a bottle brush to scrub out the inside. Be sure to get all the potential hidden spots that some feeders seem to have — if you can’t clean it, I promise you that mold will start to grow there. If using a mild dishwashing detergent, make sure that rinse the feeder very thoroughly. And every few weeks, use vinegar to give a good cleaning.

To scrub the tiny holes, use a small brush as shown below. These are very inexpensive and available online or at many stores that sell feeders.


Enjoy Your Hummingbird Visitors

When the hummingbirds arrive, be prepared for some feisty behaviour. They don’t like to share with each other much, so you’ll get to hear them fuss at each other as they try to keep other hummers from using the feeders or plants. I’m sure they are quite serious in their endeavours, but to humans it seems pretty cute.

hummere09-02-10.jpgHere in the South, I keep my feeders up year-round. There is always the chance that a straggler hummer will be in need of an energy source, and if plants are not blooming, I want to provide for them.

Welcome, little birdies, to our hummingbird haven. And good luck with the hummers in your own haven!