Recently in hummingbirds Category

Moving In, Moving Out


First of all, cheers and congratulations to Austin's newest Habitat Steward Volunteers -- the 2011 training just finished up last week! Second, everyone please be sure to go out and support your favorite local nurseries this month as an extra helpful boost for them this October. Oh and one more thing -- next week is Texas Native Plant Week. You know what I'll be doing, starting with the plant sale at the Wildflower Center this weekend. I should probably let my family know that, uh, instead of Family Game Night we'll likely be having Family Gardening Weekend.  

Thank goodness fall has arrived, and with it we're seeing butterflies and caterpillars again. I'll let you in on a little secret -- if you watch Central Texas Gardener this week, you might just learn about some of my personal favorites.

twotaileda10-11-11.jpgI was thrilled last week to finally get to release three Two-tailed Swallowtails from the Caterpillar Hotel. The caterpillars formed their chrysalises last spring and then underwent diapause, or a period of dormancy, over the summer. Finally, when the weather cooled a bit, the beautiful butterflies emerged.

Here's a picture of one of the caterpillars last May -- it was munching on Wafer Ash, which is also the host plant for the Giant Swallowtail butterfly.


But wait -- who's munching from behind this next leaf?

monarchcata10-11-11.jpgMonarchs are here! I've been busily keeping several caterpillars of all sizes feasting upon milkweed, safely housed inside the Caterpillar Hotel (also known as a large mesh laundry basket).


We have 2 chrysalises newly formed today, and I expect three more will be there tomorrow -- the caterpillars have already selected their metamorphosis locations.


Next up is another sweet creature on milkweed, a ladybug nymph.


It's a fierce predator of those naughty aphids you can see farther back on the plant, and as an adult ladybug, it will still feast away on the aphid pests. Whenever I see an adult or nymph ladybug, I leave aphids on the plant for it to eat.

I'm trying to ID this next bug -- if anyone knows it, please help me out.


I've got three of them patrolling the top of my Caterpillar Hotel, trying to find a way in. They look like some sort of weevil. Could they want the milkweed? I don't know of weevils that eat caterpillars, but I only saw them on the mesh tent where the caterpillars are, not on the rest of the milkweed out in the garden. There's nothing else inside the mesh that could possibly interest them. Hmmmm...


Most of the hummingbirds have moved on, but I saw one out there yesterday.


At our peak about 3 weeks ago, we had 15 hummingbirds visiting flowers and feeders all at the same time -- I'm only just now able to show some of the pictures.

hummersb09-18-11.jpgThe feeder below was the favorite of most of the birds. At one point we counted 7 sharing the feeder at the same time, but first they had to calm their territorial instincts.



Of course, the other feeders got plenty of visitors, too.


I do miss all the hummingbirds, but they'll be back. For those birds still trying to make their way south, the flowers and feeders are still here for them (in fact I always keep at least one feeder up all winter just in case there's a hummer that didn't find its way south before the cold gets here).

The brief bit of rain last week has done the garden good. What a pleasure it is to be back outside again!

The Hummer's Tongue


Hummingbirds are once again in migration! Ruby-Throated hummers and Black-Chinned hummers are building up their energy stores as they head south, and I'm really loving the activity in the backyard right now.


Did you know that a hummer's tongue is quite long, very flexible, and forked? The tip separates just as the tongue enters the nectar. The tongue is also covered in hairlike extensions called lamellae, which trap the nectar as they roll inward when the hummingbird draws back its tongue from the flower or feeder. The hummingbird also can flick its tongue into the nectar about 20 times per second! No wonder it can get nectar so easily from long tubular flowers and and reach that last bit of sugar-water from almost-depleted feeders.


 With hummingbirds on the move, be extra sure to have your feeders out, clean, and filled with clear sugar-water in the ratio of 4 parts water to 1 part table sugar. Native blooms are scarce in Texas right now because of the severe drought and wildfires, and properly-used feeders are especially important this year to help the migrating hummers make it to the coast and their winter grounds. If you'd like more tips about helping hummingbirds, please visit these earlier posts:

Tips on Hummingbird Feeder and Cleaning

Ways to Help Hummers and Other Wildlife During the Drought

FYI, the Rockport Hummingbird Festival is this weekend!


Go, go, hummingbirds! You can do it!

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!

Humming a Tune in the Garden


I'm so pleased -- the hummingbird feeders have been getting a lot of birdie traffic!

hummera06-29-10.jpg Do you see the pollen on the little hummingbird's beak above? Someone has been visiting flowers! Hurray for our flying, humming pollinators.

I've tried again and again to get a good picture of a hummingbird visiting one of our blooms -- usually they come out blurry because the birds dart off so fast. And then this morning...

hummerc06-29-10.jpg The little lady usually doesn't let me get too close when she's at a bloom -- she is much more tolerant when she's at the feeder. Perhaps she's getting used to me and will let me get more flower shots, given the progress above. She used to visit the Salvias, but when the Standing Cypress started blooming, it became her favorite.

The Cinnamon Sun has produced a lovely bouquet. All the flowers are still above the roofline, though. I'm waiting for the lower buds to open up so I can really study the blooms easily.

cinnsuns06-29-10.jpg We've had a bit of rain with the tropical systems happening in the Gulf of Mexico -- it made for a pleasant relaxed time in the garden. This male Queen butterfly took a long rest on a lantana.

queenmale06-29-10.jpg How do you ID a Queen, and a male from female? Many people often mistake Queens for Monarchs, easy to do because they really are lookalike cousins. Soldiers make it even more confusing, and then there are the mimic Viceroys, too! Take a look at the photo again, this time with labels.

queenmaleID06-29-10.jpg If you'd like more info on IDing the lookalike cousins, click here.

Also resting on the Lantana was this handsome damselfly. I'm needing a nap, just watching these guys. Perhaps the overcast day has something to do with that, too.

damsel06-29-10.jpg We've had another butterfly release from the Caterpillar Hotel! A black swallowtail emerged and took its time resting and drying its wings. I hope it came from the brown chrysalis from awhile back -- I was worried about it taking too long. Now I've got so many chrysalises that I can't tell which came first.

swallowtailb06-29-10.jpg Soon the swallowtail headed over to the butterfly bush for a longer rest. Within a few minutes later, it flew away for its grown-up adventures.

swallowtail06-29-10.jpg I'm eagerly watching for the Giant Swallowtails to emerge. How can they fit in such a tiny shape?

giantchrysalis06-29-10.jpg Good news on the tomato front. Over several days we devoured tons of homegrown Romas in homemade spaghetti sauce, and now the Brandywines are starting to produce.

brandytomato06-29-10.jpg Is that crown an indication of how big the tomato will become? I won't eat these myself -- but I hope they'll turn out so I can give them to friends and neighbors. I'm a cooked-tomato kind of girl.

I'm also a pomegranate kind of girl! Lookee, lookee!


Fun morning in the garden. Had me humming like the hummingbirds. Hoping for more rain, though!

I Should Apologize Now For All My "Cinns"


I might as well apologize now, because it's just possible that the rest of my photographs for the remainder of the fall and summer might all be of this, my new favorite flower.

cinnamonsunflower06-24-10.jpgThe Cinnamon Sun sunflower is now blooming, and I can barely draw myself away.

cinnamonsunflowerc06-24-10.jpgI had a little trouble getting the pictures I really wanted, because this bloom is the first on the plant, and it's about 10 feet off the ground. I had to stand on a ladder. Oh, but there are so many more blooms getting ready to open... and they are much more accessible.

  cinnamonsunflowerd06-24-10.jpgNot only is the bloom gorgeous, but the colors are exactly the same as those on my house, not that you can tell from the back of the house. But might it be too matchy-matchy to have a flower match my house? I think not.


cinnamonsunflowere06-24-10.jpgAt times during the day, the flower appeared almost black -- in fact, the gloominess of the dark flower early this morning almost had me worried that I'd made a poor choice. Then the sun came up a bit more, and wow. Take a look at this next photo, where the flower appears dark. See what else showed up?

cinnsunspiderc06-24-10.jpgThat's a Green Lynx spider. I guess when I got so excited about it being Pollinator Week, the spider did, too -- but for a different reason. The last time I saw a Green Lynx spider, it was much better camouflaged.


But then Ms. Spider today moved to the back of the sunflower, and there was her camouflage. I'm impressed with her capture, even if it is one of my bees. Can you see her?

cinnsunspiderb06-24-10.jpgI did manage to pull myself away from the sunflower long enough to capture a quick picture of a hummingbird before my battery died. I also successfully managed to take the picture without falling off the ladder. Must be my newfound ladder skills from painting the exterior of my house...


I also caught a hummingbird today visiting the new blooms on the Standing Cypress. I always get a thrill of justification when I see hummingbirds at my flowers instead of just at the feeder -- like it was all worth it, this gardening stuff. Alas, I had no camera in hand at the time. But here are the blooms.

standingcypress06-24-10.jpgThis morning, over at the Gregg's Mistflower, I saw that this patch of flowers is becoming quite the spider hangout. Not too long ago a spider caught one of my beloved dragonflies in this popular insect hangout. Today I found another kind of spider waiting patiently on its zig-zag recliner. I think it's a male Argiope spider.  Edit: Having later found a larger Banded Garden Spider, I now wonder whether this is a juvenile female, species Argiope trifasciata.

spidera06-24-10.jpgI think that if I were an orb spider, I'd go for this kind of web. That zig-zag is called a stabilimentum. It just looks extra secure and comfortable. On the other hand, the spider is probably more noticeable, but the rest of the web could barely be seen. Maybe that's a plus for the spider -- if the prey avoids the visible spider by flying to the side, it gets caught by the invisible web. Anyway, it worked, because the next thing I knew there was frantic movement going on in the web -- a grasshopper had made an unfortunate jump. Try focusing with a zoom lens on a spider that's moving and spinning and wrapping its prey -- what a challenge!


spiderb06-24-10.jpg spiderd06-24-10.jpgNow this time I can say yay for the spider -- it caught one of my nuisance grasshoppers. It can have all the grasshoppers it wants. I'm sure the green lynx spider eats grasshoppers, too, but so far I keep catching it with its paws in the honey jar, so to speak.

Enough spider pictures. Let's go back to the Cinnamon Sun, shall we? Oh to be a bee visiting that sunflower... well, preferably without the spider there, too.


Happy National Pollinator Week, June 21-27! All this week (and everyday the rest of the year), let's celebrate our peppy pollinators and all that they do. Without them, many flowers, trees, fruits, veggies, and other plants would be in serious trouble! Did you know that 80 percent of the world's crops require pollination to set seed? And many, many pollinators are in decline due to the use of pesticides and to habitat loss. We must take care of these little guys, who in turn are OUR caretakers.

For more information on pollinators and this special dedication week, be sure to visit Pollinator Partnership.

I for one love to use this week's dedication to go out and buy a new plant for our pollinators. What will it be? A new caterpillar larval host plant for the butterflies? A bee's favorite bush? A new hummingbird plant? I'll let you know!

Let's give a cheer for... butterflies!


beeonmistb10-07-09.jpg Hummingbirds!



  hoverflyc10-07-09.jpgBats, geckos, opossums, beetles, wasps, flies, and more!

Some of my favorite plants for pollinators include Purple Coneflower, Milkweed, Greg's Mistflower, Cardinal Flower, any number of Salvias, Mealy Blue Sage, Firebush, Goldenball Leadtree, Kidneywood, Texas Lantana, Sunflower, Pumpkins and Squashes, and oh so many more. Think native when you can, and stay organic! Pesticides kill the GOOD guys, too -- not just the bad ones.

Speaking of sunflowers, the Cinnamon Sun is taller than ever -- now past the roof's edge of our house. It is threatening to burst out with blooms any day now.


Don't forget about putting out a bee box for our solitary native bees to show we love them!


Earth-Friendly, Homemade


Homemade gifts just make the heart swell with love, and happy memories of making or receiving them abound, not to mention how economically wise they can be. This year, the family and I decided to make environmentally friendly gifts for Christmas, and not only were the gifts made from the heart, the satisfaction of staying green AND discovering that the four of us could work as a team equaled a total win-win.

fishart12-09.jpgThe kids decided that for grandparents they wanted to make seed mosaic art, and it was truly a family affair. The boys made the drawings and did a bunch of the gluing, with Mom giving guidance and filling in where necessary. Dad made the frames with old branches from our yard.


This fish is a rainbow trout, fly fishing being my dad's favorite outdoor pasttime.

fishartb12-09.jpgAnd, of course, hummingbirds seemed the perfect choice for other art subjects, because all our kids' grandparents love hummingbirds!


We used all sorts of beans and seeds, including kidney beans, pinto beans, black-eyed peas, white beans, pumpkin seeds, safflower seeds, millet, flax seed, black beans, lentils, and green split peas. These we glued onto a thick piece of off-white paper with good old-fashioned white glue, following a lightly pencilled outline of our drawing. Next we glued the paper onto a slightly larger wood board, and to that we attached the frame pieces my husband had carefully cut. To ensure the frame dried how we wanted it, we carefully clamped the pieces in place after the glue was applied. And prior to all the gluing, we nailed a small picture hanger on to the back of the board.


Ah yes, we added in a little popcorn for color variation.

birdartc12-09.jpgFor other family and friends, we tried our hand at making seed ornaments, as often in the past we've enjoyed giving purchased seed gifts for others, to hang out for the birdies.


We used a recipe that I found online -- it used unflavored gelatin as the ingredient to stick together the black oil sunflower seeds, safflowers, peanuts, corn, cranberries, raisins, thistle, flax, and other bird-happy foods, hopefully holding the intended shape. The best cookie cutter I had for the project was a large star, and we used it to shape most of the ornaments. We also used some round plastic storage containers for larger seed wheels -- these were much easier to shape, but much worse for drying time! Twine through the ornaments served as the hangers.


I want to say that the birdseed ornaments were a success, and in some ways they were. Once dry, the ornaments held their shape fairly well, but the key was definitely to let them dry fully, flipping when necessary. Overall I didn't allow enough dry time, thanks to the recipes I looked at being vague. They weren't just vague in dry time, they also were vague in the gelatin/seed ratio and recipe. Any of the ornaments that didn't get to air-dry well quickly turned to moldy ick, so I couldn't give more than a few out. SO... I'll need to work on this to perfect it. The idea was good! Once I improve on the project, I'll post details of the new and better recipe.

We attempted one other earth-friendly project for kids' gifts, but they were far more time-consuming than we expected. So this secret project will be on hold for next year!

I'd love to hear what you made for gifts this year, or what you've done in the past. We're already looking forward to our next projects! 

Rockport Hummer-Bird Festival 2009


When the fall migration of hummingbirds begins, many people all over North America feel sad that their little friends will be absent from their gardens for a few months. But down south, the mass migration results in opposite, delighted feelings for the dedicated residents of Rockport and Fulton, Texas. To them, fall migration along the Central Flyway means that the little buzzing flyers will make one more major pitstop in the tiny coastal towns to rest and refuel before beginning their 500-mile flight nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico toward their winter habitats.

(A word about these photographs -- try to find all the hummingbirds in each photo. Some of them are sneaky! Look for the vibrant throat colors to distinguish the males from the females.)


The town of Rockport is so enamoured with their feathered visitors that many years ago they began an annual event, the Rockport Hummer/Bird Festival, held each September unless a hurricane shows up and causes a cancellation (like Ike in 2008). This year was our first time attending the festival, and it was quite a relaxing, pleasant day (with an exception, noted farther down in this post). The event included many speakers and vendors, but the highlights were the hummingbirds themselves, and many kind Rockport residents opened their yards to festival visitors for hummingbird viewing. This year there were 25-homes on a self-guided tour, and for a fee, visitors could take a guided bus tour to many other private homes and grasslands areas.

A birdwatching festival is quite interesting and different from the perspective of one who's been to all sorts of festivals, from family-filled celebrations of peaches to flowers, to Renaissance times, to chaotic state fairs. For one thing, it's very quiet, as it should be if one hopes to observe the little birds without scaring them away. And another is that birdwatchers, while all ages, boast a higher percentage of an older crowd. My boys were two of the four children I saw at the festival, though to be honest we were there only on the last day of the event.

rhfe09-21-09.jpg rhfl09-21-09.jpgRockport isn't just about hummingbirds -- hundreds of species of birds are year-round residents or migratory passers-through, and birdwatchers excitedly converge with binoculars in hand to enjoy the sheer numbers and to hopefully catch a glimpse of a rare species. At any given home on the hummingbird tours, there might be as many as 100 or more hummingbirds zooming about the feeders.


To help attract the birds, the town encourages residents to plant bushes and vines that are hummingbird favorites. There are a lot of Esperanza, for example. And there are other native plants, such as sunflowers and this pokeweed, that are enjoyed by other birds. If you look closely, you can see a remaining berry or two -- the plants have been well-stripped by visiting birdies.


Along the self-guided tour, I felt drawn to those homes with wildscapes -- native, flowering plants and small or large ponds helped draw in the wildlife. Of course, they had many a hummingbird feeder as well. At one home, my son counted 19 feeders, just in the backyard.


  rhfb09-21-09.jpgrhfd09-21-09.jpgBut there were a variety of landscapes on the tour, and there was even a school garden, planted and maintained by students and teachers. 

Experienced birders would sometimes call out when they spotted a particular species or another type of bird, such as an oriole. And we saw a beautiful Great Blue Heron, a Great Egret, and a large duck family, among other birds, scouring residential ponds for food.

At the festival, we enjoyed learning about the art of feeding hummingbirds from expert Sheri Williamson, author of an excellent field guide called Hummingbirds of North America. Sheri also went with a few of us to select homes on the tour, and it was wonderful to have a hummingbird expert on site to describe features and behavior of the hummingbirds and to answer any questions, of which it's just possible that I might have had one or two... or three.

rhfh09-21-09.jpgIt was thoroughly entertaining watching the antics of the territorial hummingbirds. Their behavior is different at migration time -- because the birds need to build up their energy stores, there is more willingness for many, but not all, of the birds to share a feeder from time to time. Despite the many feeders about a yard, the hummingbirds might swarm a particular feeder, as if they think that because others are that feeder, it must be good food. But territoriality is hard to resist sometimes, especially for the males. The vibrant color of the throats of the male birds was impressive, though Sheri said that these feathers are post-mating season, and thus less vibrant than at other times. Pretty cool. 

rhfi09-21-09.jpgSometimes the camera captured behavior my eye didn't notice at the time. In the photo below, you can see two males squabbling, while another bird moves in to get some nectar.

rhfk09-21-09.jpgThe majority of the hummingbirds that pass through Rockport are ruby-throated hummingbirds, but several species have been sighted, and in all more than 500 species of birds have been documented.

rhfg09-21-09.jpgThere was another creature that threatened to bring downfall to the festival this year, the heat-seeking, blood-sucking, mass-attacking mosquito. It was unbelievable the numbers of mosquitoes everywhere, and they swarmed every person by the hundreds. The mosquitoes were so bad at the very first house we stopped at that, that our hummingbird viewing would have come to an end before it started if we hadn't decided to just go ahead and use some loaned icky chemical spray that I would never touch at home. But we were having to do a ridiculous and constant "Mosquito-Slapping Dance" until we finally used the spray, and if a green person is going to that extreme, you know it's bad.

After using the spray, we could actually focus on the hummingbirds, until we went tried to get back in the car. This act required particularly quick moves and skill to minimize the number of mosquitoes that joined us in the vehicle -- they hovered around the nice warm car until we showed up and opened the door, thinking we wanted them to join us inside. At one house at least fifty mosquitoes flew into the car, and we couldn't get them out until we were on the highway and could roll the windows down enough to send them out, if we didn't manage to smush them first. Note to self -- avoid coast just after the first fall rain, haha.

mosquito09-21-09.jpgI have a much more disgusting picture of a mosquito, but I decided it wasn't nice to share it on a garden blog, so I think I'll gross out family members on the family blog instead.

Rockport itself is an interesting coastal village. Near the water, the strong ocean winds have shaped the oak trees into quite the odd shapes. You can tell that salt and drought have taken their toll on the health of those trees.

  rockportoaks09-21-09.jpg rockportboat09-21-09.jpgOutside of Moon Dog, where we had lunch, a lone pelican rested peacefully. It was quite the contrast to the zooming hummingbirds at the inland homes. 

pelican09-21-09.jpg Back at the festival mall, we enjoyed visiting the vendor booths, but my grand plans to buy a couple of hummingbird feeders fell through -- after looking around, I decided to stick with my favorite brand, HummZingers, but they didn't have any there. I did get Sheri Williamson's field guide, though. There were many jewelry, art, and other vendors, but we were looking for something that just "spoke to us," as my husband put it. So we bought a buzzard, because that's what one really goes to a hummingbird festival for, right? But even my husband wanted this buzzard -- its head bobbles a bit in the wind.

buzzard09-21-09.jpgWe'll stick it somewhere particularly ominous for visitors passing by. 

Feeding the Hummingbirds


When I started my garden last year, I focused primarily on choosing native butterfly/caterpillar and hummingbird plants, and I kept telling my husband about how different our yard would look next year (which is now this year). But I knew that he wouldn't really get into it until he saw his first hummingbird. For my husband, hummingbirds remind him of visiting his grandparents in Uvalde, and so the little birds are quite special to him. Now that our garden is growing and we get hummingbirds regularly, it's fun to watch my husband get such enjoyment out of our garden.   

  hummer308-30-09.jpgWe have many varieties of hummingbird plants now, but the plants are still more or less small, so the main visits are to the feeders, though I've seen visits to the Salvia and Flame Acanthus. We had just one feeder up for many months, and then a few days ago, I found a second hummingbird feeder in the back of our garage, and we set it out. I don't know whether it was the combination of two feeders or the fact that migration is underway, but that very day we had five hummingbirds zooming around. We sat out on chairs and enjoyed trying to identify them. I couldn't get pictures of them all at once -- they were all flitting about trying to push the others away from feeders while trying to sneak in some sugar themselves. 

hummer108-30-09.jpgOf the two feeders, I much prefer the UFO-shaped HummZinger feeder over the taller, more traditional feeder. There are a few reasons for this, but primarily the Hummzinger is much, much, much easier to clean, and it has a built in "moat" to keep the ants out. It's all plastic, which is a bummer, but the design is sound and it feeds da birdies, so I forgive it. It helps keep the wasps out, too. It's also more affordable than the blown-glass feeders, which my dogs would break anyway. It's very noticeable how quickly the liquid goes down in the tall one, so I'm not sure if it means the tall one is the first choice for the hummingbirds. This is worth investigating!

hummer508-30-09.jpgWe had to visit one of the big building stores yesterday for house repair stuff, and as I wandered through the garden center just to see what was there, I passed by a couple buying hummingbird feeders and food. I decided to offer them some friendly advice, that making your own sugar water is better than buying commercial syrup because red food coloring is reported to be dangerous for hummingbirds, plus making your own saves money. But this couple just looked at me quite annoyed, and the husband stated that hummingbirds won't come to the feeders unless it has the red liquid, and I could tell by his tone that he considered me to be foolish and ignorant and that I needed to mind my own business. So I said very pleasantly that yes they do come to the feeders without red liquid, and I moved on, hoping that because the wife also said that they would, that maybe she'd actually someday stop buying the red liquid. But I'm not so sure the husband will. Tried to help. Denied. Move on. Clearly this guy is not a friendly garden blogger or garden blog reader!

 But I thank him for the inspiration behind today's post -- tips for attracting hummingbirds to your yard, with details on feeders and making the syrup.


  • Do plant nectar-filled native plants (tubular ones are particularly attractive to the birdies). Here in Austin, some favorites are Turk's Cap, Flame Acanthus, Red Yucca, Crossvine, Coral Honeysuckle, among others. 
  • Set out hummingbird feeders as well (edit: unless you live in an area with bears -- eep! thanks, RoseyPollen). Hummingbirds consume plant nectar and tiny insects for vitamins and protein, and they use a feeder's sugar water to fuel their crazy energy needs. Hummingbird feeders with perches give tired birds a chance to rest a moment while they feed.


  • Make your own sugar syrup for the feeders. Don't buy red commercial products. Use one part white cane sugar to 4 parts water. According to, you don't have to boil the water first, but you do need to replace the feeder's syrup every three days and replace stored, refrigerated syrup every two weeks. They also state that turbinado sugar and beet sugar are NOT good choices, so stick to the white cane sugar (I laugh because I'm trying to steer my family away from white sugar but I feed it to the birdies? ha). And absolutely NO honey or gelatin or food coloring. I mix:
           1 cup white sugar
           4 cups water
  • Clean the feeders regularly (give a good hot rinse each time you replace the syrup; every 3 or so weeks for a major cleaning), but NOT with bleach or soap or detergent or anything toxic. Some sites say to use bleach, but bleach is extremely bad for the environment and potentially reacts with the plastic as well, so I don't use or recommend it. Vinegar is a great alternative to bleach, but no matter what you use, rinse extremely well.

Other than that, be patient. This time of year, many hummingbirds are in migration. Next month, my family is going to the Gulf of Mexico to hopefully see migrating hummingbirds en masse, so I hope I'll get a few good pictures to share. 

hummer208-30-09.jpgFYI, I looked into making my own hummingbird feeders with recycled bottles. But upon investigation, I learned that the long tubes used for the typical upside-down feeders, homemade or store-bought, tend to leak, causing all sorts of problems. I decided to save the money and avoided purchasing the tubes. I still hope to make my own someday, but I won't be using an upside-down version.   

Bee happy! It's Pollinators Week! June 22-28, 2009


What's all the buzz about? It's National Pollinator Week here in the United States. It's a time to spread the word about the desperate plight of our flower-visiting, pollen-spreading friends. Because of pollinators' declining populations, many farms and flowers are already in trouble! Missing native plants, too many pesticides, and diseases have all contributed to drastically reduced numbers of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.

queen06-22-09.jpgThat's a queen butterfly on Gregg's mistflower (Conoclinium greggii) -- the butterflies, especially queens and monarchs, go crazy for Gregg's mistflower. I had hoped to get some pictures of bees visiting my flowers, but they were camera-shy (there were some yellow-jackets, though, but they were a little TOO friendly, if you know what I mean). At least my trusty butterfly and hummingbird friends came out for pictures. Ignore the lawnmower cord and ugly ground in the background.  

hummingbird06-22-09.jpgHow can you help? If you have a garden, especially an organic one, you are probably already doing tons to help the populations of bees and other pollinators. But Pollinators Week for me is an excuse to go out and buy a native plant just for the sake of the wildlife, so as soon as I finish this blog entry, the boys and I are going to Natural Gardener to pick out something new. And we are determined not to let it die in the hot Texas sun (maybe a shade plant, lol). Not sure what to get? Enter in your zip code for an eco-regional planting guide on what plants are helpful in your region.

A kidneywood -- bees love this plant! Well, they will, once it's big and blooming (it's a tiny little thing right now). Whenever I pass a larger kidneywood, bees are swarming all over it. I can't wait!

kidneywood06-22-09.jpgPlant something new in your garden that is a bee favorite. Go native -- invasive plants contribute to the plight of beneficial insect and bird populations. Plant larval food for the caterpillars and rejoice when you see your plant get eaten by little happy caterpillars. Build a little habitat that might be a perfect home for a hive. Make a mud puddle for bees and butterflies to drink from. Do you have fruit bats in your area? Build a bat house for them!

Make a commitment to avoid pesticides and chemical fertilizers. This is HUGE. Even organic pest controls can affect the population of good insects -- so research before you buy and/or use any kind of product or method! And educate your friends and neighbors about the plight of bees and the dangers of pesticides and chemical fertilizers!

In this picture, there's milkweed, flame acanthus, blackfoot daisies, and pentas, all together.


This is one of my favorite butterflies -- the Gulf Fritillary. It has a stunning orange wingspread, but underneath it's orange, silver, and black. I'm not sure which side I like best, which is why I like it so much. 

gulffritillaryc06-22-09.jpggulffritillaryb06-22-09.jpggulffritillary06-22-09.jpgAh, here's one of my absolute favorites of the Texas natives, the wafer ash, or hop tree (Ptelea trifoliata). It can be hard to find in a nursery, but it's easy to grow from seed, and they're all over. Our dogs ate the top off our first one, and it amazingly grew back, the determined little thing. The wafer ash is a host plant of the giant swallowtail and tiger swallowtail. It's part of the citrus family, and it's one time that leaves of three (trifoliata) are a good thing. They have nothing to do with poison ivy, by the way, so get that out of your mind!


Swallowtails enjoy other citrus -- we have a mandarin orange, lemon, and two lime trees growing. No fruit yet! But I'm hopeful that as long as I don't kill them, I'll have fruit someday. Look, here's a little fly sort of a thing on my lime tree. Flies are great pollinators!


Here's a yellow jacket on the baby Goldenball Leadtree (Leucaena retusa). Yellow jackets are minor pollinators as well as predatory wasps. I'm happy to have them around my garden, just not building hives under my eaves right where I'm building a new bed! The yellow jackets and I are currently having a discussion about where it's ok to build a hive and where it isn't. I haven't killed one, but I do remove their little hives in an effort to get them to move elsewhere. Oh, and the dogs also ate the goldenball leadtree over the winter, too. It grew back. Yay for native plants.

yellowjacketgoldenball06-22-09.jpgThis one is almost native -- it's a Mexican Anacacho Orchid. We planted it a little too deep, I think -- it lives, but I feel it's struggling a bit. I hope to get a true native Anacacho Orchid in the fall. They are gorgeous when blooming.

anacacho06-22-09.jpgBees even like catmint! Catmint's not just for cats anymore!


And who could forget the all-time bee favorite, the sunflower. Here's mine:

sunflowersoil.jpgMy last batch of seeds I lightly spread into the ground where I wanted them to grow. They didn't. So now I'm trying to grow sunflowers in little planters, and hopefully they'll grow into seedlings. I love sunflowers. My husband said he always thought of them as a weed, not as a pretty flower (gasp!). When he sees them in the back of the yard with the prickly pear and the white TX honeysuckle and the goldenball leadtree, he'll come around. I know he will.

So in honor of Pollinators Week, bee happy and make a bee happy. And then those vegetables and fruits and pretty flowers and trees you love will be around for you -- and your grandkids-- to enjoy. 

Meredith O'Reilly happily
gardens for wildlife in
Austin, TX. She enjoys
educating people of all ages
about native flora, fauna,
and healthy environments.

Nature Blog Network


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