Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Hummingbirds Return in the Winter

Firebush – number two nectar plant. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

Firebush – number two nectar plant. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

PLANT TALK
Mike Malloy
mikemalloy@naplesbutterfly.com

A24-CBN-10-3-14-12Years ago when I began my quest to attract butterflies to my garden, little did I know that butterfly gardening came with a bonus? After years of removing turf grass from my yard and replacing it with colorful flowering plants to attract wildlife— particularly butterflies — I no longer have any grass left to mow.

During the past couple of fall seasons, I’ve been seeing numerous hummingbirds competing for nectar with our year-round friends, the butterflies. This is such a great thrill! It started a few years ago, with one or two hummingbirds arriving every once in a while. Today, there are many more.

These rare sightings used to take place in the morning or at dusk. Now, it is an all-day occurrence. We sit and watch them go back and forth from their two favorite nectar plants (Fire Bush and Fire Spike) to a perch on a nearby branch of a Jatropha tree, where they seem to be admiring or even guarding their favorite plants.

Most hummingbirds

 

 

migrate to Mexico, but because of forest defoliation, they have been moving further northeast each year and returning to Southwest Florida in numbers each year. This accounts for the increasing number of hummingbirds in our Florida gardens. They tell their northern friends.

Gardeners tell me they’ve planted the right plants, but still never see hummingbirds. More often than not, because the plantings are located outside a room in their house or an area where they don’t spend much time, if any. Hummingbirds do not ring the doorbell when they arrive in your garden, so be sure to place your plants where they will be most visible to you. That’s preferably outside a window or doorway in your home where you spend a considerable amount of time because you don’t want to miss any visual encounters with these little jewels.

Did you know that hummingbirds only weigh as much as a penny and that they are attracted to plants by color? Their favorite color like butterflies is red, but they’re also partial to blue, yellow, orange, pink and probably many others.

Number one hummingbird plant for nectar

Number one hummingbird plant for nectar

Tubular flowers are a plus for attracting hummingbirds but not a necessity.

Grouping your nectar plants together is also preferable because hummingbirds flying high overhead can spot them more easily and possibly be prompted to zoom in to take a closer look, or better yet, take up residence in your garden.

If you plant hummingbird favorites (Fire Bush or Fire Spike), they just may hang around until it’s time for them to migrate back up the East coast. Like Monarch butterflies, many stay in South Florida year round. If you’re lucky, they’ll remember where they vacationed and will return next year, maybe with some friends. I think that’s exactly what happened in my garden.

Another way to attract hummingbirds to your garden is to install hummingbird feeders in addition to the plants. Feeders containing sugar water are great in some cases, and can be purchased at most nurseries and box stores. To make your own nectar, mix one part granulated sugar to four parts water and boil the water so they blend into watery syrup.

Keep in mind, however, this is only

Clerodendrum Pagoda flower

Clerodendrum Pagoda flower

a supplemental food source. Real nectar from plants cannot be replaced. Also, maintaining clean water in your hummingbird feeder is very important. You should change the sugar water every couple of days to reduce the bacterial buildup in the feeder which might have a harmful effect on hummingbirds. One more thing: Beware of ants in your feeders. Ants apparently think these feeders are hung in trees to feed them and their little buddies.

Most people I have talked to don’t think hummingbirds exist in South Florida, and are surprised when I tell them of my experiences in the garden. Even though the number of hummingbirds here is growing, they’re still not as abundant as they are up north. My youngest daughter who lives in Ohio, always rubs it in that she has so many hummingbirds in her yard she has to put out another feeder because the four she already has are not enough. I just tell her it’s usually 85 degrees here in Naples, and then, I ask her when they expect the first snowfall.

KEEP BUTTERFLYING, or should I say KEEP HUMMINGBIRDING!!!

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