Friday, April 6, 2012

Strategies for Attracting More Hummingbirds to Your Garden

I miss really Hummers!
Photo by Ted Muller

California Fuchsia

(Zauschneria californica mexicana)

And you thought this Post title was going to be about some magical Elixirs to put in those feeders to intoxicate and attract more Hummers than you ever had before ? No this is about planting natives and attracting them that way. Okay, but maybe later I'll intro a clever 'natural' mix recipe at the end of my story that you MAY use for your own feeders.  California Fuchsia is a low growing perennial that is useful if you want to attract Hummingbirds.  After it's been established the first summer this red fuchsia flowering native plant can make it on its own. Up in the San Jacinto Mountians where I lived in Riverside Co California, we had very bitter cold winters at times and my California Fuchsia would die back to the ground. But it would return with a vengeance every spring/summer when the weather warmed up again. Interestingly, these plants would also bring some friends in the form of new baby plants, so they reseeded very well which is what I wanted anyway. Maintenance is like any native, just learn to prune it when it starts to look a bit rangy in spots. Never fertilize with chemicals, always inoculate with a good mycorrhizal - beneficial bacteria mix from any company out there that supplies such mixes. Do the homework.

Photo by Garden Coach

Mexican Lobelia Bush (Lobelia laxiflora)

This is another one of those beautiful red flower with yellow parts protruding from the inside out. Once again, this plant even looks as if it was created for the mechanical apparatus the Hummingbird uses for extracting nectar. A tough, long-lived perennial with vibrant red and orange tubular blossoms that hummingbirds really love and jealously guard. In fact they fought over mine. Again, this plant for me would die back in winter at my elevation of 4000' and I'd just cut it back hard to the ground, but down below in areas like Temecula/Murrieta CA they are green all year long. Of course pruning back any dead stems and seed pods. Likes sun, good soil and regular summer water. After five years in the garden, mine was a clump 2 feet tall and 4 feet wide. I had it next to one of my most favourite shrubs and my next shrub subject Cleveland Sage. Once again, don't fertilizer with chemicals, just inoculate with a good VAM mycorhizal inoculant.

photo: MickiP56 (

image: Bert Wildson -
image: Bert Wilson -

Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii)

Salvia clevelandii is an evergreen shrub that reaches 1 to 1.5 m (3.3 to 4.9 ft) in height and width. To me this is the most aromatic of all the sages and there is another named cross variety which is even more aromatic and listed as Cleveland sage ('Aromas') and can be found at Tree of Life Native Plant Nursery on Hwy 74 in San Juan Capsitrano in Orange Co, California, or Las Pilitas Native Plant Nursery north of Escondido California.  It's the leaves that are always fragrant even when not flowering. They have ashy green leaves which are obovate with wrinkled ridges much like the fresh common sage you purchase in the stores for your own personal cooking and flavouring of foods. The leaves  will grow less than 2.5 centimeters (almost an inch) in length. Flowers are on 30 centimeters (12 in) spikes, with numerous whorls on a single stalk of upright light pinkish violet to a deep purple or even cobalt blue blooms which open in June–July.

My hummingbirds guarded this plant with a vengeance as well. And what is interesting is that most folks think that Hummingbirds are only attracted to REDS , but they go for the BLUE coloured flowers as well. Another side benefit was that I found on a hot summer day the air around the yard would permeate with the aromatic fragrance of Cleveland Sage. In fact whenever I often drove up and down the hill, I'd pick a sprig of sage and place it under my seat. My own version of those chemically scented Christmas Trees people hang on their rear view mirrors. I would also substitute Black Sage (Salvia mellifera) if  Cleveland couldn't be found. On a culinary note, I love cooking Pinto Beans - Chili with this same sage leaves. And as always  - once again fertilizers are not necessary, just inoculate with a good VAM mycorrhizae mix. You'll have to cut it back a bit every year as it to can get a bit rangy if left to itself. But by doing so you'll get a great next year's bloom. Great near pool locations also.




image: US Forest Service

Western Columbine (Aquilegia formosa)

Native to Utah, California and all the way north to Alaska, this woodland perennial produces 2 ft stems with 2 inch red-orange and yellow flowers in late spring. Although delicate looking, it is quite hardy. Without summer water it will die back. Mostly in the wild of Southern California I always found it in association with springs, seeps or streams and often in partial shade. Though it may go into a summer dormancy where moisture is low, however,  it will come back as it does where winters kill the above ground foliage. In each case it will return again in the spring. Partial shade will always be my recommendation for warmer areas. Where I live it's not an issue at all, the whole country is one continuous cool wet with cloudy or partially cloudy skies. Plant it in any woodland garden setting, good under oak trees

The flower almost looks as if it specifically was designed for the Hummers. It's another one of those spectacular plants that when in flower they guard with their lives. Another reason I like this plant is the foliage reminds me of Cilantro one of my most favourite cooking herbs. The foliage also has the look of woodland moist garden Maiden Hairs Fern or Meadow Rue. In any event there are a number of varieties that you should check out. Some wild some hybrids, but all kool looking. Arizona and New Mexico have a 'Yellow' variety while the Colorado Rockies have a Purple & White combination. Now check out some of the flashy hybrids in the seed packets at your local nursery. Here are some examples.




photos by Davis Densley

Rocky Mountain Columbine (Aquilegia caerules)

Aquilegia chrysantha  Arizona Columbine

I could go on and on, but you can Google pictures yourself and see the great variety and effort that others who have a deep love for these plants, especially when that love is specialized and concentrated on one type, the results are astonishing. There are so many kool things out in the natural world and they have the ability to allow one to escape from the insanity that the Media brings into our busy lives on a daily basis. Again, the Hummers like'em all. Incredibly, the Swedes over here often have no common names for many of these plants. In the stores and among regular conversations they refer to the name by it's scientific selection.

 Other Things You Want For Your Hummers A Humming Bird needs to collect Spider's web to build a Nest with.

I remember reading way back in the late 1992 or 1993 issue of an Arizona Highways Magazine that told of the The Sonoran Living Desert Museum in Tucson did a bit of house cleaning and rid the Hummingbird Aviary of some spider pests, but later on the nests failed and they wondered why the Hummingbird's nest building failed. Spider Webs were the reason. Here's a link to that story. Really kool.
 Here's an excerpt from the above link if it doesn't show:From Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum:
Hummingbird Aviary by Karen Krebbs
    "When we first opened the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum's hummingbird aviary, we had no idea whether or not any of the seven species of the birds on exhibit would breed and rear young. Since opening day, however, we've seen Costas, Broad-billed, Black-chinned, Anna's, and Calliope hummingbirds nest, lay eggs, and rear young. There have been a total of 114 nests built, 186 eggs laid, 116 birds hatched, and 102 birds fledged. No other zoological institution can boast of such success!" 
    "But this success has not come without a good deal of effort on the part of the exhibit keepers and the hummingbirds - especially when it comes to nest-building. For example, in 1992 we renovated the exhibit, clearing out all the plants and expanding and replanting the new space. Within a month of the renovation, several hummingbirds began to build nests." 
   "The nests were loose and quite fragile, and even experienced nesters were having difficulty. Most of the nests fell apart and we lost several eggs that fell out and broke. We scratched our heads for days trying to figure out the problem before we finally concluded that a primary component of hummingbird nests was missing spider webs!" 
   "Hummingbirds use spider webbing as a way to bind and tie their nests together. The spiders had yet to reestablish themselves in the spanking new exhibit. I immediately went out and collected webs from around the grounds, rolling them up on twigs, which I left in the aviary. I also collected 25 labyrinth spiders and introduced them. Within days the spiders were weaving their webs in the aviary and the birds' nests immediately improved".

Another thing they love doing is finding a tiny ball of buzzing knats buzzing around your yard somewhere. Then suddenly darting in and out from nowhere attacking and eating them. And you thought they never actually ate or that all they did was drink nectar. They really love knats and other tiny insects that may be found and eaten inside the flowers themselves. So leave some of the bugs alone and in fact attract them to your yard. Create balance all around. It's also important to take note that when they are nesting and raising young Hummers, these young ones also need more protein  in the development stage at youth.

This is like a Hummingbird Thanksgiving Dinner


 Okay, now for my favourite feeder mix.

Hummingbirds don't require the already made up sugar mix with the added  Red Dye. They don't require it. That's more of a marketing selling point to capture the trade in Dollar$$$ from Human Beings who are prone(suckered) by eyesight advertising. Kind of like those dog food commercial that show a canned product that looks edible enough for the owner to eat. The dog doesn't care. If they like it it's because of smell and taste, but mostly they just wolf it down. Unless their one of those finicky lap dogs like my grandmother had, then forget it. Nothing pleases them.

As far as feeders go, they do seem to be attracted to the feeders with the RED Colouring on them. You know, the large plastic tubular flowers coloured red. Get one of those and you don't need a mix with flashy red dye that was prepackaged to please you. I use Raw Sugar as opposed to the white bleached sugar which is once again a marketing strategy from way back in history which gives the appearance of clean white and pristine product. Raw sugar is much better and I add another secret ingredient, or maybe not so secret. I use real Orange Extract. Just 3 or 4 drops. At other times I have added a drop of two of Mint flavour. But they appreciate flavour as we do. Nectar from flowers is not just plain old sticky sweet sugars, there is variety in flavour as out there in the plant world as well.

Here are some of the Feeder Models I use
Very popular model

Typical Popular Style

I put up those last two photos to illustrate a possible reality that you could experience in your own yard. I used similar feeders that could hold numerous birds, though not all were feeding at once. Take a look at this photo of my old place and the large wood covered deck and porch on the top of the hill there. I had 6 feeders strung all along the deck attached to the main outer beams holding the porch up from the house. The porch was 56 foot long and 15' deep. It was a big deck and we like sitting out there on the outdoor Rattan furniture enjoying the site, experiencing the sounds of nature and scents of the country air. Another two feeders were on each end of the deck, one in a Coulter Pine branch and another in a Torrey Pine branch on the other side. One day a friend of mine and I were sitting outside at about 7:00 am in the morning. It was warm and humid since it was the peak of the Monsoon Season coming up from Mexico. And I swear to you, we counted over 70 Hummingbirds and with great effort to make sure we were correct. The sound was like being near a giant Bumble Bee Hive. The cat was freaked out. Those pictures above are no exaggeration. I have no idea where they all came from or how they received or understood information about my Oasis of a place that day, but there they all were. One of the funniest things was watching the usual dominant King of the Roost resident male who was there all the time chasing visitors off his declared domain. He finally gave up in frustration and no doubt exhaustion and lighted on a small apple sapling that had volunteered years previous but did nothing but give this little guy his favourite perch for surveillance.

On another occasion week we had these two outsider Hummers who you could tell traveled and always did things together. They were really entertaining and funny and this resident male didn't like them. He chased them away continually. I called them "The Brothers". Okay, what do I know, they could have been husband and wife. But this one day they developed this strategy of one of them zooming in as a decoy and being chased off to the left while the other flew in from the right a took a big swig of nectar. Then he gets chased off to the right and the other who was the first decoy would zoom in back from the left and take his turn in a long refreshing drink. The scene went on and on. That was in 2000. It offered several entertaining moments when I came home tired from work or before I went to work each day. Here's the picture of the house and deck. It's a bit hidden by some of the shrubbery but you get the idea.

Photo: Mine
This is an example of my Rattan Papasan swivel rocketing chair with the heavy duty canvas cushion pillow in the middle. Perfect Deck nature watching chair. Man I miss that chair!!! Once again projects like these are not only an investment in your property, but an investment in your physical and spiritual health. Everyone in these later days needs an escape and there is nothing more relaxing and wholesome as creating a mini paradise right in your own backyard.

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