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Weekend Life

Learning to Grow: Warm welcome to hummingbirds

I don’t have to tell you how long and boring the winter was around here.

While looking for something to do, I came across a bird biology class offered at Morton Arboretum. I called up my master gardener buddy and suggested we go.

After some debate about taking a seven-week, possibly intense, science course and whether my brain was being affected by a severe case of cabin fever, we decided to do it. We were amazed at what we learned about birds in general but especially hummingbirds!

Who doesn’t love to see these tiny, colorful birds hovering and then rapidly darting forward and backward, up and down in the garden? 

These are some of the most amazing birds to be found in the Midwest.

The hummingbird commonly found in our area is the beautiful ruby-throated hummingbird. Some of its unique characteristics are the flight patterns and speed, up to 60 miles per hour, as well as how they feed. 

In addition to speed, the ability to hover and fly different directions is the result of the hummingbird’s unusual capability to flap its wings rapidly in a figure eight pattern. The hummingbird has a very long, thin, grooved tongue which allows it to drink nectar from deep inside long trumpet-shaped flowers.

They feed on both nectar and insects and are often seen making the rounds from flower to feeder.

In the Midwest, we can expect to start seeing hummingbirds in mid to late April with migration occurring August through early October.

To attract these lovely birds to your garden, plan to provide feeders and plant hummingbird friendly flowers. Contrary to popular belief, hummingbird feeders do not prevent migration. It allows the birds to “feed up” in preparation for the long migration, often to Mexico and Central America.

Some flowers to attract hummingbirds include trumpet vines, columbine, lavender, red petunias, morning glory, hollyhock, delphinium, hostas, and red or orange phlox; just to name a few. Native perennials provide better quality nectar and will return each year.

Here are a few tips if you are interested in providing a nectar feeder. Homemade nectar is the way to go to assure the proper sugar to water concentration. If the nectar is too concentrated it cannot travel through the tongue grooves.

A concentration of four parts water to one part sugar is boiled and then allowed to cool. Do not add color as it is not necessary for bird attraction and may actually contain carcinogens. Feeders that are red in color are the most attractive to hummingbirds.

With these tips in mind, you are set for a summer of bird watching.  With the iridescent plumage and bright colors, the hummingbird is a bird well worth the effort.

• Darlie Simerson is a University of Illinois Extension master gardener for Kane County. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information.

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