Hummingbirds have been dancing around my yard this summer, lured by plants including Goldflame Honeysuckle, Penstemons (Red Rocks and Pike’s Peak), Coral Bells, Butterfly Bush and brightly colored annuals such as Verbena, Salvia and Geranium. Red Birds in a Tree was irresistible to them last year, but sadly did not return this year (any suggestions for getting this perennial to reliably come back year after year?). Agastache and Bee Balms are among other highly prized nectar sources. The Hummingbird Society offers this list of recommended plant families.
Hummers are guided to nectar sources by color – they have no sense of smell – they rely on their keen vision to spot plants or the common red bird feeder filled with sugar-water. Bright hues, especially red, orange and purple, which can be seen from distances of 30’ to 50’ in the air, signal that a good meal awaits. Tubular flowers allow hummers to hover near the bloom and lick nectar with their forked, fringed tongues. As with other pollinators, swaths of the same plant make for effective grazing and a succession of season long blooms encourages return visits. Avoidance of pesticides, a good source of water and shrubs or trees for perching and nesting also make an inviting habitat.
According to the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, a hummingbird’s wing beat ranges from 720-5400 times per minute when hovering and they have been clocked in flight at 33+ miles per hour! On average, a hummer weighs less than a nickel and consumes about twice its weight in nectar, spiders and insects daily. Their metabolism is 100 times faster than an elephant’s, requiring them to busily visit 1,000 to 2,000 flowers daily. They can fly in rain and are the only bird that fly backwards. The distinctive humming sound is made by the wings in flight and actually sounds more like a whistle to me.
Several varieties of hummingbirds have been identified in Colorado, with the most common being the broad-tail. The Audubon Society has established a citizen science program, Hummingbirds at Home, to chronicle sightings and learn more about food sources. If you’d like to contribute observations, it’s easy to get started here.
These aerial acrobats will be around till September when they start their journey back to Mexico, with the promise of return next spring. If you don’t already enjoy hummingbirds in your yard, consider adding some plants to lure them in – and encourage your neighbors to do the same to create a larger, more inviting haven for these birds. You won’t regret it.
Written and photographed by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener