Can planting certain flowers actually harm hummingbirds? June 27 2014

The topic of bee colony collapse disorder and its link to a class of pesticide known as neonicotinoids (or neonics) has been in the news quite a bit recently.  This recent article contains some very good information about how toxic these pesticides are to all kinds of critters, hummingbirds included.

The article mentions that most garden centers and many growers actually treat their plants with neonicotinoids before they are sold to the consumer. This means that many plants purchased at big box retailers such as Lowe's, Home Depot, and Wal-Mart already have a harmful pesticide on them or they were grown from seed treated with it. And it can take years for the pesticide to break down (into sometimes even more harmful substances).

In fact, the Pesticide Research Institute and Friends of the Earth, a non-profit environmental group, just released their comprehensive report on June 25, 2014, with some disturbing results. The 65-page report confirms that over half of the test subject plants purchased at Lowe's, Home Depot, and Wal-Mart contained neocicotinoids that kill bees and birds.

So even if you never spray a thing in your own yard, you (and thousands of other well-intentioned gardeners) could actually be contributing to the plight of the pollinators.

What can you do? Buy organic or pesticide-free certified plants to help ensure that your garden or yard provides a healthy haven for pollinators.

Here is a list of retailers that have pledged not to sell plants that have been treated with neonicotiniods.

This is an important issue for all pollinators. I'll be posting more about it as I review the report more carefully.


Hummingbirds in Brazil - something else for World Cup attendees to see! June 12 2014

In honor of the start of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil today, I thought I'd dedicate this post to the hummingbirds in Brazil. They have a few more species that we get in the US and Canada.

Currently, Wikipedia lists 81 species of the family Trochilidae, which comprise hummingbirds and a subfamily of hermits (subfamily Phaethornithinae, comprising 30–40 species). Of the 81 combined species of hummingbirds and hermits listed on Wikipedia, 75 are classified with a conservation of "Least Concern" whereas six are classified with some level of endangerment, with Near Endangered being the most severe on the IUCN Red List.

Here is a sampling of birds from Brazil. Some regularly inhabit cities for visitors to see, whereas most require a trip into the wild!


Swallow-tail Hummingbird
(Eupetomena macroura)

This relatively large hummingbird measures 6"-6.5" with nearly half of that length making up the bird's tail. It can weigh up to 9 grams (.3 ounces) and is common in semi-open habitats, including parks and gardens in large cities. It is aggressive and will defend rich food sources from other nectivores, and due to its size will often dominate other hummingbird species (and they've been known to dive-bomb much larger birds to protect a territory, particularly during the nesting season).

Tufted Coquette
(Lophornis ornatus)

This tiny hummingbird is an uncommon but widespread species that inhabits open country, gardens, and cultivated areas. Weighing in at only 2.3 grams (.08 ounces) and measuring only 2.6" in length, these tiny birds are relatively tame and approachable. They feed on nectar and various small invertebrates and due to their small size often resemble a large bee as they move from flower to flower.


Frilled Coquette
(Lophornis magnificus)

The Frilled Coquette is found only in Brazil and isn't likely to be seen by many tourists, as its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests and heavily degraded former forest. It is one of the smallest birds alive, weighing in at just 2.1 grams (.074 ounces) and only up to 2.8" in length!

White-throated Hummingbird
(Leucochloris albicollis)

This hummingbird is common and found in south-eastern Brazil. Its habitat includes forest, woodland, parks and gardens. It reaches up to 4.1" in length.

Brazilian Ruby
(Clytolaema rubricauda)

This relatively large hummingbird (length of 5.1" for females and 5.5" for males) is regularly seen at feeders, with its natural habitat being forest edge, second growth, gardens and parks in eastern Brazil. They are very territorial and will protect their food source vigorously!

Hyacinth Visorbearer
(Augastes scutatus)

This hummingbird is found only in Brazil and is becoming rare due to habitat loss. It is listed as a Near Endangered species on the IUCN Red List. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests and subtropical or tropical high-altitude shrubland, so it is unlikely that any visitors will see this little treasure. They weigh 3-4 grams and reach a length of 3.9".

Hooded Visorbearer(Augastes lumachella

Another hummingbird that is classified as Near Endangered due to habitat loss, the Hooded Visorbearer is also found only in Brazil. It inhabits subtropical or tropical high-altitude shrubland. They typically weigh 4 grams (.14 ounces) and reach a length of about 4" for males, 3.5" for females.

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird Migration of 2014 June 06 2014

This is a neat map that shows the 2014 migration northward of the Ruby-throated hummingbirds into the US and Canada. Hopefully most of them survived the late freezes and storms we had this year. I saw one in our backyard in the middle of April and I think we had a couple of cold snaps after that.

Screen shots are below, but do visit the link as the FAQs are interesting as well!





What flowers attract hummingbirds the best? June 05 2014

My last post was dedicated to explaining why hummingbirds prefer red flowers. When I went to buy my flowers for spring planting, I was in the early stages of launching so I found myself buying lots of flowers with tags that indicated they attracted hummingbirds with hopes of attracting more to my own backyard.

Of the dozens of flowers you can plant to help attract more birds to your garden, here are some of the best.

  Bleeding Hearts - a perennial in zones 2-11, this plant grows 24-36 inches tall and does best in lightly shaded locations. The delicate blooms are white or pink and the plants can be divided to transplant.
Bee Balm - a perennial in zones 4-9, it is also called bergamot, horsemint and monarda, and thrives best in full sun and will grow 12-36 inches high.
Columbine - a perennial in zones 3-8, this plant does best in partial shade and comes in many colors, including white, pink, purple, and even yellow. Most varieties have two colors, as the one pictured. It can grow up to 20 inches tall.
Lupine - this perennial in zones 9-10 is an early bloomer and ideal for spring migrating hummingbirds. It is drought-tolerant and does best in full sun. The Texas Bluebonnet is a type of Lupine that can only grow in areas with very hot weather.
Salvia - a perennial in zones 4-11, the flowers on this relative of mint can range from pink to red to purple to blue. Tall stalks of flowers make it ideal for the back of flower beds. It does best in full sun and will come back larger each year.
Trumpet Creeper - a perennial in zones 4-10 and also known as the trumpet vine, this hardy plant climbs just about anything and can easily overtake an area without pruning (we had one that almost pulled down a portion of our fence and also tried to take hold of the vents under our eaves). It thrives in sun to partial shade.
Zinnia - this annual comes in many colors and grows best in full sun. It's compact size makes it ideal for containers and it will bloom into fall, making it an ideal flower for hungry migrating birds.
Petunia - this inexpensive annual comes in all colors and does best in full sun. The abundant flowers provide plenty of nectar for hungry hummers.
Butterfly Bush - this perennial in zones 5-10 with its thick elongated flowers attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. It is a drought-tolerant plant that does best in full sun and will grow into a large shrub over time.
Cardinal Flower - a perennial in zones 2-9, it is also called lobelia and grows best in moist, well-drailed soil, growing up to 48 inches tall.
Scarlet Honeysuckle Vine - this perennial in zones 4-9 produces scores of fragrant blooms and does best in full sun. It climbs just about anything and can become invasive.
Summer Phlox - this perennial in zones 4-9 produces fabulous fragrant blooms and comes in more than 100 varieties. The plants can grow 36-40 inches tall, with flower panicles from 6-9 inches long and 6-8 inches wide. It does best in sun with some mid- late-afternoon shade.


 Plan your gardens, yards, and containers to include plenty of these flowers, and soon your yard will be humming!







Why do hummingbirds prefer red flowers? June 03 2014

We've all been trained to think of red flowers and feeders to attract hummingbirds. The reason that hummingbirds tend to feed from red flowers is two-fold (at least), and another amazing example of how nature provides different things to different plants, animals, and insects.

Hummingbirds can see all colors, and can actually see near UV (meaning beyond violet in the spectrum of light, remember your "ROY G BIV" from school with the order of the light spectrum colors?). So this is why the colors on the ends of the spectrum like red, orange, and violet stand out more to hummingbirds than other animals.

Another contributing factor to hummingbird's preference for these colors is that they are hard for bees and other pollinating insects to see. Bees, wasps, and other pollinating insects prefer yellow flowers. Thus they may contain more nectar due to a lack of competition as a food resource. If you have a hummingbird feeder with yellow feeding ports or yellow on them, either remove the yellow or paint them red to help keep the bees away. And if the bees have learned that your hummingbird feeder is a great source for nectar (regardless of color), consider using bee-proof ports (like the bee-proof Flower Feeding Tubes for Parasol feeders).

Additionally, hummingbirds prefer nectar that is 15-25% sucrose that is typically produced by hummingbird-pollinated flowers versus those that are bee- and insect-pollinated, which contain nectar made from fructose and glucose (sugars preferred by insects). This is why the ingredients for hummingbird nectar are water and sugar in a 4:1 ratio (for approximately 21% sucrose content).