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hummingbird

This Rufous Hummingbird delights in the sweet nectar of a 'Blue Fortune' Agastache.

Along towards mid-spring of this year, I was delighted to spy a female black-chinned hummingbird flitting about investigating our yard.

I was certain she was en route elsewhere, as our neighborhood offered virtually no sources of nectar, for our spring bloom was weeks away. Several days later, I saw her again. This time, she was inspecting the little nooks and crannies under our eaves. I surmised that she was hunting for the tiny spiders and soft-shelled insects that hummingbirds relish. After she had tarried in my yard for about a week, I determined that this hummer must be getting further nourishment from my patch of recently-blooming blue catmint.

When I spotted a male black-chinned hummingbird, I became quite enthused: perhaps the two were a pair. With this in mind, I set out my hummingbird feeder. I never found a nest, but hopefully, by now there is a young family of black-chinned hummers darting about somewhere, perhaps even in my neighborhood.

This taught me a lesson. As I had become accustomed to catching my first glimpse of hummingbirds in June, I hadn’t prepared a welcoming environment for them this early in the year. Since my meager offerings of spiders, insects, and catmint seemed to have been sufficient for one pair of hummers, perhaps in future years I can host two or more pairs. I set out to make my backyard an early spring haven for them.

I discovered that hummingbirds are especially drawn to stock flowers, snapdragons, and foxgloves in the spring. Stocks bear their blooms on tall spikes in an assortment of colors. To bloom profusely, they require cool weather; fertile, well-draining soil; and sunshine. They will not tolerate freezing temperatures, so must be covered on cold nights.

I recall being fascinated with snapdragons as a child. I would gently pinch the sides of a blossom, disengaging the upper flower lobes from the lower lobes, making the blossom appear to yawn. Little did I know that hummingbirds were adept at reaching deep into the throat of a snapdragon in search sweet, energy-packed nectar.

Foxgloves bear large tubular, often speckled flowers, prefer cool temperatures, and will withstand springtime frosts. They are poisonous to humans and pets.

I was pleased to discover that my pair of hummers were still lingering about when our June bloom materialized. These mostly came in the form of native flowers. First on the scene were the Rocky Mountain Penstemons (Penstemon strictus), with brilliant purple, deep-throated, smallish blooms, arrayed on spikes for easy hummingbird access. Succeeding these gems were the columbines, with delicate-appearing flowers, endowed with graceful, nectar-filled spurs extending backwards. Next, were the Palmer’s Penstemons (Penstemon palmeri), generating tall stalks of faintly-pink, large, bulbous blooms, each bloom an invitation to both hummingbird and bumblebee alike.

My landscape was now a hummingbird paradise!

But that wasn’t the end of it. I didn’t want my yard to be “sink habitat”, where hummingbirds are drawn to an area abounding with nutrition, only to have the nectar-rich plants die off or stop flowering as the plants progress in their life-cycles. So I was gratified when the tall Golden-Beard Penstemons (P. barbatus) commenced sending up long stalks of red tubular flowers. This plant has always been a hummingbird magnet, because it will bloom through late summer.

In the fall, spikes of pink-red skyrockets will shoot upwards from the banks of our ditch, and I’ll spy hummers of more than one species darting, zooming, and surging, as they vie for the nectar of the most desirable blossoms.

My agastache and salvia plants and our neighbors’ zinnias will also be in full bloom this fall, all of which will provide valuable nutrients as the hummingbirds prepare to migrate.

With so much success this year, you can bet that I’ll be hightailing it to the nursery next spring in quest of hummingbird-friendly flowers. And if you happen to visit my neighborhood during that time, you’ll be sure to spot my house. It’ll be the one with pots of snapdragons along the walkway.

Never miss a home trend

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Cindy Murray is a biologist, elementary tutor and Coconino Master Gardener and co-editor of Gardening Etc.

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