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Put out the welcome mat for springtime hummingbirds

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

Hummingbirds will soon make their way back to North Carolina after wintering in Central America. Welcome them to your house by providing their favorite plants and the right food in the right places.

Think like a hummingbird. They spend a great deal of their life in the tropics living in the tree canopies. Providing them a similar habitat will increase the chances of them setting up housekeeping in your backyard. They usually return in March.

The male hummingbird usually arrives two to three weeks before the females. The males scout for suitable places, i.e. food, water and shelter. Males are attracted to bright red flowers like those on the native honeysuckle.

Later in the summer, babies prefer flowers such as Salvia quaranitica, or blue sage, which are blue. Planting a variety of flowers that provide nectar all summer long will ensure an appropriate area for breeding.

Other recommended plants are red flowering chestnut, abelias, summer phlox, chaste tree, columbine, cardinal flower, bee balm, red hot poker, hibiscus, candy lilies and most salvias.

In addition to planting appropriate flowers, provide stable artificial nectar sources. Have a feeder present and ready during migration, or they will fly right by. Place a few feeders in the open for males, but put twice as many in the tree canopy for females. That way the females don’t have to compete with the males for food and then are usually successful at raising a new brood.

Females usually look for wooded areas near nectar sources for nesting. Nests are usually found between 12 and 18 feet above the ground. Feeders should be placed this high from the ground just inside the canopy.

One way to hang the feeder is to take a wire shaped “S” and hang it on a tree branch. Attach a large wire loop to the feeder for easy hanging. You can use a pole with a coat hanger hook to hang it. Feeders should be kept up year around in North Carolina. Birds will leave the area where feeders are not well maintained.

I like to mix three parts sugar to one part water when they first arrive and then switch to four parts water and one part sugar for the best mix to put in feeders. The mix should be boiled for a few minutes and then cooled (this can be done in the microwave).

Never add fruit juice, honey or red dye. Hummingbirds get their daily protein by eating gnats and tiny flies, so they really do not need any extra in the nectar solution. A clean feeder is always a welcome sight for hummingbirds. Hummingbird feeders should be cleaned every two to three days. Insects introduce bacteria to them. This can sicken or kill the birds. To limit this problem only fill feeders half way and replace solution every second or third day.

To clean feeders, dump the leftover food, wash thoroughly by rinsing three or four times before refilling. If really dirty, place feeders in boiling water for a few minutes. Never use bleach. You have to be a good steward with feeders, so be consistent and your hummingbirds will reward you with a healthy population and many more birds that rerun each year.

Put a shallow ceramic birdbath with water less than half an inch at five to six feet off the ground in full sun, too. Be sure to clean and refill on a regular basis.

Send your gardening questions or comments to: Brunswick County Master Gardener Column, P.O. Box 109, Bolivia, NC 28422, or call 253-2610. Enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope if requesting information or a reply. Answers may be printed in this column.