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Hummingbirds in Florida - More Species than you Think

Flowers that Attract Hummingbirds

How to Attract Hummingbirds

Title: Abuzz about hummingbirds

Paper: FLORIDA TODAY (Melbourne, FL)
Copyright (c) FLORIDA TODAY. All rights reserved.

Date: February 26, 2005
Section: Home and Garden
Page: 01

Hypnotic creatures pop up across Brevard


Faster than a speeding bullet? Well, not quite. But if you've caught a glimpse of a tiny, iridescent creature shooting past you in the garden, it might be one of Brevard County's elusive hummingbirds. Now is the time to roll out the red carpet to help make them become regular garden visitors.

There are many residents of Brevard County who never have seen a hummingbird, or at least they don't know they have. Not only are these tiny birds fast and elusive, but until recently, it was believed they weren't that common in Brevard. But an increase in sightings is casting doubt on that theory.

Fred Basset, a nationally recognized hummingbird bander who recently banded several species of hummingbirds during his visit to Brevard, thinks there are more hummingbirds in our county than people realize.

"I am convinced hummers have been here all along, but not many were seen," Bassett said. " Birding books didn't report many sightings, so people didn't leave out feeders or garden for them. If someone reported wintering hummers, they were told they were mistaken and that they had probably seen a moth. It's no wonder they weren't reported."

Basset thinks the number of hummingbird sightings in Brevard will increase if more people will just start gardening for them.

" I have no doubt many more of them will start showing up as more people garden for them and maintain feeders during the winter," he said.

Top birder

Bob Paxson of Merritt Island is one gardener who has proven Basset's theory, at least in his own yard. Paxson, who was recommended by members of the Space Coast Aububon society as a local hummingbird expert, has created a landscape that features a wide variety of plant species that are favorites for attracting hummingbirds.

" I almost moved to Pensacola instead of Brevard just because I wanted to have a hummingbird garden," Paxson said. " And I didn't think I could do that in Brevard. I thought that coastal Atlantic Florida on a barrier island would be about the worst place to attract hummingbirds."

But within a year of starting to plant hummingbird favorites, such as firebush, fire spike, shrimp plant and salvia, Paxson began to see the birds in his yard.

" We have seen them every month of the year since we have been gardening for them," he said. " The most we have had in our yard at one time was October 2003, when we counted six."

Common species

Although there are more than 338 known species of hummingbirds in the Americas, only about 16 of those are found in the United States. Only one species, the ruby- throated hummingbird, is considered common east of the Mississippi. However, statistics are beginning to show more species of what are considered to be Western hummingbirds do visit Brevard. Paxson has been so successful with his gardens that he has attracted one of these Western visitors, the black- chinned hummingbird.

" Each year there are more and more reports of them moving into Florida," Paxson said. " Ten year's ago, there were reports of only three species of hummingbirds being spotted in Florida. Now that number has jumped to eight or nine."

Paxson thinks part of the increase in Florida sightings might be because of rapid development in Mexico, where hummingbirds have historically migrated to in the winter.

" They used to spend winters in Mexico, but there has been so much deforestation there that the birds are wandering up into Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida now."

Hard to detect

Whatever the reason, Brevard gardeners are thrilled to be noticing these colorful birds appearing in their yards.

Sandy Hart of Palm Bay didn't realize she had hummingbirds until she was watching some movie footage she made of butterflies in her yard.

" I didn't realize what I had until I looked at my movie footage carefully!" Hart said. " Then I learned to recognize their sound. I can hear them a lot but finding them is difficult. Once I realized what hummingbirds wanted, I did try to plant their favorites. I have found that they love my yellow shrimp plants, the orange trumpet vine and the red salvia. I have also seen them on my red porter weed and the cigar plant."

Since Paxson and his wife, Connie, are enthusiastic birders, they have placed plants and feeders in optimum locations throughout their property so they can catch sight of the visiting hummers. But even with all their plants and feeders, it still takes a quick eye to catch sight of a hummer.

" A lot of the time you hear them before you see them," Paxson said. " They sit up in the trees and make a little chattering noise, so you know they are there. But it is still sometimes hard to spot them."

This difficulty in spotting hummingbirds is easy to understand when you realize how small they really are.

" The ruby- throated hummer, the most common species to Brevard, is only about 3 inches long and weighs about one- quarter of an ounce ( about as much as a penny)," Paxson said. " During the times that they aren't feeding, they are usually sitting in a tree somewhere keeping an eye on their food source. Trying to spot a 3- inch bird sitting at the top of a large oak or other tree is part of the reason most people don't see them."

Rules of attraction

So how does someone lure these beautiful garden visitors? Think red.

" Hummingbirds seek food entirely by sight," Paxson said. " They may be flying 500 feet overhead during migration and they look down and see a patch of green, and it catches their eye.Then, if they see red, theyzoom in for a closer look."

That's when you will need a garden full of red flowers and nectar feeders to entice them to stay. Some experts, such as Bob Sargent, who founded the Hummer/ Bird Study group with his wife, Martha, suggests anything red such as garden flags, surveyors tape or artificial flowers will help lure hummingbirds to your yard. But at that point, you need to make sure you have a garden full of nectar flowers and feeders to make them stay.

Hummingbirds are attracted to plants by color, not by scent. They prefer red, orange and pink tubular flowers but also have been seen feeding on certain blue and yellow plant species in Brevard.

Hummingbirds are very territorial, so hummingbird plants and feeders should be spaced in separate groupings around your yard and at varying heights, starting at about 18 inches above the ground.

Since hummingbirds feed in flight, they need plenty of room around the flowers to accommodate their movements. Hummingbirds spend about 80 percent of their time sitting and keeping an eye on their food source, so trees and shrubs should be planted within sight of the feeders.

Linda Esten of Melbourne noticed hummingbirds feeding on many of the same plants that butterflies use.

" In 1999, when we moved to Melbourne, I began planting butterfly gardens," Esten said. " It wasn't until 2003 that I noticed my first hummingbird. Once I saw one, I was always on the lookout. Usually, I would spot them early in the morning and around sunset. Once they became regular visitors, I added some specific plants for them: the more tubular flower types that they are supposed to like. The first few years I only saw them during the summer. This is the first year I have noticed them staying through the winter. I have seen two at the same time, a male and a female, so I know I have at least two. This winter they have really been enjoying the cuphea ( cigar plant). Also, they have been visiting the red pentas."

Feeders helpful

Nectar feeders can be used as supplemental food sources and can be purchased at many local garden centers. A simple nectar can be made by combining 1 part granulated sugar to 4 parts water in a saucepan and boiling for two minutes. Let the mixture cool completely before filling feeders.

You can refrigerate excess nectar for up to one week. Be sure and replace the mixture every couple of days, because bacterial growth in the nectar solution is potentially fatal to hummingbirds.

To be able to observe hummingbirds, try to position your gardens or feeders so that they can be viewed from an inside window.

" They're sneaky," Paxson says. " They can come in and feed every 15 minutes or so, and unless you are sitting right there, you won't even know it."

Previous theories suggest the best time to garden for hummers was either in the summer, during their nesting season, or during their winter migration. But since new sightings are showing hummingbirds remain in Brevard all year, your best bet for attracting hummingbirds is to provide plants that have different blooming periods.

As with butterfly gardening, don't use pesticides on your plants. They can be deadly to hummingbirds if sprayed directly onto your flowers or on the insects that hummingbirds sometimes dine on.

Despite their lightning- quick speed, hummingbirds do have enemies. They can fall victim to larger birds, cats and even the well- camouflaged praying mantis. Keep an eye out for these hummingbird predators.

If you live beachside and think you can't attract hummingbirds, take heart from the success of Dawn and Blair Witherington, who have succeeded in attracting hummingbirds to their Melbourne Beach property.

" Our hummingbirds are here mostly in summer, but occasionally in fall and spring," Dawn Witherington said. " We planted species with reddish tubular flowers in anticipation of luring the little guys. We have several firebush plants and a few cascades of coral honeysuckle vines. The latter is presumably a top hummingbird attractor, but most of our hummingbirds prefer the firebush. The firebush is also well loved by butterflies and hymenoptera ( bees). It's a plant that literally buzzes with life all year."

Will planting all the right plants guarantee you will attract hummingbirds? If you've been planting the right plants, a watchful eye might just prove you already have.


Plants for hummingbirds

According to some hummingbird Web sites, such as birdwatching. com and hummingbird. net, " Every square foot of land in North America is investigated by hummingbirds in the course of a year." Planting some of their favorite plants is the best way to lure them into your garden.

Plant Name Bloom Season
Aloe Year Round
Autumn sage Fall
Cherokee bean Summer
Cigar plant Summer- fall
Coral honeysuckle Spring- summer
Cross vine Spring
Firebush Year round
Firespike Summer- fall
Jatropha Year round
Necklace pod Spring- summer
Red bottlebrush Spring- summer
Red porterweed Year round
Shrimp plant Spring- summer
Tropical sage Spring- fall
Trumpet creeper Summer

Sources: " Plants that Attract Hummingbird for Brevard County," University of Florida/ Brevard County Extension Service; also suggestions from four local gardeners.

All about the bird

Hummingbirds are the smallest bird in the world.

30 percent of a hummingbird's weight consists of flight muscles.

For their size, hummingbirds have among the largest appetites in the bird world. Hummingbirds feed about every 10 or 15 minutes from dawn to dusk, consuming more than half their weight in food every day.

They may visit up to 1,000 flowers per day.

Hummingbirds can flap their wings more than 80 beats per second, the fastest of any bird.

Sources: www.attracting-wild birds. com;

What the birds like

Hummingbirds are attracted to plants by color, not by scent. They prefer red, orange and pink tubular flowers but also have been seen feeding on certain blue and yellow plant species in Brevard. List of plants to consider for your yard or garden, 2F.

Betsy S. Franz, for FLORIDA TODAY

Common sight. A ruby-throated hummingbird, the most common in Brevard, zooms in on a cigar plant in a Melbourne garden.

Photos by Betsy Franz, for FLORIDA TODAY

Supper time. Pollen speckles the head of this ruby- throated hummingbird, perched on a feeder in Melbourne. Hummingbirds, once thought to be rare sights along the Florida coast, have been reported in increasing numbers.

Bird man. Bob Paxson of Merritt Island has created a landscape that features a wide variety of plant species and feeders that are favorites for attracting hummingbirds. The birds have been spotted in his yard each month since, he says.

Section: Home and Garden
Page: 01

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