Abuzz about hummingbirds
FLORIDA TODAY (Melbourne, FL)
Copyright (c) FLORIDA TODAY. All rights
Author: BETSY S. FRANZ
Date: February 26, 2005
Section: Home and Garden
creatures pop up across Brevard
S. FRANZ, FOR FLORIDA TODAY
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
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.
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
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
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.
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."
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
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
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.
that number has jumped to eight or
thinks part of the increase in Florida
sightings might be because of rapid
development in Mexico, where hummingbirds
have historically migrated to in the
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."
the reason, Brevard gardeners are
thrilled to be noticing these colorful
birds appearing in their yards.
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."
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."
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
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
if they see red, theyzoom in for a
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
be able to observe hummingbirds, try
to position your gardens or feeders
so that they can be viewed from an
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
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.
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
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
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."
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
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.
" Plants that Attract Hummingbird
for Brevard County," University
of Florida/ Brevard County Extension
Service; also suggestions from
four local gardeners.
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
Hummingbirds can flap their
wings more than 80 beats per
second, the fastest of any bird.
www.attracting-wild birds. com;
the birds like
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.
S. Franz, for FLORIDA TODAY
sight. A ruby-throated hummingbird,
the most common in Brevard,
zooms in on a cigar plant in
a Melbourne garden.
by Betsy Franz, for FLORIDA
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
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,
BETSY S. FRANZ
Section: Home and Garden
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