The Hummers are Coming!

Broad-tailed Hummingbird_RedRocksRanch-Hwy115-CO_LAH_3795

The bee balm (Monarda) and mint hyssop (Agastache) won’t bloom until mid-summer, and the flowers on my California fuchsia (Epilobium canum) appear even later. Yet, despite the lack of these hummingbird favorites, the birds are on the move, heading north to nest. While I like to think that I’m aiding their survival, I know they will do fine without me. Still, I’m hustling to fill and hang my feeders. It isn’t that the birds need me—I need them!

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Choosing a Birdfeeder

Bird feeders and houses @Lowe's-CS_2008aug02_LAH_5113-1There are about a zillion bird feeders on the market. They come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes. They’re made from anything from plastic to wood to gleaming copper. Some hang from supports or tree branches, others perch on posts, attach to deck railings, or are anchored at ground level. Some feeders are designed to attract squirrels and others claim to exclude them. There are feeders to match every kind of seed, from tiny nyjer to peanuts in the shell, plus specialized feeders for corn cobs, suet, meal worms, jelly, fruit halves, and sugar water. With so many to choose from, how can one possibly decide which is the perfect feeder to buy? Continue reading “Choosing a Birdfeeder”

An Invitation to Hummingbirds

Broadtail Hummingbird_COS_LAH 780My yard is full of hummingbirds! Last summer I faithfully put out feeders full of sugar water, but had no takers. Not a single one. The only hummer that visited was a Broad-tailed Hummingbird that stopped by to check out the lone flower on a honeysuckle vine that was sitting in its can, waiting to be planted. But this year! From mid-July to late August, I probably had over a dozen in the yard at any one time—Broad-tailed, Rufous, and even several Calliope Hummingbirds that hung around for over a week. It was all I could do to keep my two feeders filled.

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Hummingbirds have Superpowers

Broad-tailed Hummingbird_BlkForest-CO_LAH_6054On a trip to Washington this past February, it seemed strange to see (Anna’s) hummingbirds coming to the feeders. Here in Colorado, we aren’t so lucky. The species we enjoy here depart in the fall and don’t return until the end of April—or even later. Still, I’ll be brewing up some sugar water soon. I typically hang my feeders around April 25, just in case some early arrivals show up in the backyard. (When temperatures dip below freezing, I take the feeders in for the night, then warm them a bit for the birds’ breakfast.)

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But Where Are the Birds?

Steller's Jay_BlkForest_20100424_LAH_3670The birdfeeder had been up for weeks, but no birds came to dine. My friend was understandably frustrated. “Why won’t the birds come to my yard?” she asked. “I spent all this money on a feeder and birdseed, but they don’t seem to care!”

I thought about all the birds flocking around my assortment of feeders, and tried to see the differences. What was she doing—or not doing—that I was doing differently? We both lived in suburbia, amid rows of houses with lawns and trees and shrubs. In fact, we were only a few miles apart. So why did I have finches and doves and hummingbirds (and more), and she did not?

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Kintzley’s Ghost is Hauntingly Beautiful

Lonicera reticulata_Kintzley's Ghost Honeysuckle _DBG_LAH_1711You’ve put out the jack-o’-lantern, there are mysterious eyes blinking in the hedge, and spider webs festoon the front porch. It’s almost time to greet thus year’s trick-or-treaters. You think you’re ready, but there’s a good chance that you’re missing the pièce de résistance, the perfect, spooky vine to frame your doorway. You need to plant Kintzley’s Ghost honeysuckle!

This 2006 PlantSelect™ winner is the perfect plant for Colorado gardens, and not just because of its Halloween-evoking name. A cross between two Midwest natives, Lonicera reticulata (Grape Honeysuckle) and L. prolifera (Yellow Honeysuckle), this hybrid depends on weekly watering in more arid regions. Plants are hardy in USDA zone 4 through 8. Not fussy about soil, they thrive in full sun, but also tolerate afternoon shade. Another plus—the blue-green foliage is deer-resistant.

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Sweet, Sweet Honeysuckles

I sat me down to watch upon a bank
With ivy canopied and interwove
With flaunting honeysuckle. (John Milton)

Lonicera sempervirens_Honeysuckle_DBG_LAH_6903Mention honeysuckle, and we think of green hedgerows, sultry summer days, and childhoods spent picking the flowers and putting them in our mouths to suck out the sweet nectar. There are around 180 species in the genus Lonicera. Fast growing and tolerant of inhospitable conditions, honeysuckles have much to recommend them. Many are valuable landscape plants able to withstand Colorado’s challenging conditions while presenting us with beautiful flowers and berries adored by birds.

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How to Help Hummingbirds

Anna's Hummingbird_EdmondsMarsh-WA_PLH_7848I was out birding last weekend, scanning the foliage for a glimpse of feathers or the movement of a leaf unexplained by the light breeze, when I heard a high-pitched twit twit. It was a familiar sound, but one I hadn’t heard since early last fall—the call note of a hummingbird!

If I was in Colorado, I’d be quite surprised to find a hummingbird this early in the season—my first Broad-tailed hummer consistently shows up at my feeders on April 30 or May 1. However I’m not in Colorado, I’m currently in Washington. I was birding at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, located between Olympia to the west and Tacoma to the east. (My trip includes a little bit of birding and a lot of our new baby granddaughter!)

Here, Anna’s Hummingbirds linger year-round. What a treat! Continue reading “How to Help Hummingbirds”

Feeding Hummers

broad-tailed-hummingbird_redrocksranch-hwy115-co_lah_3795Right on schedule, I hear the shrill whistle of a Broad-tailed Hummingbird’s wings. I’m writing this on May 1, and I just had my first tiny visitor of the season—on the exact same date as last year. I’d hung the feeder a few days ago, just in case, but not one bird stopped by until today. Amazing.

I’ve had a feeder outside my kitchen window every summer for about eight years now. One year, May 1 brought a heavy snowfall, with temperatures in the 20s and the wind whistling about the eaves. Surely the birds were snuggled somewhere safe and warm, I thought. Maybe most birds were, but at least one Broad-tail braved the storm to get to my feeder. If the hummingbirds are that eager (desperate?) to have a sugar water snack, the least I can do is offer what they expect.

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Trumpet Vine – Campsis radicans

campsis-radicans-trumpet-vine_xg_090720_lah_7324Appearance
Tropical vines with huge, brilliantly colored flowers don’t normally grow in Colorado, but Trumpet Vine is an enjoyable exception. A vigorous grower, Trumpet Vine can reach 30 feet, with dark green compound leaves that drop in fall to reveal the vine’s light brown papery bark. From mid-summer to frost, three-inch long vase-shaped flowers of fiery orange-red grow in clusters of four or more. In fall, hundreds of papery seeds develop in five-inch long capsules.

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