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By Janet Ashby
Humming birds are found throughout the Americas including the Caribbean. Known for their hovering ability and unique ability to fly backwards, humming birds hover by rapidly flapping their wings at speeds up to 80 times a second. The Bee Hummingbird is the smallest bird in the world at only 2 inches long and around 1.8 grams. The Giant Hummingbird is the largest hummingbird at 24 grams and approximately 8 inches long.
They have the fastest metabolism of any birds and to sustain this they must eat their own weight and more in food daily. To do this they must visit hundreds of blooms a day to harvest the nectar. They have long bills and tongues to reach deep into flowers. They are able to slow down their metabolisms when at rest, unlike most other high metabolism animals and this extends their lifespan which has been reported to be up to 17 years.
A Hummingbird Friendly Garden
To attract humming birds to your garden plant brightly coloured flowers and shrubs. Hummingbirds have very little sense of smell but are attracted to bright colours. Hanging a hummingbird feeder in your garden or on your patio will attract these lovely birds. Annuals to plant include beard tongue, salvia, petunia, jewelweed, jacobinia, impatiens, and firespike. Perennial plants to attract hummingbirds include foxglove, hosta, hummingbird mint, lupine, yucca, cardinal flower, bee balm, canna and columbine. For trees and shrubs choose azalea, buddleia, cape honeysuckle, mimosa, weigela, flame acanthus, lantana, red buckeye and tree tobacco.
Do not use pesticides in your garden as, not only will they kill bugs and insects that the hummingbirds eat but any residue left on flowers could be ingested by them. Also provide lots of perching places as hummingbirds spend about 80% of the time resting on twigs, clothes lines etc. Provide plants that will supply nesting materials to attract female hummingbirds. They prefer downy nesting material from trees such as eucalyptus and willow and from ferns, mosses and lichens.
Hanging brightly coloured feeders in your garden will attract the hummingbirds. A good ideas is to attach red ribbons that blow around the feeder. It is also a good idea to provide feeders at different heights as hummingbird species have different preferences. Species that favor low growing plants will visit a feeder placed lower while species that feed on taller plants and shrubs will prefer to visit a feeder placed in a higher position. Hummingbirds are also very territorial and one hummingbird may defend a single feeder and prevent others from approaching. Place at least three feeders at different heights around your garden.
Hummingbirds love to bathe in the mist on leaves so you could place a mister close to some broadleaved plants to provide them with a bathing place.
Making Hummingbird Nectar
Make a sweet nectar by mixing together a cup of sugar and four cups of pre-boiled water. Cool and store in the refrigerator. Unused nectar can safely be stored for about a week. Thoroughly clean hummingbird feeders weekly by rinsing with a solution of one cup of vinegar to four cups of water then rinsing with plain water. Fill with the nectar and hang in a shady place. Do not use any food colouring or synthetic sweeteners or honey as it can ferment and produce a fungus that is harmful. Change the nectar in your feeder every three days or more often in hotter weather.
Give the hummingbirds the food they love and a comfortable environment and they will visit your garden often.
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