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Hummingbird Gardening

Sunday, August 24, 2008



It had to happen, sooner or later. The hummingbirds are leaving us. I had been running two "World's Largest" Perky Pet feeders, which hold about a gallon apiece. I was making nectar about every three days, which tells you that I had a whole mess o' hummers here, maybe 10 or 15 at one time. By the timeworn formula, multiplying the number I could count times six, I had from 60-90 birds using my feeder. But they all started to depart on August 22, and I'm down to one feeder, and I fill it about 1/10 full...sigh. I already miss the humming masses.

While the hummer numbers were at their height, I took a lawnchair out to the cardinalflower beds one sunny morning, and fired away. The beds were in shade, with bright sunny background behind, so there was bounce light, but nothing direct. I liked the moody result--different from most hummingbird photos, which tend to be bathed in sun or (worse) flash strobe. Blaaa. I think a hummingbird's wings should blur, because that's how we see them in real life.

But I played with exposures and ISO and managed to freeze the bird's wings for one shot:
and then I relaxed and let them blur as they should. This is a young male, evidenced by his heavy throat streaking. Catch those green streaks in sunlight, and you may see a ruby glinting at you. I absolutely love this shot, of a bird feeding from my bee balm:
It's a gauzy fairy, suspended in air as if by magic. I was mercilessly baking my bee balm in a full-sun bed when I conferred with my garden landscaping friend Tim, oracle of all things planty. "You're cooking it. That's why its leaves turn yellow in mid-summer." So I dug it all up and put it in the north-facing moist cardinalflower bed in the shade of my heirloom lilac. It's the first time I've ever transplanted anything and not had it wilt. It was as if the bee balm had come home at last. I can't wait until next year. It ought to come roaring back. Monarda is a top fab fave of hummingbirds.
A lot of people are surprised to find that ruby-throats like to perch rather than hover when they're feeding. You have to hang around and watch them for awhile to get that simple truth.
Would you run in place while eating if you had a choice to run or sit down? Would you stand at the sink and gobble something down if there were a table and chair nearby? (Mothers are disqualified from answering). No, a normal person wouldn't, and neither would a hummingbird. Witness this:
and this:
See the white cardinalflower pollen on his snoot? He's been making seeds for the plants.

I keep these little wire cages around my cardinalflower, even though they're pretty much self-supporting, because the hummers love to perch on them. They're great for watching for rivals
below and above.
The Lobelia cardinalis that I've got here are all seed children from a couple of plants from Land Reformers Nursery here in southern Ohio. They specialize in Ohio-grown native plants. I've bought lots of cardinalflower over the years, but the only ones that have survived and prospered and made babies are the native ones from Land Reformers. Hint: When they go to seed and the capsules ripen, I break them off and lay them where I want more cardinalflower. Keep them watered and the soil open, and you should have more next year. They bloom in their second year of life. What a marvelous plant.
They are beautiful, and they attract the beautiful, and they bloom when everything else (of a cultivated sort) is gasping its last in the garden, when all the wildflowers go crazy in the meadows and streambanks.
Ahh, the gift of hummingbirds and cardinalflower. I savor them while I may.

21 comments:

I need to plant more things that they love. It is sad to know that they will be heading out, but it makes welcoming them back that much more special. :c)

Hummingbirds are truly one of the greatest marvels of the entire avian kingdom -- if they didn't already exist, nobody could make them up! I envy all the researchers who get to directly study or work with these gems.

Thanks so much - next year I'll get bee balm and cardinalflower.
I knew there was a reason why I got that other shady-ish bed into shape this year.
Should they go on the dry end or the wet end ? I'll look that up.
Great pix.

Posted by Dallas D August 24, 2008 at 5:08 PM

Beautiful birds and plants. It always amazes me that something so tiny migrates so far.

What a great gang of hummers! Do you think that cardinal flower would do okay potted (big pot?) on a deck in Cincy?

Stunning pictures, Julie! You've inspired me to start planning some hummer-friendly areas in my yard for next year.

Julie,

I was wondering when you were going to show hummingbird love this summer... :o) Your shots are what I'm looking for, instead of photos at the feeder. They're beautiful, Julie! So you played with ISO? Ha.

Hard to believe your crowd is leaving as the adult males are starting to leave here now. I might have three or four more weeks of dwindling numbers.

Next year I'll remember the bee balm and cardinalflower. Lovely. Thanks!

What a treat of a post--flashing red flowers, hovering hummingbirds. Just great.
I have hosted only a half dozen hummingbirgs ALL summer, but then I don't have loads of flowers for them. I will have to see about bee balm--which I do not have. I have cardinal flowers, and that is what the hummers have come to.

Dallas: Wet end. L. Cardinalis is a wetland plant in nature. They can withstand dryer conditions, but will need periodic watering.

Trixie: Cincy climate is fine. The plants are native north into Ontario. In containers, you'll have to pay special attention to watering. They have a reputation as being short-lived, and containers won't be optimal. You'll enhance their opportunity to persist by keeping the late-season basal rosette of leaves clear of covering debris (so they can continue to photosynthesize) as long as they persist.

The Anna's hummingbirds, which we get here in California, also like to perch while feeding. They are so much fun to watch. I miss having bee balm since I moved. The hummers really liked it where I lived before. Maybe I can plant some next year, although they love lavender and salvia, too, which we do have in our front yard.

Thank you for the motion shots!!! You know how I feel about the motion - its the magic in a photo! I love all these but the last one just makes me wanna dance around the room. You definitely know what you're doing with a camera!

All your recent posts justs scream that its well past time to get out of this great big fascinating city and back to the birds and the bees and my one true love - Oklahoma prairie! I'm hoping since I am well south of you the hummers are still hanging and my hummingbird garden is still flushed with bloom when I arrive home at the end of the week.

Thanks for sharing all this beauty!

In cincy: Try a red Crocrosmia (montbretia) holds up better than bee balm and cardinal flower especially in our humidity. The hummers in our yard love hosta flowers...Thanks for the nice post

Thanks for stepping in, Miinoh and birdbraman. I love crocosmia too, but the bulbs don't survive the winter for me and I can never find them in my giant tangle of plants to dig them in fall. Clearly, I must plant more, and in big clumps. Cardinalflower and bee balm love shade and part sun and moist soil. What works for me is to plant them near the bird bath in a north-facing bed, so I water them whenever I clean the bird bath. In gardening, sometimes you have to think about it awhile, and plant water-loving plants only where you will already be using a hose, so you don't self-defeat.

Sorry about the delay in getting a few of your comments up on the blog, folks. I'm still getting the hang of moderating, but I am very much enjoying the absence of Chinese spam. Somehow they can tell that I'm moderating, and they've gone off in search of fresh prey. I could get used to this.

The last photo is my favorite - the wings don't just look blurred, they almost look liquid. We still have a fair number of hummers buzzing around our mimosa trees and trumpet vine (and feeders) although I think they are beginning to dwindle here, too.

Your hummer photos are so much fun. It is precious to capture them among the flowers. I will be adding wire cages just for them next year.

Oh, it is so sad to that the jewels are leaving us. I was daydreaming about next year's hummingbird garden this afternoon and, once again, you pop into my day and inspire me. Your photos are amazing. I need to learn how to make my camera do that!

Pollen on his snoot?
I never realized it would show like that! (I've seen it on mine, too--just today! Thought it might be something less magical. Phew!)

I really enjoyed these pics. I finally put up one hummingbird feeder this year and had a great time trying to get pics. Next year I'll do better with giving them flowers to enjoy as well. The first time I saw the ruby throat if hovered in front of my face with the sequins looking chest. I was in awe! :-)

I've been out every evening for the past week holding my tiny hummingbird feeder while they zip over for a few sips of nectar. I love feeling their little toes on my fingertips. I had on red nail polish and one little hummer even came by and poked my nail--that made me laugh!

Thanks for the tip on re-growing more cardinal flowers. I have 1 that does OK in a sheltered corner but have lost 2 in another portion of the garden, so I'll try again for next year using your method.

oh my! what delight! your pictures are wonderful...and all those hummingbirds! i have to go swoon now....

I hope you don't mind, I've linked to this post as part of I and the Bird #83.

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