Friday, November 26, 2004

Habitat for Hummingbirds

I’m wary of artificial bird feeding, which can easily lead to an unnatural concentration of birds and the transmission of diseases. The nutritional values of almost all store-bought foods are inferior to that of the natural diet of birds, often markedly so. If you must feed birds, learn how to do it without creating disease hazards for them! Do it only if you have the discipline and dedication to do it right!

As superior I advocate creating a rich food-producing habitat for birds, so that they can find their own food in their traditional way! My philosophy is to not make them beggars, but instead to create an opportunity-rich environment for them!

Mold grows easily grows in hummingbird feeders, with dire results for the birds. As Louise Blakey’s Our Hummingbirds points out, to avoid unhealthy conditions syrup feeders must be kept scrupulously clean – cleaned extremely carefully every time the syrup is changed, which should be quite regularly!

Some of California’s native plants that serve well for nectar and insect foraging in local gardens are:

Epilobium canum, hummingbird fuchsia – this and other related species formerly known as Zauschneria, especially the upright varieties – some spread invasively, but others not: inquire and know what you’re getting.

Gooseberries and currants: Ribes speciosum, fuchsia-flowered gooseberry, Ribes californica, California Gooseberry, Ribes sanguineum var. glutinosum, pink-flowering currant, Ribes malvaceum, chaparral currant, Ribes aureum var. gracillimum, golden currant – and others.

Trichostema lanatum, woolly bluecurls – beautiful but requires good drainage and resents summer water.

Lavatera assurgentiflora, tree mallow – grows fast and blooms nearly constantly – gophers may kill it.

Penstemon species – tall ones or red ones; Penstemon spectabilis is an easy one, consider others.

Lonicera involucrata var. ledebourii, twinberry honeysuckle – will grow well in the watered garden.

Mimulus aurantiacus, bush monkeyflower – this and related species draw hummingbirds.

Galvezia speciosa, bush snapdragon – various forms, easily grown natives of the California islands.

Isomeris arborea, bladderpod – a desert shrub that is appropriate for planting in a hot dry spot.

Arctostaphylos species – manzanitas. ‘Howard McMinn’ is practically a cast-iron plant locally.

Silene laciniata, Indian pink – snail bait but great as a hanging plant.

Lobelia cardinalis, cardinal flower – likes it wet, maybe for a pond margin.

Satureja mimuloides, wild savory, a little known but easy-to-grow native perennial of somewhat moist places.

Monardella macrantha, choice red-flowering perennial.

Aquilegia and Delphinium and Lilium species – native columbines, delphiniums and lilies.

Salvia spathacea, hummingbird sage – a staple of the wildlife habitat garden.

Aesculus californica, California buckeye, and Arbutus menziesii, Pacific madrone – the best trees!

A bare twig for a perch for the hummingbirds to hawk insects from is a useful habitat feature – placed where you easily watch them!


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