Hummingbirds in your backyard

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A workshop Saturday at Red Orchard Park will share expert’s tips on how to attract and help the fleet flying birds.

By Ashley Wilkins

Birdwatchers, gardeners and backyard enthusiasts are busy filling their red plastic feeders with sugar water as summer approaches in hopes of attracting a large selection of the swift, speedy, allusive hummingbird.

The species include the smallest bird in the world – the bee hummingbird – and they can fly up to 30 miles per hour. When diving, their wings can flap 200 times per second, and they can travel at over 60 miles per hour.

Hummingbirds hover, fly sideways, backwards and have even been known to go upside-down.

And it does all this on a heavy dose of sugar water or nectar from plants.

And if you’d like one of these remarkable birds to fly into your yard, you might want to visit the Miller Outdoor Education Center at Red Orchard Park this weekend to learn some tips and tricks from the professionals.

“I believe this is the first workshop of this kind,” said Jerry Scrogham, the volunteer coordinator for Shelby County Parks and Recreation.

On Saturday at 11:00 a.m., Joan Brown and Jackie Irwin, Miller center educators, will present a workshop on attracting hummingbirds.

Brown is a volunteer at the center and a retired conservation and education officer with Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources.  Her yard, which is certified as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat through the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and the National Wildlife Federation certification program, attracts hummingbirds, butterflies and an abundance of other wildlife.

Irwin, also a volunteer at the center, owns a farm in Shelby County, and as a beekeeper, Irwin possesses background knowledge of pollination.

During the one-hour class, Brown and Irwin will teach attendees how to select the proper feeders, fix the proper feeding solutions and share what plants will attract the tiny birds.  They will also share information about hummingbird nests, and their migration patterns.  Attendees also can expect to learn what tips and hints to keep squirrels and ants out of those feeders, and how to clean the feeders.

Brown cleared one myth right away. “You do not need the red dye,” she said, explaining that the feeder should be red, but the food color is not important and could actually be unhealthy for the birds.

And there will be more for those who want to do more than just attract the birds

“I will be handing out information for a really neat website where you can watch the migration of hummingbirds,” she said.

The website, provided by the National Audubon Society, follows the migration of various hummingbird species, starting in the spring.

The Ruby-throated hummingbird is the most common hummingbird species to this area and can be seen as early as April, Brown said. The birds can hang around as late as the beginning of November, so Brown suggests leaving the feeders up until it begins to freeze outside.

“Many people want to take down their feeders at the end of summer, thinking the birds won’t leave,” Brown said.

But as they are traveling they depend on that food for their energy.

While hanging feeders and providing specific plants in your yard may attract hummingbirds and provide a beautiful view, it is also good for the survival of the species.

Hummingbirds must eat every 10 to 15 minutes and visit 1,000-2,000 flowers per day, according to the National Audubon Society.

Unfortunately, humans and weather are playing a destructive role on the hummingbird’s habitats.  Creating a hummingbird sanctuary in your backyard may very well play a vital role in the survival of the species.

For more information about the workshop, contact Shelby County Parks at 633-5059.


To attract hummingbirds, Brown suggests planting the following flowers:

  • Cardinal Flower
  • Red Columbine
  • Trumpet Honeysuckle
  • Passion Flower
  • Any red, tubular flower

Common hummingbird misunderstandings:

  • Only the male Ruby-throated hummingbird possesses a red throat.
  • Hummingbird food does not have to be dyed red. Just use a red feeder.
  • Hummingbirds eat insects for protein.
  • Hummingbirds will not become addicted to a feeder filled with nectar; they will leave when they need to.
  • Wait until freezing becomes a problem before you remove your feeder. Hummingbird’s migrate through the area as late as November and will need food during their long journey.
  • It is a myth that hummingbirds migrate on the backs of other birds.
  • Hummingbirds do not migrate in flocks
  • Hummingbirds do not suck nectar through their beaks like a straw, they lap it with their tongues.
  • Hummingbirds are attracted to red, but will eat from any nectar-producing flower, regardless of its color.
  • Hummingbirds use their feet to perch, but they do not walk on them.
  • You should never fill your feeder with honey as it will ferment rapidly and is toxic to the birds.
  • Artificial sweeteners offer no nutritional value to the hummingbird and should never be used in a feeder.