Hummingbirds in your garden are truly like jewels — both beautiful and valuable. They play an important role as pollinators and as insect eaters.
In Southern Oregon, you may spy a few different species. Rufous hummingbirds migrate south for the winter but return in March and April. In some parts of western Oregon, the larger, greener, Anna's hummingbird may actually stay all winter, although they find the Rogue Valley pretty chilly in wintertime. Smaller populations of black-chinned Allen's and calliope hummingbirds are others you might see.
These little fellows weigh about as much as a nickel and need to consume a third to a half of their body weight each day to maintain their high-energy lifestyle. They consume nectar for carbohydrates and insects for protein. You can attract these charmers to your garden by growing nectar-producing flowers, supplementing as necessary with sugar-solution feeders.
There are many flowers that attract hummingbirds, but they also need trees, shrubs and vines for shelter. They are especially attracted to the color red, and it's important to note that they like tubular flowers.
To attract hummers, include some of these in your landscape: columbine, fuchsia, red-flowering currant, coral bells, salvia, penstemon, honeysuckle, hollyhocks, nasturtium, petunia, mandevilla, delphinium, foxglove, gladiolus, flowering crab apple, hawthorn and zinnia.
If you want to ensure that hummingbirds come to visit regularly, you might want to add a hummingbird feeder or two. The sugar solution should contain no more than one part sugar to four parts water, which is the highest sugar concentration of most natural flower nectars. Do not use food coloring in the solution. Most feeders have red decoration of some sort, which is sufficient to attract the birds.
To make the sugar solution, mix 4 cups of water with 1 cup sugar and boil for about a minute to retard fermentation and mold growth. Do not use the microwave, as it breaks down the sugar molecules and can change the nutritional value. Honey is not suggested for use in the feeders, as it encourages fungal growth. Also, do not use artificial sweeteners, as they have no real calories for the birds. If you have solution left over after filling the feeder, store it in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.
Hang the feeder where it can be easily reached for filling and cleaning. Keeping it in the shade will help keep the sugar solution from spoiling. Change the syrup once a week in cool weather, and every four or five days during the heat of summer. Clean the feeder with a little hot water and vinegar each time you fill it.
Birds come to depend on being fed, and this includes hummers, so if you are planning to go on vacation, arrange for someone to feed them while you are gone. Keep feeders filled for your feathered friends through October, which is usually when they migrate south.
If you have not tried attracting hummingbirds to your yard, I hope you will give it a try. They are lovely to look at, but many people don't realize what fun they are to watch. No lovely songs, perhaps, but they are so agile, it's amazing. And they're fearless — often "divebombing" other birds that are much larger.
Coming up: Gail Langellotto, professor of horticulture at Oregon State University in Corvallis, will teach about gardening for pollinators, from 7 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, June 17, at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road in Central Point. The cost is $10; call 541-776-7371 to register.
Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at email@example.com.