Welcome back, hummingbirds | VailDaily.com

Welcome back, hummingbirds

Sarah L. Stewart
file photo by Preston UtleyBroad-tailed hummingbirds like this male are generally the first to arrive to the High Country each spring, announcing their presence with the trilling sound their wings make

The trilling sound announces his presence before the little sprite has even come into view.Diving, pausing, diving again, the male broad-tailed hummingbird sprints through his day, announcing his return to the High Country with the high-pitched vibration of his wings.There may be no surer sign of spring in the mountains than the return of the hummingbirds. The size of a childs palm and weighing less than a quarter of an ounce, the birds follow warmer days north from their winter home in Central America to spend the summer high in the Rockies.When our most endearing second-home owners get here as early as mid-April in the lower elevations theyre famished. By taking advantage of the birds voracious appetite for nectar, locals can enjoy a summer-long show of these tiny daredevils, known to dive-bomb any interloper onto their territory, including people.Theyre great to watch, says Tom Gaylord, director of the Vail Nature Center, who puts hummingbird feeders out at the center each summer. Everyone loves to watch their antics.Though the birds have begun to arrive at higher elevations just within the past week or two, residents in Vail and higher up the hillsides can expect to see more and more hummingbirds as the weather warms. With a few tips from Gaylord and other local hummingbird enthusiasts, youll find drawing them into your own backyard or patio is surprisingly simple.

The secret to making your home a hummingbird haven? Get a feeder, says Linda Vidal, treasurer of the Roaring Fork Audubon Society, which includes Vail.Really and truly thats all you need to do, says Vidal, who has been feeding hummingbirds for the better part of the 43 years shes lived in the Roaring Fork Valley.When selecting a feeder, Vidal recommends buying one that has perches at each of its flower-shaped ports, which gives the birds a chance to rest while theyre tanking up, as she calls it. Perches also give human voyeurs a rare glimpse of a stationary hummingbird, its dainty wings folded to its sides and frenetic energy slowed, for a brief moment.Size is another factor to consider when choosing a feeder. Vidal has four quart-sized feeders around her home, and during peak feeding time in mid-July, the hungry birds will slurp a gallon a day of nectar. But if youre just starting to feed hummingbirds, you may want to buy a smaller feeder, since the nectar must be changed and the feeder rinsed every three or four days to prevent spoiling that can sicken the birds.Vidals favorite brand of feeder is Best-1; Carley Schreiber, merchandise coordinator at The Wildflower Farm in Edwards, prefers Perky Pet. Whatever brand you choose, or if you select a decorative feeder such as the blown glass models sold at The Wildflower Farm, be sure the ports that the birds will drink from are red, which attracts them to the feeder, Vidal says.Feeders of all kinds are big sellers for The Wildflower Farm during the spring and summer, Schreiber says.Its a huge thing, she says. (People) just really get involved with watching them.

Once youve selected your feeder, youll need to fill it with nectar to lure the hummingbirds. Though you can buy bottled, red-tinted nectar at stores, making your own is simple and costs next to nothing.First, a little myth debunking: The nectar doesnt need to be red to attract hummingbirds. In fact, sometimes they dont like the taste of the red food coloring, Schreiber says.Instead, a simple syrup of four parts water to one part sugar (not artificial sweetener or honey), warmed on the stove just until the sugar dissolves, will summon the birds with its sweet scent.Depending where you live, there may only be a handful of birds near your home at this point in the season. The broad-tails are generally the first to arrive, followed by the black-chinned hummingbirds that will fly to elevations below 8,000 feet. Later in the summer, calliope (the smallest bird in North America) and rufous varieties will pass through the area, but wont nest here.Though there arent as many hummingbirds here as there will be later in the summer, now is a good time to establish your yard as a sweet spot. If youre having trouble getting birds to come to the feeder, Schreiber suggests tying a red ribbon near it, which will attract their eye.Putting (the feeder) up right now is great because theres not a whole lot of flowers blooming, Schreiber says. So theyre really looking for nutrients.After all, if youd just flown 2,000 miles on your own two wings, wouldnt you feel deserving of a free meal?The hummingbirds returning to Linda Vidals yard do.They actually come and buzz the areas where I have the feeders to say, Hey, Im here, she says.By mid-summer, hummingbirds will drink from each of the eight ports on Vidals four feeders simultaneously, with others buzzing around awaiting their turn. Some species, like the black-chinned, can eat up to three times their body weight in nectar on cold days, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.They feed frantically in the late afternoons before heading to the trees to roost. There, they slow their heart rate and breathing and enter a state of torpor, or a kind of mini-hibernation, to conserve energy overnight.Its a tiring routine, not just for the birds themselves but for their nectar-providing humans.I get tired of filling the feeders all the time, Vidal says. At the peak of the season, I have to fill them every day.

In addition to cleaning feeders every few days, there are a few other important things to remember if youre going to start feeding hummingbirds.One pertains to some of the birds larger fellow forest critters: bears.Were careful to take (the feeders) in every night because they attract bears as well, Gaylord says.On the opposite end of the size spectrum, ants can also be a problem for hummingbird feeders. Some styles come with a built-in ant moat that can be filled with water, or you can smear a little Vaseline on the hanging hook to keep them from crawling down into the feeder, Gaylord says.If you want to add some color to your yard in addition to hummingbirds, certain flowers can serve the same purpose as a feeder.Schreiber suggests bright, cup-shaped red or blue flowers, such as columbine, foxglove, lupine, delphinium and skyrocket. They can really feed on any sort of flower that has the kind of nutrients theyre looking for, she says.Whether youre planting a garden or putting up a feeder, however, its a good idea to put it within easy viewing distance from your home. Youll be surprised how brave they are, Schreiber says.Sarah L. Stewart can be reached for comment at (970) 748-2982 or sstewart@vailtrail.com.

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