Habitat for Hummingbirds

Summer Phlox, Phlox paniculata

 

 

 

 

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Beech Hollow has hundreds…possibly thousands of “hummingbird feeders” on any given day in the spring and summer: the native plants in our parent stock beds. Mike and I were taking panoramic pictures of the Summer phlox last week.

All the while we were beset by hummingbirds fighting over flower turf. It was like being in the midst of a miniature blue angel flight display, but iridescent and very “chirpy.” At one point a fierce and frantic whirling double helix of squabbling hummingbirds zoomed straight at me, at the last second pulled up squeaking over my head. When it was all over half a minute later, the triumphant female perched on a central flower stalk, surveying her domain, the iridescent “Queen of the Phloxes.”  I have tried getting pictures of these little dynamos…but they are a lot faster than I am!  

Here is a list of some of the Southeast’s native hummingbird plants that these flying jewels love to visit:

Woodland Phlox, Phlox divaricata

Woodland Phlox, Phlox divaricata – hummingbird plant (blooms in April)

Creeping Phlox, Phlox stolonifera –  hummingbird plant (Blooms in April)

Carolina Phlox, Phlox caroliniana – hummingbird plant (Blooms in early June)

Summer Phlox, Phlox paniculata or Phlox glaberrima – hummingbird plant (Blooms from July through September)

Penstemon species, hummingbird and bee plant (Blooms in May)

Downy Skullcap, Scutellaria incana

Veiny Skullcap, Scutellaria nervosa – hummingbird/bee/butterfly plant (Blooms in May)

Downy Skullcap, Scutellaria incana – hummingbird/butterfly and bee plant (Blooms in summer)

Collinsonia species – hummingbird and bee plant (Blooms in summer)

Indian Pink, Spigelia marilandica

Indian Pink, Spigelia marilandica – hummingbird plant (Starts blooming in late May, often reblooms during summer)

Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis – hummingbird plant (Starts blooming in mid summer, continues into early fall)

Scarlet Bergamot, Monarda didyma  – hummingbird plant (Blooms from June – July)

Scarlet Bergamot, Monarda didyma

Pink Beebalm, Monarda fistulosa  – hummingbird/bee/butterfly plant (Blooms from June – July)

Spotted Horsemint, Monarda punctata – hummingbird/bee/butterfly plant (Blooms from late August through the end of September)

Firepink, Silene virginica – hummingbird plant (Blooms in June)

Spotted Horsemint, Monarda punctata

Coral honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens – hummingbird plant (Blooms in April)

Trumpetvine, Campsis radicans – hummingbird plant (Blooms in April)

Canada Lily, Lilium canadensis – hummingbird plant (Blooms in early June)

Micheaux Lily, Lilium micheauxii – hummingbird plant (Blooms in July)

Canada Lily, Lilium canadensis, var editorum

Long and Skinny: Many of the flower on this list have tubular shaped flowers that hummingbirds are known to visit.  Even so, at the farm both Mike and Jeff have seen hummingbirds sipping nectar from Milkweed species and even Silphium, which is in the aster family!  Apparently a hungry hummingbird will get resourceful about finding something to eat.  Have you seen any interesting hummingbird foraging?  To help us all learn more, Audubon has a Citizen Science project about hummingbirds and the flowers that they are observed to feed on, and we have included a link to this project at the end of the blogpost.

Seeing Red: You also might notice that a lot, but not all, hummingbird plants have red flowers.  The most obvious reason to suppose that a hummingbird flower may have evolved to be red is that hummingbirds are attracted to red flowers.  But this does not appear to be the case.  In an article published in the journal Ecology Society of America, the research team found that bees tend to avoid flowers that exhibit bird foraging traits.  Plant species that are bird pollinated tend to have more diluted nectar, a horizontal approach, and may have red coloring.  Says Gegear: “bird flowers” are really “anti-bee flowers.”  The plant is rewarding and encouraging its most effective pollinators, and discouraging pollinators that are not effective for their species.

Added benefits of planting native hummingbird plants: You don’t have to clean or refill them. Fungal and bacterial disease transmission at feeders are worrisome, they can make birds sick. Feeders must be thoroughly cleaned at least twice a week in the warm springs and hot summers of the Southeast.  None of us want to see a sick hummingbird!  You might think of a flower as a “self cleaning” feeder, as many flowers only last a few days before they wilt. Not only that, but many nectars have some antibacterial properties*, which may help keep disease transmission in flowers lower.

Flowers that offer hummingbirds nectar are also serving up a liquid full of white sucrose – sugar – but often nectar also contains other sugars such as hexose, glucose and fructose, depending upon the various pollinators the plant wants to attract.  There is also a host of other nutrients that sugar water doesn’t have:  Flower nectar provides essential and non-essential amino acids, which are the second most prevalent nutrient nectar offers after sugar.  Additionally, the antioxidants and proteins that occur in nectar not only provide nutrient value,  they prevent nectar from souring with bacteria or growing mold or fungus.  Nectar also contains trace amounts of lipids which provide pollinators another important energy source.*
 
Last, but not least, the combination of beautiful flowers visited by beautiful birds and pollinators is a win-win situation for everybody.

Sources:

Nicholson, Susan, Nepi, Massimo, and Pacini, Ettore. Nectaries and Nectar. (Dordrecht: Springer, 2007), 8-10.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute: Birds vs. bees: Study helps explain how flowers evolved to get pollinators to specialize (2017, April 19) retrieved 26 April 2018 from https://phys.org/news/2017-04-birds-bees-evolved- pollinators-specialize.html

Additional Resources:

Audubon article: How to Create a Hummingbird Friendly Yard

Audubon article:  How to keep your hummingbird feeder free of pests

Citizen Science Link:

Audubon Hummingbirds at Home