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Master Naturalists: Hummer fall migration spurs ideas for improving habitat

Sept. 15, 2011 at 4:15 a.m.

A young ruby-throated or black-chinned hummingbird reacts to drive away a competitor for its feeder during an evening feeding session.  Only the top of the competitor's head can be seen at the left of the photo.

By Paul and Mary MeredithPennsylvania's winter months gave us sailors' time to prepare for next year's sailing. 2011's hummingbird off-season has offered us hummer fans opportunities for planning better ways to offer hummers food, water and shelter they need. Terrible weather encourages planning.

CURRENT HUMMER HABITAT

Our backyard has buffalo grass in the center - in an open area surrounded by trees and shrubs - something hummers like. Our few, large trees grow along the fence. Different-sized, mostly native shrubs are intermingled under and inside them.

Along our house's back wall are a sandpaper tree/anacua, a raised deck with a "slatted" roof, then a large coral bean plant/tree "draped" over our 1,500 gallon rainwater-collection tank (about 6 feet tall). This year, hummers have utilized our sandpaper tree/anacua extensively. About 18 feet tall, close to several feeders and a water source, with dense foliage, it provides them shady shelter from this year's heat, and a hiding place, and even potential nesting locations (if they're interested).

We have enough feeders out to provide fresh sugar water (nectar). They're cleaned and refilled daily with homemade sugar water. Our hummers' water source is our wildlife dripper, under the feeders. It's supplied by the system that harvests our air conditioner's condensate. It's such fun to watch them bathe and preen with that water. The drip overflow gently waters the grass.

WHY CHANGE?

So, our hummer habitat isn't super-complex. But it can be too demanding for the folks who water our plants, etc., when we're away. That's one reason we're planning to add some more potted plants on the deck, to increase the native plants available for the little guys. We already have some potted plants there, ones we're protecting from extreme weather (plus some we haven't gotten in the ground yet). None were selected for their contributions to a hummer habitat.

PLANTS TO COME

New-plant candidates will be Texas-tough. Some red-flowered, some with tubular or trumpet-shaped blooms, some on tall stems. Probably more of some we've already had elsewhere in our yard, available to hummers. We'll use as many natives as possible.

One challenge for us over the years - no matter which part of the country we were living in - has been finding healthy, available supplies of natives. If we cannot find natives, we'll seek adapted, non-invasive plants.

We'll try to overlap their blooming times. Some years, we've had resident - over-wintering - hummers. They also need a supportive habitat, sometimes even more than our migrating hummers. Offering residents nectar-producing blooms year-round is a real challenge.

ANOTHER CONSIDERATION

Our revised habitat will have to be easy for our helpers to take care of during our absences. Another challenge is what to do with the air-conditioner condensate that won't fit in the storage capacity we currently have. Paul installed an improvement this week - a 40-gallon barrel to take the 32-gallon barrel's overflow. Of course, there will be more - so long as we're good at water-collecting.

Paul and Mary Meredith are master naturalists. Contact them at paulmary0211@sbcglobal.net.

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