Inviting Hummingbirds to Visit

I keep my hummingbird feeder empty, stored in its original box in my garage. It wasn't always this way. For a while I mixed my own nectar -- sans the needless red dye -- and dutifully hung the feeder outside my kitchen window. I had more ants than hummingbirds, though, so I had to clean the feeder and change the nectar about every day.

I've since learned there are ways to deter those ants and other pests. But even without the ants, I would have to clean the feeder and add fresh nectar at least once a week to keep the tiny birds safe from harmful pathogens that can quickly develop in feeders left untended. Frankly, it was a pain. Don't get me wrong. Hummingbird feeders can work really well -- as long as they are kept very clean and filled with the sweet stuff for the duration of hummingbird migration periods. Still, I think there is a better, more sustainable way to invite these winged jewels over for a snack.

But first, I confess, my desire to help the hummingbirds isn't really rooted in aesthetics. I do what I can to help them because they really need it. Of the over 300 species of hummingbirds, nearly 10 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Looks like I'll only see photos of some of these threatened birds, but a girl can hope anyway.

That hope manifests itself in the perennial flowering plants that I've selected for the butterflies, my honeybees, and, yes, for the hummingbirds, too. That way they get nectar from more natural sources than, say, a hanging, plastic disc that requires a fair amount of maintenance. (I don't have kids, but I guess one could liken this to breast feeding versus bottle feeding, no?)

Best of all there are scads of suitable plants like salvia, lobelia, columbine, hollyhocks, and coral bells among others that are easy to grow and quite striking -- with or without hummingbirds zooming around them. I've planted varieties that can thrive in my area, and, as my stands of bee balm and butterfly bushes have gotten established, I've seen plenty of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, zipping and darting from the foxglove to the trumpet honeysuckle -- helping themselves with no extra help from me.

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