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Galaxy Gardens
Galaxy Gardens

Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability

Hummingbirds seem to exist in a different dimension from the other birds we see on a daily basis. If we take a minute to notice, we can see basic similarities between sparrows, crows, blue jays, cardinals, finches and just about every other kind of bird. But hummingbirds are different. The fact that we can witness them in our own gardens, or even right outside our windows, makes hummers all the more endearing.

Their miniature dimensions make them even more amazing. A ruby-throated hummer, the only kind we see here in NJ and the only one that nests east of the Mississippi, weighs about one ninth of an ounce. Their wingspan is about 4-1/2 inches and their entire body length is just 3-3/4 inches long.

The sight of them darting around the yard is even more impressive when we look at the facts. A hummingbird at rest may breathe four times per second and its heart may beat more that 20 times per second. Add to that the fact it can beat its wings up to 80 times per second. That makes for one amazing little flying machine!

At first glance, a hummingbird may seem delightfully tame. Often they will come astonishingly close, especially if you're near a feeder or nectar filled flower. Think about it from their perspective, though. Humans must seem like incredibly big, slow creatures to them; no wonder they don't see us as threatening.

The female hummingbird is the one who does all the work when it comes nest building or rearing young. First, she will build a cup shaped nest the size of a quarter, made out of tree lichen and plant down and then attach it to crossed tree limbs with spider webbing. That may sound gross to us but to a hummer it's the perfect building material; strong, super sticky, lightweight and able to stretch as the hatchlings grow. When the nest is all ready, the female will lay two, tiny pure white eggs. After incubating for 14 to 16 days, they will hatch. For the next 3 weeks, momma will feed her youngsters by regurgitating nectar and tiny insects directly into their throats with her sword-like bill.

This happens in late June and early July so don't be discouraged if there seems to be less activity at your feeders during this time. Entire new families will be back at your feeders in no time. Make sure to keep them filled with fresh nectar. Hanging them in a shady spot will help to prevent the nectar from fermenting and the buildup of algae inside the feeder. When purchasing a feeder, be sure to select one with "bee guards". This will prevent ants and yellow jackets from stealing the nectar; only hummingbirds will be able to reach the nectar through these mesh covers.

If gardening to attract these amazing little birds is on your "to do" list, follow these steps to get started. Soon enough, you'll be admiring these fascinating fliers right in your own backyard! Start with red flowers. To hummers, it's as if you put out a neon "McDonalds" sign along a lonely stretch of highway. Scientists believe that hummingbirds have learned through experience that red flowers contain the most nectar.

Tube shaped flowers provide the most nectar at the base of their blooms which hummers can easily reach, while bees and other nectar loving insects cannot. Many flowers that hummingbirds flock to have no scent and with good reason. Sweet-smelling flowers attract bees. Hummingbirds, like most birds, have a poor sense of smell and rely on vision to find food. So hummingbirds get odor-free flowers largely to themselves!

Most importantly, aim for continuous blooms. Perennials and flowering trees are excellent additions in a hummingbird garden, but plan carefully before you plant. Adding annuals will ensure long-blooming flowers that immediately produce nectar, from the time the migratory hummingbirds return north from their tropical winter grounds, until they leave in the fall.