Up to this point we've had pretty soggy summer. Fields are flooded, but our garden is rich and colorful. Many birds have taken advantage of the good population of insects due to all the standing water, and with that good population of insects has come a second brood with a few different species of birds. The birds have been busier with their young, more than past seasons, but with the rare peaks of sun this year, all the birds have taken short breaks, and full advantage of that warmth.
Northern flicker, Yellow Rumped Warbler, Robin, House Wren. July 20, 2020. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta Canada.
There is no greater time than Spring, and no better place than in the garden. Life is moving from underground, throughout the garden and trees, and throughout the skies. We've had many birds start their nesting process in our garden, and here are a couple, but it wasn't that simple. There were many options, but the House Wrens and the Tree Swallows both decided on the same house.
Then the squabbles began. "I found it first!" "No, I found it before you!"
The Tree Swallows didn't have a choice. The larger entrance would accommodate the Tree Swallows, but the Wrens had many other houses to choose from with the smaller entrance. So far the Tree Swallows are winning. They're bringing straw to build the nest, but still having disagreements on nest design while the House Wrens have decided on a secluded economy suite nearby in the forest.
Sometimes you've got to go to extreme measures to get the stick through the window. Spin, Twist and rotate at high speeds, and eventually it'll get in there.
It's early in the season and we've begun our cleanup and setup for the new season. The garden still looks quite plain but with little glimpses of life just starting to emerge from the ground. Meanwhile, the Spring air is alive with birds of every type. There isn't a moment throughout the day where you can't hear the sounds of Cranes and Geese of all sorts livening up the skies. It's the time of year when you see and hear the joy within every bird, as they demonstrate their excitement to be alive with their very best song.
While the skies produce a steady flow of life, little squeaks and chirps from the forests are starting to emerge. A few birds have started to nest while many others are yet to arrive.
This season is short but filled with beauty, so be sure to soak it in while it's here. It's these things in life that make it so rewarding. Add features to your garden that are sure to attract a population of songbirds, and yes, hummingbirds too. Provide food that's sure to keep them returning, and spend more time in the garden, listening, observing and enjoying the simple things.
Snow geese, Song Sparrow and Robin images. May 2, 2020. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
I've come to the time where I need to start one of my favorite hummingbird flowers. My season is quite late compared to most, but it's definitely not too late for those in the south to start Zinnias. The main reason I plant these flowers are for the arrival of the young hummingbirds when they start leaving the nest. I consider these flowers essential for any hummingbird garden. These plants produce large bright targets on the tops of tall stems, and are a wonderful choice for attracting young hummingbirds.
Here are a few steps to get these flowers going. For those who don't have frosts or temperatures dipping below 5C(42F), you can direct plant the seeds in the ground, keep them moist until they germinate, and watch them grow. But for those of us who are expecting temperatures below 5 Celsius for the next month, here is the way to get them started.
1. You can purchase a seed mix which can be costly, or you can purchase a bag of peat moss and a bag of perlite, I mix 75 to 80% Peat moss with 20 to 25% perlite. Stir it together thoroughly.
2. Prepare your pots. I like to lay plastic garbage bags under the pots so any excess water doesn't end up leaking out on the floor.
3. Fill each of the pots to within half an inch of the top of each pot, filling them loosely, and not packed. Give them a good dose of water at this point. Once the soil is wet, scatter your seeds on the top. If you have a huge supply of seeds, you can be generous with spreading them, as once they germinate you can pluck out the weakest ones, leaving three or four in each pot.
Otherwise, Lay four seeds equally spaced in each pot. Lay another quarter inch of soil over top of all of the seeds.
4. Spread out the soil evenly, water thoroughly again, and push any seeds back in the soil that are exposed.
Keep the soil moist, and within 5 to 7 days you'll start to see them emerge. To avoid shock of transplanting later, place the seedlings out in full sun as often as you can right from germination, making sure they are NOT exposed to temperatures below 5 Celsius(42F). Bring them indoors during the cooler temperatures, but making sure they are getting as much light as possible. Place them outside again as soon as temperatures are above five Celsius. From seedlings, don't worry about wind, as the earlier they are exposed to the elements the hardier they will become. Once they germinate, water as needed, JUST KEEPING THE SOIL slightly moist, and even better watering the tray and allowing the soil to moisten from the bottom up. Zinnias don't like to be sitting in a wet soil. If they are too wet, the tips of the leaves will start to brown and rot.
If you follow these instructions, you should have a very successful summer of Zinnias, and the young hummingbirds will certainly appreciate them.
Seed collecting can be extremely rewarding, not only because of the cost of purchasing, but because of the availability of them at any time of year. It can also be impossible to gather certain seeds because of their lack of availability. Often times stores bring out seeds well after the start time needed for those who begin months in advance, indoors. Some seeds require 16 weeks before planting outdoors, and many stores bring them in only 4 - 6 weeks before the Spring season. I find it incredibly rewarding to complete the process from beginning to end. Here are some seeds and tips on gathering seeds. Click on the images to get a better view up close.
I have many sizes of containers because of the quantity and size that some produce.
The blue tub of Nasturtium seeds are always some of the easiest to pick. The flowers located in a more sunny location will die back sooner, but also create more seeds. Then I have the pail of Scarlet runner pods, which are just very large beans. Both of these seeds will sit and dry for at least 3 months. Then the crispy pods can be peeled apart very easy to get the Scarlet Runner seeds. Not much has to be done with Nasturtium seeds, other than letting them dry. Both of these seeds can be direct planted in the ground 10 days before the last expected frost. They are fast growers and will produce flowers within 60 days.
Here we have Zinnias. Some produce a large cone or eye in the center of the flower, and some have no eye or cone. Both the same plant but the one with the cone attracts more bees and hummingbirds. This means more pollination and more viable seeds at collecting time. You need to understand Zinnias to know how to collect seeds in abundance, and to gather ONLY VIABLE seeds. Take a look at the seeds picked and know which ones will grow and which won't. The needle point is directed towards the enlarged belly of the seed. That one is darker green and will definitely be viable. If they don't have that swollen belly, they are worthless. Every Zinnia petal will produce a seed(viable or not) at the end of the petal. Then the cone can be ripped apart when quite mature and additional seeds can be separated from that cone. Again, look for the swollen belly on these as well. If they are flat or too white in color, they are also useless. These flowers cross pollinate all the time, so you will not always get a flower true to the type of seed you picked. You will increase your odds though by picking the colors preferred.
Here we have Calibrachoa (Million Bells). These are incredibly difficult to get a hold of, and if you do, they are incredibly expensive. The store bought Million Bells typically do not produce many pods, so if you locate some, they are worth their weight in gold. I also find that once you grow them from seed, they will also produce a greater abundance of pods in the future. They also do not come true to type that you picked. However, they will produce the most incredible colors. When the pods are a solid green, it is a bit too early to pick them. When you start to see darker black spots through the pod, they are ripe enough to pick. You can wait until they crack open, but you will probably lose many of the seeds. In the final image you can see the shell of the one pod that has separated and the seeds are intact. This is difficult to spot. Usually when they split open the seeds start to fall out easily. Once picked, let dry for a few months. They can fall out fairly easily onto a tray when rubbed between your fingers.
These are just a small number that I collect, but ones that are a bit trickier to pick. They are all hummingbird flowers, which is one major reason I continue to collect and plant them each year. I usually collect abut 6 - 8 different ones each year, primarily because of their value to hummingbirds. Here are a couple others to consider:
Delphiniums(zone 2 hardy perennial)
Petunias(very similar to Million Bells)
I hope some of this information is useful to those of you that garden and attract hummingbirds.
The morning was young, and every bird was celebrating life. Songs bellowed out from every corner of the garden, and a few of the recent young squeaked along as they waited for their early offerings. It was in a nearby bush that I heard some scratching and rustling in the dead leaves, and soon to follow I noticed some movement just starting to peak out into the morning. Two young fledgling House Wrens had made an appearance and we're getting restless waiting for some squishy caterpillars. One had pretty much topped up the tank already, but the other one eagerly awaited and chatted up a storm, just letting the parents know it had a bit more room in the belly. As the one moved around and chattered, the other one kept pushing its feathered little body up tight against the other. It no longer had a desire to eat, but snuggle up to tight against the one that just wanted to eat. This went on for a couple minutes. One would move away and chatter, and the other would push up close still missing the time of the nest. And as it goes in the birding world, that scene quickly ended as they scattered into the bushes and continued on their day.
July 12, 2019. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. House Wrens
Here are many Delphiniums that are blooming in my garden. There are SO many colors and variations. There are the shorter plants that have flowers compacted together and then some grow tall with large spaces between the flowers. The color variations are incredible, with a white or black eye. Colors range in every shade of blue and purple, with the occasional white or pink. They are very cold hardy, as they survive temperatures down to the -40's. They like moisture, but are quite drought tolerant. They do best in partial shade, but do well in full sun or full shade. Best of all - HUMMINGBIRDS LOVE THEM! Below is one photo I was able to capture a couple years back of a RARE Rufous in my region, but the Rubies go over the top mad for them year after year! I can't give you any information as to how they grow in very hot climates, but they are rated for zones 3 to 8, and I can tell you from experience, they have survived my zone 2 quite well. They self seed and may produce a wide variation of colors, with about 50 percent coming true to type of the original parent plant. They can grow from 30 inches to 8 feet depending on the variety, and taller ones frequently need staking. They can produce a Delphinium worm which early in the season tries to consume the flower growth at the top of the stalk. If caught early, it won't affect the flowering of that year.
If you are looking for a hummingbird flower to add to your collection, these are definitely on the top of my list.
Over the last decade I've heard repeatedly that Salvia flowers are a hummingbird magnet in many regions across the continent. I've never really tried them because my hummingbird hideaway is in one of the coldest zones where you'll find hummingbirds, zone 1b-2. As a matter of fact many of the perennials listed out there don't have an accurate rating for the climate they'll survive in. This is where I had a lot of difficulty choosing perennials in the past. Many of them didn't include zones that were colder than zone 3. By trial and error I had to plant perennials and then see whether they'd come up the following Spring. I'm quite certain that Salvia plants won't over winter in my region, so I'll have to treat them as an annual. My wife and I looked around at a few greenhouses to see if they had any Salvias worth trying. They were virtually nonexistent, but to my surprise my wife came home one day after work with a Mysty Salvia. It looked like a flower that hummingbirds would love, and from what I've heard from many of my hummingbird friends, Salvias top the list of favorites. From the information provided, it'll grow about 12 - 20 inches, and be perfect in our raised pots.
So we planted the Mysty Salvia in a pot on the deck and it didn't take long for our resident hummingbird to locate it. Not only did he find it, he put it on the top of his list with the Delphiniums. It was in a location where we could monitor the progress, and it certainly did not disappoint. About 10 times a day, Ziggy, our dominant hummingbird, would visit the plant and feed from every single flower that was in bloom. I can tell you this, that if the adult male hummingbirds find a flower worthy of repeat visits, it's a guarantee that there is extreme value in that flower, and that all hummingbirds will love it.
This plant will become a regular in my garden in future seasons. My only question now is how to grow or propagate this plant, whether seed or cuttings. I don't know if this particular variety of salvia produces much for seeds, or if I'll have to take cuttings, and how long they take to go from seed to bloom. I have to treat it as an annual, so it has to bloom the first season because it will not over winter in my climate. If anyone has some helpful information they can share with me, I would love any help I can get. This plant is new to me, and any information would be beneficial.
I just wanted to pass on the brief bit of knowledge I've gained just in the first month of trying out this flower, and a big thanks to all who have suggested Salvias, and for sharing their knowledge on them for hummingbirds. In the future I will pass on any information I've learned, and reveal how successful I am in growing this hummingbird goldmine.
Water is simply the liquid of life. All living things require it, and all living things will remember where they can find it. Birds are no exception. They will visit water sources several times a day for the purpose of drinking and bathing. Water is vital to their survival and therefore a necessary part of any birder's garden. Whether a fountain, pond, mister, or any type of feature, it's a necessary part of a bird's day. In fact the more water features you add to your garden, the more likely you'll attract a wide range of birds, and they will discover the features you created for them.
Over the last couple decades, I've experimented with different types of water features to see what style is the most preferred with songbirds and hummingbirds. Simply put, the bigger the bird, the deeper the water, but every one of them prefers belly deep water or shallower. All birds that aren't your typical water bird have a great fear of water. Before they're comfortable with a water source they want to make sure they can feel the bottom with their feet. They're not like ducks, and they will not float. So when we create a feature for birds, we have to keep this in mind. The range of size in birds in my garden is typically from a hummingbird to a Northern Flicker, which means water depths should vary from 1/8 inch to 2 inches in many locations. Anything deeper and you won't get many birds attempting to bathe in it. Birds will typically touch down with their feet and then lower their bodies into the water, so a 2 inch maximum is more than enough for a bird the size of a Robin or Northern Flicker. For small songbirds, shallow water just over their feet is enough, but there are a few courageous birds that like to swan dive into some deeper water.
When I suggest a perfect backyard bird pond, I don't mean the most beautiful pond imaginable, I mean a pond logically designed for birds. I'll use my small fountain pond as an example. The depth ranges from 8 to 12 inches deep. It's not a deep pond by any means, but it's way too deep for birds to trust and use without some added features. So to attract the birds I had to think like them. I added special features to the pond so the birds would trust it.
1. First of all we added the fountain. Water gently flows over the moss and flat rocks which is a perfect location for small birds to perch, drink and bathe. It's not a fast flow to turn it into a bird water slide, but gentle enough to flow over their feet.
2. Secondly, I placed rocks close to the edge just beneath the surface of the water. If they can see objects just below the surface they'll test them out. Have different sizes of rocks, some breaking the surface and some slightly below. If the rocks are clustered they'll stand on the rocks breaking the surface and examine the others around it.
3. Thirdly, I laid some larger curved branches from one side of the pond to the other. The curve of the branch dips down into the water on one side, and then gradually backup out of the water on the other side. Birds will frequently land on the branches and slowly hop their way down to the depth they prefer.
4. Finally, create areas all around the pond where they can perch and observe all the structures you prepared for them. I left smaller branches attached to the larger ones in the water so birds can perch on them.
Birds love water, and I can tell you they will travel great distances just to get to your garden. Food can be found in many places, but water is harder to come by. I can promise you that if you create water features with many important structures built in, over time you will attract birds like you couldn't imagine. Know that birds are afraid of deep water, and keep that in mind when you create little features. Create many perches, rocks and plants all around and they will search them out and use them. Once they find their favorite perch, you'll start to recognize the same birds returning time after time, and day after day.
When we first got our 3 acre parcel of land in the country it was nothing but a house surrounded by large towering maple trees and lilac bushes. The structure of the land was beautiful but it lacked so much to make it a hummingbird paradise. We had dreams of turning this piece of property into a dreamland for hummingbirds. They were large dreams and we had no idea how much work was ahead of us. When we bought the piece of property there was an agreement that it would be cleaned of all the junk that remained. When it was complete, he asked us if there was one last thing he could do to help. Our request was both a blessing and a curse. We asked if he could till the land that contained nothing but potatoes that had sprouted from the year before. Once tilled it was nothing but clean black soil. It was a clean slate ready for whatever we wanted to plant. Then came the curse. Two weeks later every seed of every kind of weed germinated. It was our worst nightmare. Three quarters of an acre grew faster than you could possibly imagine. If weeds were worth anything we'd be among the richest growers in the world. We spent countless hours weeding with a few hours mixed in of planning our garden. I wanted trails weaving in and out of the entire garden, with access to all areas, and slowly it started to take shape. We soon settled on a plan to only remove weeds when we had plants to fill the space. After 15 years it's still a work in progress, but looks entirely different from what it did at the start. After 15 years I've learned a lot, and here is the advice I would give to anyone about to tackle a project like we did - start with a small central area and work your way outward. This advice leads me to the point of this blog. Start in one small area, with a theme in mind. It doesn't have to be big, it just has to have one central theme. It can be a simple as a 4-foot square area in your garden containing nothing but succulents, then expand from there. Here are a few projects that we worked on over time. Some are just a few hours of work and some are several days, but don't get overwhelmed by the big picture. Plan the details of your immediate project and when you're done you'll feel the gratification. Do one project at a time, and over the years you will produce something worthy of your's and the bird's approval. In all of the projects shown, notice that there is one central theme. We have a fountain with a few antique items to complete that project, an iron drum and a matching iron wheel. A few flowers are planted around it along with some young seedlings that will be fully developed in no time.
In the next project we have a birdhouse. It doesn't seem like much, but within a very short time there will be flowers surrounding it to complete that small space.
Next is a rock path which was done by my wife in about 2 hours. Every flat stone or brick she could find was placed beautifully off our main trail to get to our garden shed. It cost virtually nothing and cleans up a space beautifully. Without this clean path the area would look unruly.
One of the most recent projects started was this little sitting area which is a short distance off the main path. Many lumber yards throw away the garbage tarps that wrap around the lumber. We cut a piece to fit the shape of the short trail leading to a sitting area with two smaller side tables which will contain annuals. The soil was scraped down just a few inches equal to that of the depth of the round stones to form the walkway. That old tarp was laid in with the edges punched into the ground with a shovel. The stones were laid to our satisfaction and then bark was placed between the stones. Perennials such as hostas and a few others were placed along the shape of the trail which are now starting to grow. Beyond those hostas are delphiniums. They are a hummingbird magnet like no other in my region. The delphiniums tower over most of the other perennials, but will surround the little sitting area perfectly. It will only improve on what we had last year with multiple hummingbirds constantly fighting for the nectar. This is our ultimate plan, to create multiple sitting areas around the garden, and then develop local areas condensed richly with flowers that the hummingbirds love. You'll be able to sit in any area of the garden and observe hummingbirds in their feeding, fighting and frenzies. Find out which flowers are big producers in your region of the continent and go heavy on them. Create one theme at a time in each little area, and eventually you will have a garden that no hummingbird will refuse.
Here are a few other small projects within our yard. This is another rock step path that leads down a slight hill to our raised garden of vegetables.
Next is a sitting area, one of my favorites that looks over the entire garden. It's a perfect sitting area located under a towering Maple tree for those hot sunny days.
This is the main path leading down into the garden. It was the start of all projects. It leads in and around all 3 acres of our property. And then we have a few views of the overall look into the garden. Every flower has its season, and as many of these start to fade, loads of others will begin. The ones that perform the best for hummingbirds are the ones we've loaded up on to be blooming just in time for when the young leave the nest.
Much of the year I spend time attracting hummingbirds and other species to my garden. Please take some time to read and enjoy my blog. I hope it inspires you to build and create a beautiful place to attract birds of your own.