Sunday, May 28, 2006

hummingbird feeder : Mullen: If you build it, they will hum

By Holly Mullen
Tribune Columnist

I dragged the 15-year-old to the crafts store with me on Sunday. We went to the ribbon aisle. I picked out spools of scarlet, DayGlo orange and fuchsia.
"Why are you buying ribbon?" he asked.
"I'm going to tie it to the trees to attract hummingbirds," I said.
"You have gone completely insane?" he asked.
He's right, I have. Twenty minutes later, I stood tiptoed on a patio chair, snipping at the grosgrain with scissors, knotting the fluttering ribbons to cherry tree branches and chanting a little mantra: "Come along little hummers, come along."
A friend gave me my first hummingbird feeder a couple of months ago. He tore a page from Bird Watcher's Digest and left it on my desk. Author Kim Marlsen, a teacher in Delaware, Ohio, contributed a piece to the journal that suggested hanging red ribbons to lure migrating hummers from the heavens for a closer look below. Now I am unflinchingly obsessed with these frenetic little creatures. No turning back.
I am in good company. Scores of sites specific to hummingbirds proliferate on the Internet. You can find anything at any time related to these tiny beauties. There are 16 breeds known to move in North America, according to http://www.hummingbirds .net and there is nothing terribly fancy about feeding them.
Basic white cane sugar dissolved in boiling water in a 1:4 ratio will make the nectar they love while they also feast naturally on trumpet vine, bee balm, hummingbird mint, penstemon and other cone-shaped flowers in the red- and orange-hued family.
Sorry to bore you with encyclopedic recitation of arcane hummingbird facts. But as I wrote in this space almost three weeks ago, I've done my crazed best to attract hummers to my little hanging feeder and hadn't seen a one.
Until that is, on Monday, May 15, at 9:31 a.m. Employing my neophyte hummer identification skills, I spotted what I think was a broad-tailed variety flitting about the feeder. Home alone at the time, I couldn't even share the joy with a piercing cry.

Nevertheless, I sputtered "h-h-h-u-m-m-er!" Then I ran to the dry erase board in the kitchen and recorded my find for anyone who cared.
Bob and Myrtle Dowell care. Bob is a Tribune reader who often calls and updates me on the dearth of hummingbird sightings in his West Valley City yard. "My wife wants to know if you've seen any hummingbirds yet," he always says. "Where are they?"
I did see another one the night before buying those ribbons. It was growing dusky outside. The little bird fluttered to the feeder, buzzed and poked around, then flew to a branch five feet up. It sat there, resting, for what seemed forever. And then it split, straight over the neighbor's roof.
On Monday morning, I called Owen Hogle, owner with his wife Sheri of The Wild Bird Center in Holladay. "Owen," I asked, "what's up with the hummer migration this spring? Where are they all?"
In his trademark patient way, Owen told me to chill. "We've only had about half the hummers we expect to show up," he said.
. Owen says they flew up from Mexico in late April as always. It got cold, so they flew a bit south again. Then it got blazing hot and they cut off to the mountains. "There were 200 counted on the deck at Silver Fork Lodge [in Big Cottonwood Canyon last weekend."
OK, now I get it. What we need is patience. At least more than the garden-variety hummingbird. or 801-257-8610


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