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Greenspace: Hummingbirds are back — here’s how to help them

John MolseedMay 26, 2019

Greenspace has dedicated quite a bit of space to tips to help pollinators — mostly of the insect variety. Hummingbirds are just as important pollinators as insects.

In Minnesota, four native plant species — eastern columbine, Indian paintbrush, jewelweed and cardinal flower — rely on hummingbirds for pollination.

Hummingbirds are also just as susceptible to pesticides used on plants.

Nectar feeders are one way to create a haven for those hovering avians. Fill those with a sugar-water mixture of one part sugar, four parts water. Boil the water to suspend the sugar in it.

Hummingbirds metabolize sugar better than humans do, so the mixture provides them with more than empty calories. However, hummingbirds still need a diverse diet and protein when they’re nesting.

That’s where the plants come in.

As with any pollinator-friendly garden, avoid planting anything treated with neonicotinoid pesticides. This class of pesticides, related to nicotine, has had devastating affects on bee and hummingbird populations. The pesticides are generally used to protect crops from pests. However, some nurseries use them on consumer plants and flowers. If you want to create a garden that helps the environment, look for plants that haven’t been treated with neonicotinoids.

Plants that attract hummingbirds and thrive in Minnesota include bee balm, salvia coccinea (known as scarlet sage), trumpet vine and eastern columbine. Those, along with cardinal flower and the other above-mentioned native plants, provide other essential nutrients for the birds.

Hummingbirds prefer tubular flowers. Their long, slender bills are evolved to reach into the long flowers. These plants can be incorporated into a landscape or grown in pots. Incorporating native plants to your landscape beautifies a garden while also benefiting wildlife.

Leaving off insecticides not only prevents unintentionally poisoning your garden guests, but some of the insects pesticides keep away are beneficial to hummingbirds.

Small insects, spiders and their eggs are good sources of protein for nesting hummingbirds. Females will also use spiderwebs as binding material for their nests. Hummingbird nestlings go from egg to flying in just three weeks. The protein that promotes that rapid growth comes from the parents in the form of small insects and soft-bodied spiders.

A bit of work and planning now can pay off for years to come. If your garden attracts hummingbirds this year, chances are the birds will return again next year after wintering south. Biologists say hummingbirds tend to prefer returning to areas where they have nested and fed before. Therefore, the right flowers will keep bringing them back to your backyard buffet.

Just hold the pesticides.

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