Wanted: A thirsty hummingbird to call my own
(published 9-8-05)

Please do me a favor. If you have an extra hummingbird hanging around your yard, send him over to my place.

I’m having a terrific year in terms of yard birds. My annual list is up to 63 species and includes such first-time visitors as yellow-billed cuckoo, northern parula and blue-headed vireo. Those birds stopped by in May. In July, the big surprise was a red-breasted nuthatch—a bird that until this year had never appeared in the summer. Amazingly, though, I still haven’t seen a ruby-throated hummingbird whizzing around the yard.

Hopefully my luck will change this month. September can be great for hummers so be sure to keep your sugar-water feeders clean and full. Consider leaving them out well into autumn, too. In 2002 a ruby-throat visited my yard on Oct. 27! Unfortunately, I’d put away my feeder at least a month earlier.

Hummingbirds sure are fun to watch, and I took full advantage of the opportunity last month when vacationing in Minnesota. The lake resort where we stayed, near Brainerd, had a fabulous garden loaded with the tubular flowers that hummingbirds can’t resist. The birds were enjoying the cardinal flower and bee balm in particular. Now I’m more motivated than ever to do a better job of landscaping our yard for hummingbirds in 2006. Sugar-water should really be viewed as a supplementary food source; red, trumpet-shaped flowers are what the hummers like best.

The volume of advice on how to attract hummingbirds to your yard is astounding. Entire books exist on the subject, which says a lot about how much people cherish these unique birds. The Internet is a great resource too. For interesting facts and answers to all your hummingbird questions, try www.hummingbirds.net.

Although it’s possible to see about 20 kinds of hummingbirds in the United States, only one species, ruby-throated, is common east of the Mississippi River. So if you see a hummingbird around here it’s almost certainly a ruby-throat. But do look carefully because rarities are quite possible. Just last month there was a confirmed sighting of a white-eared hummingbird in Brighton, Mich. That species is normally found on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The most likely vagrant species in the Chicago area is the rufous hummingbird. Several years ago a rufous was discovered at a backyard feeder in Elgin. The very generous homeowner invited birders to come see it for themselves and many jumped at the chance.

My own appreciation of hummingbirds took a big leap three years ago when I birded in southeast Arizona for the first time. At least 15 hummer species call that region home during all or part of the year. My visit was frustratingly brief but I still managed to see seven varieties. The most memorable was a calliope hummingbird, North America’s smallest bird.

Meanwhile, back here in Glen Ellyn, I wait. There’s something very special about hummingbirds, and I’ll be disappointed if one doesn’t stop by for a drink this month. The bar is open.

Mark your calendar: Tri-County State Park in Bartlett will host a two-hour bird hike starting at 8 a.m. on Sept. 24. The event is part of festivities to celebrate the designation of Pratt’s Wayne Woods as an Illinois Important Bird Area. The entrance to Tri-County is on the north side of Stearns Road, west of Route 59. For more information, call (847) 429-4670.

Reiter is a Glen Ellyn, Ill., resident who enjoys birding at home and in the field. You can reach him at jreiter@wordsonbirds.com.

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