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Hummingbirds featured topic at plant show, sale

By Staff, 04/15/19 7:13 AM

PRESCOTT  – Rain failed to deter visitors to the 11th Annual Master Gardener’s Plant Show and Sale Saturday.

The event was held in the Stokes Center at Central Baptist and featured Tana Beasley as a keynote speaker on the topic of hummingbirds. However, before the seminar, patrons visited the plant show and stocked up on their favorites, taking them to their vehicles between showers.

Vendors plied their wares inside the center, offering an array of items, including dish towels, honey, garden tools, handmade knives and birdhouses. A silent auction was held for the centerpieces on the tables.

It was pointed out this is primarily the only fundraiser held by the Nevada County Master Gardeners and all proceeds are used for community projects, which include landscaping around the Nevada County Courthouse, Prescott Elementary School and Nevada County Library.

Beasley said hummingbirds are a migratory species and are under federal protection. The birds migrate from Mexico to Canada annually and stop in Arkansas, where the ruby throated hummingbird is the most common variety seen. She told the packed house anyone working with the birds must have a federal permit, which allows them to catch and tag the birds. The tags are a special aluminum alloy with a letter and five numbers.

According to Beasley, the birds winter in Mexico and fly non-stop to America, an 18-20 hour flight. When they arrive in the U.S. the first thing they do is look for food as they have to eat their bodyweight and more daily. She pointed out hummingbirds are only found in the New World, not in Europe or Asia.

Hummingbirds, she said, like trumpet-shaped flowers and prefer the color red, which they can see from approximately three-fourths of a mile away. Beasley told the audience there are more than 340 species of hummingbird, but only 15-18 species have been sighted in the U.S.

These, she added, are the only birds that can hover. This is possible because of the configuration of their shoulders which allows their wings to move in a figure 8. Hummingbirds like plants such as the red buckeye, coral honeysuckle, anything in the Salvia family and mimosa trees, which are used for nesting.

Hummingbirds don’t have to land to eat, but hover above the flower or feeder. “Nectar” can be made, Beasley said, by using four parts of water to one part of regular table sugar. She told the audience no other form of sweetener should be used because of how the birds absorb the liquid. The tongues of the birds, she continued, are like sponges. They soak up the nectar, which is squeezed out inside their mouths, doing this 12-15 times a second. Anything but 4:1 sugar water is too thick and they can’t soak up enough to eat. They get protein from eating small insects and love fruit flies.

What makes hummingbirds so important, Beasley said, is they are one of the four major pollinators and 167 plants in the U.S. can only be pollinated by hummingbirds. In South America, though, this figure is between 2,000-4,000 plants. Hummingbirds, she added, go between 1,000 and 2,000 flowers per day to eat, and they love water, using shallow bird baths to keep clean as nectar is sticky.

Tagging, she said, is important because it shows hummingbirds tend to return to the same areas annually, and shows how long they live. One was found to be 12-years-old. Male birds have the most pronounced plumage as this is how they attract mates. But once mating is done, the female chases off the male to prevent predators from hanging around.

According to Beasley, 80 percent of the eggs laid don’t make it to maturity, and female hummingbirds lay an average of four eggs per year.

These tiny creatures have a lot of enemies in the animal world. Beasley said basically anything larger than them is an enemy.