A few years ago, I bought my mom a red horsechestnut tree for Mother’s Day. I am so fond of these trees I bought one for myself. According to the University of Illinois Extension, the red horsechestnut is a cross between a common horsechestnut and red buckeye. They have clusters of deep-throated, reddish-pink flowers borne on a long raceme. They are beautiful, and hummingbirds flock to them when the flowers bloom in May.
I saw my first hummingbird of the year while at my mom’s house. We were all sitting outside and commenting on the many blooms her tree produced this year. I asked if she had seen any hummingbirds when right then one of these tiny green jewels flew from a neighboring tree and began attending to her red horsechestnut. It was a beautiful sight on a beautiful day. Of course, as soon as I got back home I had to see if they were visiting my tree, and indeed they were. What a treat!
While the hummers are coming to your feeders, this is the perfect time to really admire their colors, feathers, size and wingbeats. In Kansas City region, we have the ruby-throated hummingbird. It is amazing to see how hummingbirds can fly so fast, dipping, lunging and racing.
May is, of course, the perfect time to put out hummingbird feeders. Some suggestions:
• You may hear a lot of people say to have your feeders up by May 15, but I’ve always tried to get them up by the first of May to catch the early birds. Some male hummers venture back ahead of the females to get an early start on house hunting. You can also catch hummers who are planning to go farther north than Missouri, so they start earlier.
• Their diet consists of small ants, spiders, gnats and other small insects. Nectar, for them, is more like an energy drink. When you flit around beating your wings 80 times a second, you need some energy!
• While hummingbird nectar formulas are available in many stores, it is really not necessary to purchase some of these high-priced sweet drinks. You can make it for a whole lot less money.
Bring to a boil a mixture that is one part sugar to one parts water. Once it boils and all of the sugar has dissolved, turn it off and let it cool completely. (Do not substitute honey as this can cause a harmful fungus to develop on the bird’s beaks.) Red dye is not necessary; the red stuff at stores is more for your benefit than the birds’.
There is nothing like having hummingbirds visit your yard. You may want to consider putting up a second or even third feeder on different sides of the house. If they’re too close together, the more aggressive bird can still hover around and dominate more than one feeder. Putting them on opposite sides gives the other birds a chance to sip.
If you haven’t done it yet, I encourage you to put out a feeder to enjoy the exquisiteness of these tiny birds. Best of all, plant a red horsechestnut nearby, enjoy the shade and beauty of the tree – and let the aeronautics begin!
Lynn Youngblood, former manager of Burr Oak Woods Nature Center in Blue Springs, can be reached at TheGreenSpace@sbcglobal.net.