Wednesday, June 23, 2010


A relatively easy way to bring wildlife to your yard or apartment window is to get a hummingbird feeder. There are many styles of feeders available. Ours hangs from a branch in the middle of our vegetable garden, but you can hang them from plant hangers right outside your windows, as well. You can also get ones that stake into the ground or suction cup to windows if you don't have a place for a hanger. A quick Internet search will reveal the hundreds of options available, but I recommend taking a trip to your local garden center to find one. The folks who work there will likely be knowledgeable about local hummingbirds and will be able to help you choose the feeder that's best for you. If you want a fancy hand-blown glass feeder, you can also find those in local gift shops.

Most experts recommend setting feeders up by mid-May here in New England, so you may not get any visitors if you do it now. You never know, though. I only set ours up last weekend and the steady flow of hummers started a day later. If you live in another part of the country or overseas, the feeding times will likely be different than here. In tropical areas you can feed them year-round. At a year-round feeder in Ecuador, a hummer landed on my finger when I stood very still nearby.

Kids love to watch these tiny birds zip around the yard and dip into the feeders to eat. Once hummers start visiting your feeder, your kids will be able to notice patterns in their feeding times. Challenge them to predict when the birds will come. I snapped my photos yesterday by sitting very quietly around the time when I knew the Ruby Throated Hummingbirds would arrive. Sure enough, minutes later, there they were.

If your kids are also inclined, they could start keeping a nature journal in which they record how many hummers they see, when they see them, how long they stay, what flowers they visit etc. (FYI...Hummers are especially drawn to red, tube-shaped flowers. Planting those in your garden will increase your hummingbird visitors. In our yard, cleome, and later trumpet vines, are the big draw). Artistically inclined kids can do their best to draw them. If the birds move too fast to draw, ask kids to draw the hummers' flight patterns using squiggly or dotted lines. Encourage linguistic learners to write poems or descriptions of the birds. More active kids can emulate the hummers quick movements with their bodies or create a dance that represents their movements. Have a musician on your hands? Have him compose a short song that captures the feeling of the hummers' movements. The possibilities are endless. Break out of the traditional school-like kind of responses and have fun!

By watching closely over a period of time, kids can make their own inferences about hummingbird behavior and then supplement their learning with books or articles. I strongly encourage you to let your children explore, observe, and make inferences before you go to "expert" resources. I am a writer, so I value books tremendously, but this blog focuses on "mucking about" to learn things on your own, first, after all! When you are ready for more information, here are some books you might try:

Do any of you have hummingbird feeders? Where do you live? Have they been active this year? Do you know what species you've been seeing? What strategies have you found work for attracting them to your yard? Do you have a book to recommend? Please share.

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