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A hummingbird haven

Women have helped create a happy place for tiny birds

By Carlienne A. Frisch


A hummingbird fi nds the perfect fl ower as it fl utters around the Hummingbird Garden in Henderson. Contributed photo

Notice a movement in the garden? Perhaps it’s a ruby-throated hummingbird flitting and feeding among the flowers, or one of the many other hummingbird species.


Watching hummingbirds is all in a day’s work for Pat Steckman of Henderson, and Brenda Kotasek of St. Peter. The two women are part of a core of volunteers in the non-profit group Henderson Feathers, whose members tend the Hummingbird Garden in downtown Henderson (209 North Fourth Street).

Pat Steckman of Henderson and Brenda Kotasek of St. Peter stand in front of a hummingbird feeder at the Hummingbird Garden in Henderson. The two have been instrumental in the development of the Hummingbird Garden and the Hummingbird Hurrah event held each summer. Contributed photo

Many volunteers, including students from the Minnesota New Country School (a charter school in Henderson), help with planting, mulching, and cleanup of the garden and the surrounding area. Steckman and Kotasek also take part in organizing the annual Hummingbird Hurrah event.


Kotasek explained that more than two decades ago, students and staff of the school received a grant from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for the planting of native grasses and pollinating plants on a levee that serves as a background for the garden area. Receiving the grant was the impetus for starting the garden.


“In 2019, the prairie was re-seeded with a more diverse mix of seeds, and the management of invasive species was begun,” said Kotasek. “Growing on the levee are 10 native plants that create habitat and food sources for pollinators, as well as preventing erosion.” She explained that the levee provides vegetation and a safe environment for the hummingbirds. The nearby trees offer a nesting area for the birds.



“The hummingbirds nest in the trees, rather than in the garden because they prefer to be higher,” said Steckman. “The trees in the garden do not offer the height that hummingbirds prefer.”


The best time to catch sight of a hummingbird in any garden is early in the day or in the evening. “Hummingbirds eat in the morning and evening, so there’s not much activity in the mid-day heat,” said Kotasek. “The ruby-throated hummingbirds are seen most frequently from mid-July to late August. They are the only hummingbirds that live and nest in Minnesota, but six other hummingbird species may pass through during migration.”


People hoping to see hummingbirds in their garden should plant red or purple flowers. Kotasek explained, “Hummingbirds like red and purple flowers, and they eat mosquitoes and fruit flies. The birds are not afraid of humans. They sometimes sit on my hand when I’m setting out nectar in their feeders.”


Hummingbirds, which can fly backwards, are the smallest of birds, only three to five inches in length. Kotasek described their nesting activities thus.


“The males come first, in early May,” she said, “to establish their territory, and the females follow. The male hummingbird flies up and down in large half circles to attract a female. Then the females nest the first week of June. Usually there are two or three babies in a nest that is about the size of a one-dollar coin. (The eggs are smaller than a jellybean.) When the birds are ready to leave the nest, the male starts the mating dance again, but there’s seldom a second hatching because the baby birds would be too small to make the trip to South America, especially Costa Rica, for the winter.”


Beginning in May, some of the hummingbirds return to Henderson, while others are newcomers.


“In 2019, a federally-licensed bird bander banded 14 of the hummingbirds, and we learned that two of them were birds he had banded in the garden two years earlier,” said Kotasek. “They probably had been back the previous year also.”


Kotasek, who is active with the non-profit organization Henderson Feathers, is an organizer of the Hummingbird Hurrah, an annual event in Henderson aimed at providing fun and educational programs and activities for adults, as well as for children. One could say she’s “for the birds.”



Because of its popularity in previous years, one of the activities scheduled at this year’s Hummingbird Hurrah is the banding of several birds by federally-licensed hummingbird bander Don Mitchell. The morning of the event, Mitchell will weigh and measure five to 17 birds (however many may fly into his trap) before banding them and releasing them, one at a time. When a child in the audience seems interested, Mitchell will offer to let the child hold the bird and release it. In the afternoon, the birds seek a cooler environment and less activity in the nearby trees, so are not available for banding.


The Hummingbird Garden is open to the public with no admission cost. For more information, go to www.hendersonhummingbird.com or see Henderson Hummingbird Hurrah on Facebook. Also look for mention of the event in the recent June/July issue of the magazine “Birds and Blooms.”



 

Did you know?

Hummingbirds are found only in the Western Hemisphere, with the greatest number of species living in the tropical and sub-tropical regions of South America. Several hummingbird species breed in the United States, however, even as far north as Southern Alaska. The “hovering” actions of hummingbirds allows them to feed on the nectar of flowers, which provides a source of energy for their active life. They also catch and eat insects. Hummingbirds are the only known New World birds that pollinate flowers. Certain species of plants that depend on certain species of hummingbirds for pollination, commonly have red, odorless flowers—with the color red being attractive to hummingbirds. The birds can fly slowly or rapidly forward, backward, up, down, or even sideways. This highly evolved competence in aerial maneuvering has enabled them to be adroit at flower feeding. Source: Encyclopedia Americana

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