Nancy L. Newfield has been watching hummingbirds at her Louisiana home and lots of other places since 1975. Nancy lost her amateur status years ago, and now writes and lectures on hummers. She is co-author of Hummingbird Gardens, reviewed elsewhere on this site. Nancy is also a licensed hummingbird bander and a recognized authority on hummingbird distribution, behavior, and taxonomy.
Finding HummersWant to find hummingbirds? Many people will be off on vacation this month, travelling to places as diverse as Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Montreal or the Bay of Fundy, while others will just make a visit to Grandma's house. Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean will draw many with a taste for the exotic and a sense of adventure. Some folks list watching hummers as a goal, but most just want a change of scene, a respite from their workaday world. Nevertheless, July is a great month for finding hummingbirds anywhere.
Of course, a visit to the great hummingbird meccas of southeastern Arizona is the thrill of a lifetime, but you can find hummers in lots of other places as well. Learn to look for the same attractions as the birds - flowers, not just any flowers, but hummingbird flowers. And, learn to listen for their quarrelsome voices, too.
On mountain hikes, notice the wildflowers. Those with red blossoms are likely to be good hummer bait. Look for creeks and tiny streams. Plants will be more abundant there and they usually flower profusely with a good water supply. Many flying insects, the kind that hummers eat, need water to breed. Watch for hummers darting through clouds of gnats and midges.
Find little waterfalls, too. Hummingbirds bathe often, either flying through the mist or pressing their bodies into a shallow spot where cool water flows over a flat rock. Sometimes, the birds splash on the surface of leaves wet from the spray.
In more urban areas, visit nature centers, botanical gardens, arboreta, and other parks with floral landscaping. Many have the right flowers even if they aren't specifically trying to attract our favorite birds. Just look for red blossoms: salvias, canna lilies, bee balm, just to name a few.
But, don't expect to dash in and see hummers immediately. Give yourself lots of time. Plan to take it slowly so you can sit a while and savor the moments.
And, here's what you can do to increase your chances of a close encounter. Wear a red shirt, hat, or bandana. Any hummer in the area will zip up to check you out.
Finding hummers in the wild, away from our backyard feeders, is a very pure pleasure indeed. I remember finding a male Allen's Hummingbird fervently displaying above a huge cape honeysuckle at Malibu State Park in southern California. And then, there was a female White-eared Hummingbird probing columbines at Comfort Spring in the Huachuca Mountains of Arizona.
I've been buzzed by Ruby-throats at Mount Vernon, home of George Washington, in Virginia, and again in the Honey Island Swamp near my home in Louisiana. I once watched a cheeky youngster pore over all the flowers at an outdoor wedding in Illinois.
A glamorous Lucifer Hummingbird interrupted his exploration of a patch of penstemons in the rugged Big Bend country of West Texas to test my scarlet shirt for nectar content. His comments cannot be repeated here. And, my life Buff-bellied Hummingbird came to a flowering fountain plant next to the swimming pool at a ramshackled tourist court in Brownsville, Texas. Hummers aren't hard to find if you know how to look - and if you let them find you!
Copyright © 1996
Nancy L. Newfield