The Beauty of Backyard Birds, Part 2.

Please click on the photos to enlarge and clarify them.

Maybe you’re interested in attracting birds to your yard, but you don’t want to deal with the expense and maintenance of birdhouses, birdfeeders or birdseed. If you fall into this camp, I thought I’d share something that my wife, Lori, is now doing.

Recently, Lori bought some sunflower heads for less than $4 apiece. The sunflower heads are chock-full of seeds. She put them in different places in the yard and, almost instantly, the sunflower heads became de facto birdfeeders.


House Finch with a sunflower seed in its beak.

Now, there are sunflower heads sticking out of the necks of old wine bottles, antique watering cans, and sitting on the patio table.


A watering can with a missing spout is the perfect place to stick a sunflower head.

The sunflower heads attract some of the local seed-eating birds (not all birds are seed-eaters and not all seed-eating birds like sunflower seeds). The oak titmice, house finches, and wrens are most likely to be seen working seeds out of the sunflower heads in our yard. You may have different visitors, depending on the natural habitat surrounding your home.


Oak Titmouse extracting a seed from a sunflower head placed on a birdhouse.

The other day, I looked out the window and saw a turkey standing on the patio table, industriously pecking away at the sunflower head left there. I tried to get a photo, but I had the wrong lens on my camera and by the time I changed it, the turkey was heading out of the yard (he graciously left the sunflower head on the table). The squirrels enjoy pulling seeds out the flower heads, too.

If sunflower heads don’t float your boat, maybe hanging a colorful fuchsia plant or planting flowers and shrubs with long, tubular blossoms is more to your liking. These will bring the hummingbirds into your yard since they love sticking their long beaks into those blossoms to extract the sweet nectar they require.

Flowers like penstemon, salvia, sage, and columbine; vines like morning glory and honeysuckle; and shrubs like azalea and manzanita, will attract hummingbirds. Incidently, hummingbirds prefer native species of plants to imported varieties since they are more apt to find them throughout the area.


Anna’s Hummingbird checking out the Angelonia (Angel Face) in a hanging flower basket.

While it’s said that hummingbirds are drawn to the color red, color doesn’t seem to matter much in our backyard. Hummers will approach any blossom where they can extract nectar, be it blue, white, pink or yellow.


Anna’s Hummingbird snacking on Verbena nectar (note the yellow dusting of pollen at the base of her long beak).

Primarily, hummingbirds eat nectar and insects. Since hummingbirds eat from one-half to twice their body weight in nectar every day in order to fuel their metabolism and rapid flight, they feed a lot, so they’ll visit a flower garden frequently!

Hummingbirds will also be happy to visit a hummingbird feeder, if you hang one. The feeders contain water with a little sugar added. The recommended mixture is four parts water to one part table sugar (stir these together in a pan and bring the mixture to a boil, then remove from the heat and let it completely cool to room temperature before pouring the mixture into the feeder).

People often add red food dye to the mixture to attract the birds, but we don’t. The feeders have red on them already and the food dye can be harmful to the birds’ digestive systems (it also stains their tail feathers). Even without the red dye, the hummingbirds are easily attracted to our feeders.

Most of the hummingbirds in our area are called Anna’s Hummingbirds. The male has a metallic green back and a deep red gorget (neck and throat) and head that glints iridescently in the sun. The female has a green back, but lacks the male’s brilliant color on the gorget and head.


Female Anna’s Hummingbird hovering before a Salvia blossom.

I’m sure you’re dying to know that Anna’s Hummingbird is named for Anna Massena, the Duchess of Rivoli. Remember Anna? Neither do I (she lived in the 19th century). Remember Rivoli? Ditto… (it’s a municipality of 50,000 people, located in northwestern Italy — I looked it up). The bird was named in Anna’s honor by French naturalist Rene Lesson who was enchanted by Anna (the Duchess, not the bird). Ah, Rene… you’re such a romantic.

So, put out a sunflower head (the seeds should last a week or more) or plant some flowering plants, then patiently sit back and enjoy the birds you attract into your yard. It might take a day or three for the birds to become aware of the goodies you’ve introduced into your yard, but once they find them, they’ll return and draw their friends into your yard, too.

Keeping Oakland Beautiful is everybody’s business.

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