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April 17, 2013

Spring takes flight in butterfly, hummingbird gardens

By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer

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A Monarch butterfly perches on a swamp milkweed plant, which is an ideal plant for the monarch to lay eggs on, according to specialist Brenda Dziedzic.

Spring is in the air — and it’s not the only thing. Hummingbirds, butterflies and other fluttering creatures will arrive soon to grace our flowerbeds with their whimsical presence.

It doesn’t take much effort to make a yard an ideal hangout for nectar-loving birds and bugs. According to LuAnn Fardell-Linker, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited on Woodward Avenue in Royal Oak, hummingbirds are a lot like other house guests — the best way to make them comfortable is with a snack.

“The hummingbirds we get in this area, and pretty much in the eastern U.S., is the ruby-throated hummingbird. That’s the only hummingbird that breeds east of the Mississippi,” said Fardell-Linker, who said that orioles will likely be arriving in local gardens soon, too. “They usually arrive around the 15th of April. The male scouts leave around two weeks before the others to establish feeding grounds.”

A good, hearty feeding of sweet nectar is exactly what it takes to bring a hummingbirds to the yard for a visit. Fardell-Linker said that softer-style hummingbird feeders filled with a simple solution of four parts water and one part sugar are sure to attract the birds.

“The softer style of feeder has a built-in ant moat. It’s harder for bees to eat out of them, and they’re drip-proof. And a lot of photographers like them because you get clear visibility,” she said, adding that the main source of protein for the birds are spiders and insects, so it’s best to stay away from garden pesticides.

It’s a good idea to add more than one feeder to your yard if you’re hoping to attract hummingbirds, Fardell-Linker said, as the male birds tend to get aggressively competitive with each other over the nectar source. She also recommended that bird-watchers stay away from the red-colored nectar available at many lawn care stores.

“You don’t need red dye in the nectar. There’s a question as to whether it’s good for them,” she said, explaining that hummingbirds are highly attracted to the color red. “Most hummingbird feeders have enough red on them. You’ll have just as good of luck with clear nectar. You can also add plants like fuchsia. Sometimes you can go outside with a red shirt and they’ll buzz your shirt.”

On May 18, butterfly guru Brenda Dziedzic, the co-founder of the Southeast Michigan Butterfly Association, will be at the Faith Lutheran Church Perennial Exchange to talk about how gardeners can attract the winged beauties to their gardens this spring, with the help of a few carefully selected plants.

“The most important thing is to plant the host plant. If the butterflies can lay their eggs and complete the whole metamorphosis in your landscape, you’ll have butterflies,” said Dziedzic. “If you just have nectar sources, they’ll flutter through to get the nectar, but they’ll move on to find a place to lay their eggs.”

She said plants commonly used as host plants include dill, fennel, rue and parsley to attract black swallowtail butterflies, while milkweed attracts monarchs and willow draws red-spotted purple, viceroy and mourning cloak butterflies. Aster can be used as a host plant for pearl crescent butterflies, and it can double as a nectar plant, as well. Wild bergamot, zinnia and ironweed can also be planted to supply the nectar that butterflies need.

It doesn’t end with plants, though. Butterflies need a place to get away from wind, a sunny spot to warm up near and a moist place where they can grab a sip of water. There’s plenty of information on Dziedzic’s website about how to create a butterfly sanctuary. She’s happy to share the advice, since she knows just how much joy butterflies can bring to even the most modest gardens.

“Seeing the butterflies flutter just kind of puts you in a happy place. They’re just so free and beautiful. I think, for most people, it does put a smile on their face,” she said.

For more information on butterflies and specialized gardens, as well as a list of speaking engagements, visit Dziedzic’s website at www.ButterfliesInTheGarden.com.

For more about birds of all kinds, visit www.wbu.com.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at tesshaki@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1095.