Hummingbird Sanctuary

It’s been a long dry stretch on the farm (which can happen in August), but the pollinator-friendly flower beds in front of Farmstead Creamery are still in full bloom. Wisconsin native purple bee balm are punctuated by hollyhocks. Black-eyed Susans peak out beneath fluffy hydrangea. Tiger lilies, both peachy and burgundy, spire high, splashing the landscape with flashes of color.
Amidst this festival of flowers, a host of bumble bees buzz in harmony, dancing from one inviting bloom to the next. One visitor from the Cable Natural History museum counted at least 10 different bee species in the garden. Now and then the delicate hummingbird moth flits about, extending coiled proboscis for a sip of nectar. These happy pollinators are so busy taking in the array of flower buffet options that they pay no heed to the spectators strolling about with gelato or lemonade.
But the real show stopper for the spectators at Farmstead hasn’t been the herds of bumble bees or the rare moth. No, all the buzz has been about our annual crop of hummingbirds.
It’s not a wonder, really, when there have at times been 35 of them whirring about the two feeders in the crook of the garden—feeders we have to fill once or twice each day to keep up with the hungry beasties. Buzzing and diving, chirping and flitting, hovering and darting off—all this adds to the dinner-side entertainment Mother Nature offers visitors.
“It’s Laura’s hummingbird crack house!” Judy, a guest at a recent farm-to-table Friday dinner laughed. “They’re everywhere! You’ll have to put a sign up for them.”
The hummingbirds, like other migrators, have their routine. The males show up near Mother’s Day to stake their claims on the territory, followed a couple weeks later by the females. The acrobatics of mating rituals ensue, and the feeders are hopping until, suddenly, it seems like they have all vanished in June. A few short weeks later, though, the feeder is inundated by the half-sized juveniles (all in the coloration of females), sucking down the sugar water like they are sponges with wings.
“I just don’t understand it,” many clients have remarked, “our hummingbirds are always so busy fighting that they never get to drink. Yours are SO calm.”
Maybe it’s the unbleached organic sugar that we use to stock the feeders. Maybe it’s all the great flowers nearby that helps them take turns. Or maybe it’s the energy of the whole farm that offers such a sanctuary for the hummingbirds. Whatever it is, they love it and come back in greater numbers each year.
Whir, whir, whir. I look up from typing this and see a hummingbird eyeing up my reddish outfit. “Are you a flower?” the little one seems to ask, thinks twice about it, then scoots off.
There will be a bit more of the scooting off soon. Already, the parents have left. But the juveniles continue to frequent the feeders, tanking up before the amazingly long flight south to Mexico. How incredible that such tiny creatures know where to go (and make it!) and know how and when to come back, even though their parents are no longer here to show them the way. Do hummingbirds sing their children to sleep at night with songs about how to navigate? Do they buzzingly hum melodies of “Follow the Drinking Gourd”?
Nature is full of amazing creatures. Imagine the tininess of a hummingbird egg! That little egg hatches, grows, flies, migrates south, and migrates back all within the space of one year. Imagine if people grew at that speed! How precious, then, that we get to be part of the hummingbird world during the summering part of their season. How special that we can create in a wooded wilderness a sanctuary for these little birds.
This summer, a whole host of orangey-yellow flowered shrubs have popped up along the little creek that flows between Farmstead Creamery and the historic barnyard. Pendulous like an orchid, speckled, and smaller than the last joint in my pinky finger, they fleck the green wetland-scape with their brilliance. I had to look them up to find out their name—spotted jewel weed or “touch-me-not.” The second name refers to the explosive seed pods. Can you guess the jewel weed’s preferred pollinator? Hummingbirds! How perfect that this flower’s population happens to be so close to our hummingbird hot-spot. Both species are benefitting now.
Have you had a chance to help the hummingbirds before they make their great journey south? Hang a feeder, plant hummingbird-friendly flowers, maintain nearby shelter, and start your own hummingbird sanctuary. If you can’t, then stop by Farmstead to catch a glimpse of the winged crew before they head out shortly before Labor Day. See you down on the farm sometime.