BIRD WATCH: When hummingbirds see red, it can create special bird moments

YOU CAN’T HAVE too much red color in your garden.

I don’t mean flowers, even though I do love red flowers.

I’m talking about objects that are colored in red, i.e., handles on gardening tools, watering cans, gardening gloves and gardening hats. The list could go on and on.

It all relates to hummingbirds. They can’t resist red, and this can lead to some special moments when working outdoors.

Readers have shared some interesting stories about curious hummingbirds, and every now and then, the hummers in my yard give me a surprise.

My watering can was responsible for the most recent one.

While watering some newly potted plants, I experienced a repeat of something that happened once before.

I was joined in my watering chore by an inquisitive hummingbird.

It was positive the water spraying out of the red can was something to bathe in.

Having this tiny creature bouncing through the air while trying to approach the falling water was one of those special bird moments.

When they approach so closely, without showing any sign of fear, you feel honored.

Emily Carr (1871-1945) in “Heart of a Peacock” referred to this feeling:

To be honored by the trust of wild things is to have one’s self-esteem hoisted. Condescension from great humans does not pride one as confidence from wild creatures does. When cocked heads and round curious eyes stare at you direct, when winged timidness stays on human level instead of lifting to bird freedom, it raises one’s faith in humanity and in one’s self.”

Red gardening garments often get you some close looks from these tiny creatures.

They think nothing of flying almost in your face to get a good look at what just might turn out to be a giant red flower.

They aren’t easily discouraged and will fly about you, looking at all angles, while trying to determine whether there is nectar anywhere in the picture.

The history of feeding hummingbirds is deeply entwined with their attraction to the color red.

A century ago, a woman in Massachusetts designed what may have been the first hummingbird feeder.

For over a week, she had been observing the hummers feeding in her garden. They were attracted to the red flowers of a trumpet creeper vine growing on a dead tree.

Her experiment involved drawing one of these flowers on a piece of stiff paper that had been fashioned into the tubular shape of a flower. It was painted an orange-red color like the flowers on the vine.

She set a small, open-mouthed vial inside the paper flower and wired the flower into a natural position among the trumpet creeper’s flowers. Little did she know she was making history.

Early commercial hummingbird feeders were small glass containers with a glass tube attached to them.

Their tops were red and the tip on the tube was often painted red. Red food coloring was even added to the syrup mixture.

That is no longer advised. It isn’t needed, and there is evidence it can be harmful to the birds.

Multiple hummingbird generations have been raised since that first experiment. Their attraction to red is well-known. Sometimes we forget how strong that attraction is.

Hold a feeder decked out in red, and if you are patient long enough, you may get a customer feeding so close you can look into each other’s eyes.

A friend showed me this many years ago. I will never forget the thrill of feeling a slight bit of motion when the small creature fed from the glass tube.

As for getting enough red objects in the yard, has anyone seen a bright-red gardening hose?


Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email:

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