About a week ago, I walked into the living room to be surprised by an unannounced visitor. I wasn’t scared for myself, but was worried for its safety. Buzzing around above me, just missing the blades of the ceiling fan, was a tiny, green hummingbird. I called to my partner, and together we cornered it in a window, where the bird sat down on the ledge. I gently grabbed it in my hands (it felt lighter than a Kleenex), and as I carried it, the bird made the cutest little squeaks. We walked it out to the porch where I let it go, both of us wishing right after that we had filmed the release. We have been doing our best to create an environment that is inviting to bees and birds (especially hummers), but it was very unexpected to find one invite itself into our house.
Unfortunately, in many parts of Colorado, the story of an uninvited visitor could have taken a much darker turn. Many of the things that attract the littlest birds in our state also attract the biggest predator — black bears. Scary stuff. I’m a fairly big guy, but I can’t picture cornering a bear, grabbing it and then carrying it outside.
So, how does someone attract the ’birds but not the bears?
Last summer, we bought a new house, and, to be kind, the yard was a blank canvas. The house had been a rental for seven years, and renters are notorious for not going all-out on landscaping. In rectifying the landscape dilemma, we have put in a series of rock gardens, with one devoted to plants that attract hummingbirds and bees.
Here is what we planted: Red birds in a tree. Foxgloves (both Camelot and Candy Mountain varieties). Hummingbird mint (our favorite, Double Bubble, smells like bubblegum). Bee balm in about three different colors. Salvia. Beardtoungue. A variety of hyssops (anise hyssop smells like black licorice). And penstemons (my favorite is Carolyn’s Hope pink penstemon).
All of them are perennials, so hopefully they will pop up year after year. They are also well suited to Colorado’s climate, although winter watering will help them survive year-round. And a garden gnome or five keep guard.
Hummingbird feeders are still the cheapest and easiest way to attract the birds to your garden, but they are also tempting snacks to black bears. Avoid human/bear conflicts, plant a garden. It’s the safer, and much more beautiful, way to go.
The article and photos are by Wayne D. Lewis. Wayne is the editor and art director of Colorado Outdoors. He is based in Denver.