Wednesday, February 21st, 2024
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A Backyard How-To: Butterflies and Birds

What does it take to attract butterflies and hummingbirds to our backyards?

One of the greatest times of year to enjoy nature is the summer. There is nothing prettier than observing the birds in the air, the squirrels in the trees and butterflies in the flowers than summertime. It’s one thing to take notice of nature and its wildlife inhabitants, but it’s another to actually attract them to our yards. Dr. Aaron Haines, a professor of biology at Millersville University, took the time to speak about what it takes to attract butterflies and hummingbirds to our backyards this summer to create a remarkable feast for the eyes.

Haines has been a professor at Millersville for seven years. He has always had a fascination with wildlife and their independence, resiliency and ecological roles in nature. His area of study includes ornithology (the study of birds), wildlife ecology and management, mammalogy (the study of mammals) and conservation biology. When asked why he is interested in nature and its wildlife, he explained, “The more we learn about these wild organisms, the more we learn about ourselves as humans, and how best we can progress as human citizens on planet earth.”

In Pennsylvania, the most common type of hummingbirds is the ruby-throated hummingbird. These birds are especially a sight to see when they are around, but how can they be attracted to our yards? Haines explained that plants and habitat are the two main factors for attracting hummingbirds. The top plants to attract them include a Trumpet Creeper, Beebalm or Oswego Tea, Trumpet honeysuckle, Cardinal flower, Spotted jewelweed, Red columbine, Canada lily, Indian Pink, Red Buckeye and Mountain Rosebay or Catawba rhododendron. Having plants ready for hummingbirds during the spring and early summer is important. Putting them in a spot that is exposed to the sun is also a must so they can be easily seen by the hummingbirds and butterflies.

Hummingbirds assist in pollinating different plant species by transferring pollen grains to the plant stigma.

Another fun way to attract hummingbirds to our yards is with a hummingbird feeder. Hummingbird food is made using two simple ingredients, water and sugar. Haines’ directions for making the perfect hummingbird food are as follows:

  • Bring 4 cups of water to a boil
  • Remove from heat
  • Pour water into a large glass mixing bowl
  • Stir in 1 cup of granulated sugar
  • Continue stirring until sugar has completely dissolved and allow sugar-water to cool
  • Place in the feeder
  • Vegetable oil on the strings connecting the feeder can keep out ants
  • Replace the sugar-water every week and clean feeder before putting it back

Now we have a better understanding of how to attract hummingbirds, but what about butterflies? Haines’ advice is to reduce the use of pesticides in our yards. We should also plant brightly colored plants and keep them in the sun, because butterflies like to feed in the sunlight. He also explains that placing large, flat rocks in our yards allow a place for butterflies to sun themselves. You can also create puddling spots as well. A puddling spot is where butterflies hang out in damp sand or mud areas where they drink water and obtain minerals. Puddle spots can be created by pouring some water and a little bit of sand in a dish and placing it in the sun.

There are a number of gardens on campus at MU that contain Milkweed plants for butterflies, specifically the monarch butterfly.

When asked about any upcoming projects, Haines mentioned that his biology students are reviewing policy documents for federally threatened and endangered species to determine what specific threats are causing these species to decline. His students have also been identifying effective conservation strategies that recover species and areas of the country that require more conservation efforts. This summer and throughout the fall semester, Haines will assist his students in surveying for rare bat species throughout Pennsylvania to identify what protected areas are home to rare bats. These efforts, he explained, will be done by working with the public through citizen science and public outreach efforts.






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