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The Las Cruces Bulletin
The warming season finds plenty of color in the desert — the burning tips of the ocotillo, the iridescent carapaces of beetles, and the rainbow flashes of orioles and hummingbirds migrating northward to nest.
Two types of orioles that commonly migrate into Las Cruces for the summer are Bullock’s orioles and Scott’s orioles. The Bullock’s orioles have a bright orange body with black wings and a thin black mask sweeping around the eyes, while Scott’s orioles have a black head and a yellow body. They typically arrive in the area in late March or early April, distinctive with their bright plumage. These oriole species will stay until early August, when they wing back south to winter in Mexico, Central America and the tropics.
Kristi Lane, owner of the local Wild Birds Unlimited, 2001 E. Lohman Ave., Suite 130, recommended placing half an orange, cut side up, out in your yard in order to attract orioles. The bright color and sweet juice will attract the birds. They are also fond of jelly and mealworms. While you can purchase special oriole feeders to hang in your yard, Lane said, you can also take the half of an orange, once the pulp has been eaten out and it has dried, and use it as a cup to fill with jelly for the birds.
Orioles nest in high places, building swinging nests on precarious branches too thin and high for predators. While the nests may seem unsafe, dangling from thin twigs or clinging to blooming yucca stalks, they can withstand the harsh winds of the desert spring. The hanging pouch is made out of thousands of plant fibers, as well as occasional bits of found string.
“You can put out a 4-6 inch piece of string or yarn and the orioles will come collect it and use it to build their nests,” Lane said. “They are engineering masterpieces.”
Orioles are natural predators, clearing your garden of harmful insects. Whether you are a bird-watcher or like a healthy garden, it is good to have an oriole move into the neighborhood. “I watched a female oriole one time eat a tomato worm that was bigger than her head,” Lane said. “She had to chop it up. They are good to help keep the insect population down in your yard.”
Orioles are very susceptible to insecticides, however. Lane recommended at least avoiding broadcast spraying in the yard, which will kill off the oriole’s food supply.
Hummingbirds are another regular traveler in the Land of Enchantment, with many species passing through — such as the Rufous hummingbird, with its annual, 2,000-mile journey — and several that stay and nest through the summer.
Hummingbird nests are difficult to spot. Smaller than a golf ball, a rambled pinch of twig, plant fiber and leaves gummed up with spider silk like a fairy purse, the nest stretches and grows as the hummingbirds go from jellybean eggs to demanding chicks.
You can attract hummingbirds to your yard with a feeder or by planting nectar-producing plants, such as trumpet vine or honeysuckle. Hummingbirds will return to the same places where they fed before, Lane said.
“They’ll remember where you hung your feeder out,” she said. “And when they arrive, if it’s not there, they’ll fly around in that place. I’ve even had them come up to my big window and fly up and down it, like, ‘Hey, I’m here. Get the feeder out.’” If you put out a feeder, Lane said, you should clean it every two to three days during the summer, so the nectar does not become moldy and dangerous for the birds. The nectar is a simple four-to-one ratio of water to sugar, and should not contain any food coloring. The color of the feeder is enough to attract them, Lane said.
“You may start out with just one or two, but eventually, you can end up with a lot of hummingbirds showing up at your house,” she said.
She also recommends leaving the feeders for migratory birds out for two weeks after the last time you see a bird.
“We’ll have stragglers migrating through from the north, and it’s good for them to have a pit stop to refuel and to keep going on their migration,” Lane said. “Having a feeder available with food is not stronger than their urge to migrate. You’re not going to keep them around just by keeping your feeder out.”
She said it is extremely rare for a hummingbird to stay over the winter. If one does stay, the owner of the birdfeeder must be careful that the nectar doesn’t freeze overnight, so the hummingbird will have something to eat first thing in the morning.
The feeders, however, are not the only food supply for hummingbirds or orioles, which are both avid insect hunters. Putting food out for wild birds may help promote successful nesting, which will encourage the birds to return to your yard year after year, eating destructive insects and enlivening the air with flashes of bright color.
“When you are feeding them, it makes it easier for them to spend more time taking care of the babies, feeding the babies, protecting the nest, because they are not out having to hunt food all the time,” Lane said.
For more information about orioles and hummingbirds, as well as other local birds, Lane can be contacted at Wild Birds Unlimited, 5235489. Marissa Bond can be reached at 680-1845 or marissa@lascrucesbulletin. com.