Where hummingbirds flock by the dozens
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Our weekly community gardens dispatch will return next week. This week, writer Jeff Spurrier is on the road, filing a slice of garden life from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico:
When Alfredo Garcia-Lucio walks into the backyard to hang up a new feeder, dozens of hummingbirds come around, perching on the branches of the mesquite, eying the new design.
“This is our testing area,” Garcia-Lucio says, ignoring the buzz that fills the air and the occasional near bird-on-bird collision. “They know whatever I hang here is some kind of feeder.”
In San Miguel de Allende’s late-summer rainy season, more than 100 birds of different species frequent Garcia-Lucio’s half-acre, fighting over territory and launching into dramatic vertical acrobatics.
It wasn’t always so busy, says Garcia-Lucio’s partner, Jim McKeever. Fourteen years ago, the couple began developing the line of bird feeders that is the basis for their company, Parasol. The feeders incorporated mini-landscapes below the seed trays -- artistic as well as functional.
The nearby Rio Laja and the reservoir into which it feeds are part of the North American migratory flyway thick with birds -- orioles, cardinals, woodpeckers, even stray pelicans. But the birds didn’t feed at first.
“It took them a while to figure it out,’ McKeever says. “I guess some of them had never been around feeders.”
The pair were working on producing seed feeders in Mexico about the time that they started shopping for a hummingbird feeder to put in their yard for the Rufous, ruby throated, black chinned, violet crowned and broad billed hummers that came by.
McKeever and Garcia-Lucio wanted glass, not plastic -- a container that could stay up year-round and look attractive even when the birds were gone. They found nothing, so they made their own, working with the local glass blowers for which San Miguel is known. Now Parasol has more than 40 models, sold online and at stores such as Armstrong Garden Centers.
“Nobody was making decorative feeders you could give as a gift,” McKeever says. “We just wanted a pretty feeder for ourselves.”
The use of glass instead of plastic has benefits beyond aesthetics. Plastic scratches more easily when it’s cleaned and bacteria grows in the grooves. Because of the density of their hummingbird population, especially during migration, McKeever and Garcia-Lucio change the water twice a week and rinse each container with a strong vinegar solution once a week. They also rinse with a weak bleach solution monthly.
Birds have been an influence for decades. In Denver, where the couple met in the ‘90s, they had about 200 birds in their collection. Today their house here on the outskirts of town is full of avian motifs: birds carved by the front door, birds carved in the stone fireplace, stenciled hummingbirds on the rafters of the house they’re building.
In December, they opened their store, Camino Silvestre, in San Miguel. They are selling the feeders nationally along with birding books, binoculars and ceramics by Guanajuato artist Gorky Gonzalez, who works in avian themes.
Advice? It’s free. If no hummingbirds are coming to your feeder, McKeever suggests temporarily increasing the sugar-water ratio to one-third cup of processed white sugar for every 1 cup water, simmered for two minutes. When you go out of town, put away the feeder, because once birds see it as a dead flower, it’s hard to bring them back.
-- Jeff Spurrier
Garcia-Lucio, left, and McKeever in their garden.
Hummingbirds painted on the rafters of the couple’s new house under construction.
Garcia-Lucio’s nephew, Gael Alessandro Muzzi Segovia, by the garden fountain.