A day after a mid-May snowstorm ended, the weather cleared for the Hummingbird Experience festival at the Starsmore Visitor and Nature Center.
The Friends of Cheyenne Canon (FOCC) sponsored the free event from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 11. This is the 26th year of the event, which is always held on a Saturday in early May.
Hummingbirds can be reliably observed at Starsmore from mid-April through September, and throughout the day, hummers zipped through the area, stopping here and there for a drink at the many feeders placed around Starsmore. The staff at Starsmore put the out feeders each morning, then bring them indoors when they close to avoid attracting bears that like to guzzle the sugar water. Starsmore volunteer Margaret Rabel said the center sees its highest volume of hummingbirds in July and August, when babies have fledged from their nests and an influx of migrants are passing through the area.
In addition to hummingbirds, the event featured guest speakers, vendors, live music and a food truck. Curtis Hansen with FOCC coordinated the festival as a “great event to get people out into nature and the canyon,” he said.
Guest speaker Brenda Holmes-Stanciu is a hummingbird expert and has attended the festival for many years. She offered two one-hour programs about the world of hummingbirds:
The local breeding species is the broad-tailed hummingbird. Hummers start migrating early, so in July, calliope and rufous hummingbirds start showing up at Starsmore. These species migrate north up the Pacific Coast and breed in the mountains north of Colorado. After breeding, they filter southward into the Colorado Rockies and along the Front Range. The calliope is the smallest bird in North America. The black-chinned hummingbird breeds on the Western Slope and in southwest Colorado and shows up as a rarity at Starsmore.
Holmes-Stanciu also talked about hummingbird nests, which feature spider-web and lichens for camoflauge in their designs. “As the babies grow, the nest will stretch like a sleeping bag,” she said.
Supplies were available for attendees to make hummingbird feeders from small glass jars. To make the “nectar,” participants were instructed to boil water and add granulated sugar at a ratio of four to one, stirring the sugar until it is completely dissolved and the water is clear. Red food coloring is not necessary, as the color on the feeders will attract the hummers. They were then told to place their feeders in shady areas, as heat will spoil the solution, which can be harmful to the birds. During the hotter summer months, Holmes-Stanciu suggested rinsing the feeder with hot water and replacing the solution every three days.
Live raptors from the Nature and Wildlife Discovery Center in Pueblo were also among the event’s avian attendees. Volunteers led an educational program featuring birds like the great horned owl and the turkey vulture. Local wild bird store Songbird Supplies had a variety of hummingbird feeders for sale and donated a portion of the proceeds to the event. The Pikes Peak Beekeepers Association also hosted an educational table, reminding attendees that bees serve a valuable purpose as flower pollinators; hummingbirds depend on flower nectar as their primary food source.
Hungry guests stopped by the Big Papa’s Grill food truck, and local singer-songwriter John Spengler provided acoustic guitar music. National Charity League painted children’s faces, while other kids took part in a rubber duck race down North Cheyenne Creek. A real mallard duck with her ducklings even showed up to watch the races. Kids mixed bags of bird seed to take home, using black oil sunflower, safflower and millet, which will attract a variety of species.
Starsmore is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., April through October, and is closed on Sundays and Mondays. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, hours extend to seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.