Ask the Experts
Birds & Blooms|June/July 2022
Solving hummingbird mysteries, plant problems and much more.
Kimberly and Kenn Kaufman, Melinda Myers

EASY ID

Tell male lucifers apart from other hummingbirds by a curved bill and purple neck feathers.

Q Why is the lucifer hummingbird named after the devil?

Mike Froio ROME, NEW YORK

Kenn and Kimberly: At first glance it seems shocking. You might wonder what this little bird did to deserve such a name. But the British scientist William Swainson probably wasn't thinking of the devil when he named this bird in 1827. The word lucifer has had various meanings. For example, in ancient Rome, it was the name given to the planet Venus when it appeared in the morning sky. That was appropriate, because lucifer is Latin for "light-bearer" or "light-bringer." Swainson probably chose the name after seeing how light reflected from the brilliant purple throat of the male lucifer hummingbird.

Q This plant was labeled as dogwood. What is it actually? vincent Drexler CANAL FULTON, OHIO

Melinda: The plant is a type of dogwood. But it's not the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) you may have expected. Your shrub is most likely silky dogwood (Cornus amomum), a suckering shrub that grows 6 to 10 feet tall, with small white flowers and purplish stems. Take a closer look at the growth habit, stems and leaves to confirm your plant's identity. Compare these features to detailed descriptions on botanic garden or educational websites.

Q Is fresh watermelon juice a safe snack for hummingbirds? Sonja Batchelor PANAMA CITY, FLORIDA

Kenn and Kimberly: The safest food for hummingbirds, aside from the nectar of native flowers, is sugar water without red dye. Watermelon and other natural juices are likely to ferment or spoil rapidly-we don't recommend them. For the health of the hummingbirds, avoid experimenting with other items. It's easy to make sugar water at home. For the recipe and a complete guide to sugar water, hover your phone's camera here or visit birds and blooms .com/sugarwaterJJ22.

Male ruby-throated hummingbird at coral honeysuckle vine

Q Why do ruby-throated hummingbirds' red feathers appear black at times? Steven Hogan BIGLERVILLE, PENNSYLVANIA

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