Attract hummingbirds to your yard with these gardening tips and tricks from our expert.
By Ann Wied
Waukesha County, Wisconsin
Hummingbirds are among the most popular garden guests you can have—and why not? They assist in pollination (more than 150 kinds of plants rely on them rather than bees), and they’re fascinating to watch, both for their beauty and their personality.
The ruby-throated hummingbird is the most common of the 16 species spotted throughout North America. But depending on where you live, you may see others nesting. Mississippi, for instance, is inhabited or visited by 10 species of these tiny birds, which can fly about 27 mph.
It’s not the flight speed, though, that generates their hum. That’s the result of their rapid wing beats—53 times per second! Since so much of their energy is spent flying, they consume up to twice their body weight in nectar every day, feeding throughout the day—every 5 minutes to an hour.
That means hummingbirds are constantly looking for nectar in one of two places: a flower or a feeder.
They’ll be most apt to become regular visitors to a place that provides a mixture of flowering trees, shrubs and vines, as well as a nectar feeder and a source of water for bathing—birdbath, sprinkler or pond. They’ll want the trees for protection as they nest, perch or rest.
Color is key
When it comes to flowers, think bright red—hummingbirds are drawn to it—as well as to bright pink and orange. Plant them in clusters for even greater visibility.
Also consider shape. Humming-birds seek out tubular blooms, and a typical hummingbird plant has many flowers with open tubular blossoms on the outer edges. This lets the bird feed without getting trapped in the foliage. Planting tubular-flowered plants with overlapping bloom seasons will provide continuous nectar, encouraging the hummingbirds to remain once they visit.
Native wildflowers will be readily recognized and provide the highest-quality nectar. Along with flowering trees and shrubs, they’ll attract another important food source for the hummingbirds: insects. Astonishingly, an adult female hummingbird can consume up to 2,000 insects a day—mosquitoes, fruit flies, small bees and aphids.
Many seed catalogs and nurseries note in their descriptions which plants attract hummingbirds; look also for those described as prolific bloomers to ensure blossoms all summer long.
A feeder will help provide a steady source of nectar and should ensure more hummingbirds in your yard. Here are basic tips to get you started:
- Select a feeder—red, if possible, which is more attractive to hummingbirds and less attractive to insects. Make sure it’s easy to take apart to clean.
- Hang your feeder in a shady site that’s open enough to let the birds fly freely around it.
- Fill with nectar. You can buy an instant nectar mix for hummingbirds. Or make your own sugar-water solution: Combine 1 part sugar to 4 parts water and boil for 30 seconds to prevent fermentation and mold growth. Let cool before filling the feeder.
- Change the nectar every three to four days, unless you have a large number of hummingbirds draining it more often. Clean the feeder with a bottle brush, hot water and a little vinegar every time you change the nectar.