Attracting Hummers To Your Garden

One of the greatest joys of having a flower garden is watching the hummingbirds dart from flower to flower-wings buzzing away while their tiny bodies hover in mid air. Late winter signals the start of the hummingbird migration as they head back to their breeding grounds in the United States and Canada. The males will return first, with the females arriving a few days behind them. Here are some tips for attracting hummers to your garden this year.

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Humming Birds Facts

  • There are 16 species of hummingbirds in the United States and Canada. The Ruby Throated hummingbird is the most common.

  • A hummingbird can beat its wings anywhere from 60 to 200 times per second, fly at speeds of up to 60 mph, and migrate more than 600 miles. In flight, they are capable of maneuvering forwards, backwards, from side-to-side and even stopping in mid flight.

  • The average lifespan of a hummingbird in the wild is 5-6 years.

  • A hummingbirds diet consists primarily of nectar and insects. They lap nectar using long, grooved tongues, which empty into their throat when they constrict their bills.

  • Hummingbirds do not sing true 'songs'. Instead, they communicate using trills and chirps.

  • As the smallest birds in the world, hummingbirds have incredibly fast metabolisms. To stay fueled up, they must consume roughly half their weight in sugar each day.

  • When hummingbirds need to conserve energy they go into a sleep-like state called 'torpor'. Torpor requires 50 times less energy use than a fully awake state, but renders the hummers unable to respond to emergencies. During torpor, their body temperature may drop by as much as 50 degrees and their heart rate slows from 500 beats per minute to 50. It takes approximately 1 hour for a hummingbird 'wake up' from torpor.

  • Hummingbirds have poorly developed feet (they can hardly walk), but they do like to perch.

Plants That Attract Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds play a vital role in garden ecology. Because of their fast metabolism (some say 100 times faster than an elephant) they need to eat constantly. As they fly from to flower to flower to feed, they pollinate the plants. In fact, without the hummingbirds help, some flowers would be incapable of reproducing. Here is a list of flowers and plants that most hummingbirds find irresistible:

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Trees & Shrubs

Abelia, Azalea, Bottle Brush, Butterfly Bush (Buddleia), Cape Honeysuckle, Catoneaster, Hibiscus, Flame Acanthus, Flowering Current, Flowering Quince, Lantana, Lilac, Manzanita, Mimosa, Red Buckeye, Tree Tobacco, Turk's Cap, Weigela.

Vines

Bougainvillea, Coral Honeysuckle, Cypress Vine, Morning Glory, Rosary Vines, Scarlet Runner Bean, Trumpet Creeper, Trumpet Vines.

Flowers

Perennials: Bee Balm (Monarda), Canna, Cardinal Flower, Columbine, Coral Bells, Gladiolus, Four-O-Clocks, Foxglove, Iris, Hosta, Hummingbird Mint (Agastache), Little Cigar, Lupine, Penstemon, Yucca

Annuals: Beard tongue, Firespike, Fuchsia, Impatiens, Jacobiana, Jewelweed, Nasturtium, Petunia, Salvia, Shrimp Plant, Spider Flower, Zinnia.

Hummingbird Feeders

Many gardeners choose to supplement the diets of neighborhood hummingbirds by offering them sweetened water from a feeder. Feeders are widely available at discount stores and garden centers. Most common are the plastic inverted bottle-style feeders and basin feeders. When selecting a feeder, look for one that is easy to clean and maintain, and preferably, one that offers perches. Despite their underdeveloped feet, hummingbirds will gladly take advantage of a chance to rest while they feed (and you'll get some great pictures). Use hot water to rinse the feeder every time you refill it. Periodically, (maybe once a month) soak the feeder for two hours in _ cup bleach and one gallon of water. Rinse well and refill with syrup.

Ideally, feeders should be hung near windows-close enough to watch the action. Cutouts of predatory birds or partially closed vertical blinds will prevent bird strikes on windows, although that seldom seems to be a concern with hummingbirds. It isn't uncommon for hungry hummers to empty feeders quickly so check them daily. Also, be aware that in some areas (parts of the southwest), sugar loving bats also like hummingbird feeders and may empty them overnight. These bats are important pollinators to desert plants, so don't harm them, just bring your feeder indoors for the night.

Recipe for artificial nectar:

  • 1 part ordinary white cane sugar to 4 parts water.

Boiling this syrup is not necessary. Fermentation problems are caused by organisms on the bird's own beaks, not by the water. Unused syrup can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Syrup will spoil quickly in warm weather so discard any unused portions after a few days and refill with fresh syrup.

Do not use Jell-O, honey, brown sugar, or fruit in your feeder. These can harm, and in some cases even kill hummingbirds. Do not use distilled water (it lacks important trace minerals) or red dye to color the water in your feeder (the base of most feeders are colored and if not, hummingbirds are smart enough to figure it out anyway).

About The Author: Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at http://www.sustainable-media.com

March 6, 20080 found this helpful

Ellen a wonderful artical - but I would like to add - The picuter that you used is of a hummer on a Maltese Cross - I have quite a few in my yard and my hummers just love them. and for the feeders, when temps reach over 60 degrees, pathogens tend to multiply rapidly. Also place feeders in open space so that cats cannot hide in wait. Anything RED will attract Hummers, while bees on the other hand don't see red and use fragrance to find flowers. Hummers on average make 5-8 feeding forays per hour, but only for about 30-60 seconds at a time. Often hummers will buzz about defending their territory from other hummingbirds. (I have even been buzzed when getting to close to a feeding space when working in my garden. I just find another place to weed or prune for a while). Feeders are not nutritionally perfect for hummers, but do make a sufficient substitute if their favorite flowers are unavailable. NEVER substitute honey for sugar, as it can transmit a tongue fungus to birds. Saccharine or artificial sweeneners should never be used as they can cause malnutrition in the birds. Use of color additives such as red food coloring is not recommended, as it may prove harmful to the birds over time. If you feeder does not have red on it - a red ribbon tied on will chatch their eye. There is no need to keep feeders completely full, as it is better to keep the mixture fresh and refrigerated, and refill feeders more often.

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March 7, 20080 found this helpful

There's a good website for tracking the northern migration of the Hummers in spring: http://www.hummingbirds.net/map.html

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March 8, 20080 found this helpful

Be selective when you buy your feeders. I bought a couple that when it rains, the rainwater enters the feeder through the tubes and dilutes the nectar. I solved the problem by poking a small hole in the center of a Styrofoam picnic plate and threading the hanger through. The plate acts as an "umbrella".

Our hummingbirds returned a little early last Spring, and the feeders weren't out yet. One morning as I was at my kitchen window, one little bird just flew right up to the glass and peered in at me as if to say, "I'm here and I'm hungry!" Make sure you don't hang your feeder too close to trees. The squirrels will jump onto them and empty them, or the raccoons will knock them down and carry them off into the woods. We also have a red-bellied woodpecker that loves the nectar.

Harlean from Arkansas

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August 7, 20110 found this helpful

Ellen what a wonderful article! I love hummingbirds and enjoy feeding and watching them all summer here in the Colorado foothills. Everybody else that added info thank you too, I can never read to much on what they like and doing my part to keep them healthy at my feeders. Everybody enjoy the rest of your summer. It's always sad for me when they leave for the winter but gives me something to look forward to in the spring. :)

Linda

Bailey, Colorado

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February 9, 20140 found this helpful

I never could attract very many hummingbirds until we moved to AZ. Now we have them all the time. We have two feeders. One has a place for them to perch but the second does not. They much prefer the one where they can rest.

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