Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Hummingbirds are among the smallest birds on the planet and are always a delight to encounter in your garden. Here are the secrets to attracting them all season long.
If you’re fascinated by hummingbirds as I am, you probably hang out a feeder or two in the summer to provide them with sugar water. But did you know that hummingbirds are attracted to many flowering landscape plants, particularly those with brightly colored red and scarlet flowers?
Hummingbirds or hummers, as they’re often called, have been sighted in 49 states (all except Hawaii) and 10 Canadian provinces. To attract them to your yard or garden, you’ll need to meet their requirements for food, shelter, and nesting spots.
Hummingbirds love sugar
A hummingbird consumes about half its weight in sugar each day, feeding five to eight times per hour (for up to 1 minute per feeding). In addition to sipping nectar from tubular flowers and feeders, this tiny bird also feeds on insects, tree sap, and juice from some fruits.
Hummers tend to follow a regular route in search of food (called “traplining”) though they are highly inquisitive. When selecting flower varieties, keep in mind that hummers are not attracted to fragrance, but rather color and nectar production. The color red, and to a lesser degree pink, rose, orange, and purple– bright colors that contrast with their backgrounds– are most easily seen by them. In planning a hummingbird garden, you’ll want to select plants with flowers of those colors, using a diversity of annuals and perennials for continuous blooms. Keep in mind that many cultivated hybrids (cultivars) produce much less nectar than their wild cousins or species.
Nix pesticides near hummingbird feeding sites
Check with your local garden center or nursery for recommendations for disease-resistant varieties of these plants as it’s critical that you don’t use pesticides on or near the hummers’ food sources. Not only can sipping nectar from plants that have been sprayed with pesticides sicken or kill the birds, but it also kills the insects that hummingbirds need for protein.
Provide areas for hummingbirds to nest and rest
Females often build their nests on a downward-sloping, lichen-covered limb near or over water though may build in any deciduous or coniferous tree that provides adequate protection from predators such as hawks, Baltimore orioles, and other birds. The nests are only an inch or so long and are made of plant down, bud scales, and lichens, held together with saliva or spider silk. Newborns are about the size of a pea but grow rapidly and will start feeding on nectar in about a month.
Hummers spend nearly 80 percent of their time resting, so you also will want to provide plenty of places to perch. They’ll sit on twigs, leaf stems, fences, and even clotheslines in between searching for food. A favorite place in my yard for hummers is the very top of an upward branch or small tree, even if the branch is dead. They love to bathe and may be attracted to a splashing fountain or even droplets of water on leaves of broad-leaved trees.
Landscape plants to attract hummingbirds all season
- Flowering Quince
- Catawba Rhododendron
Summer blooming annuals
- Cigar Flower (Cuphea)
- Salvia (especially Pineapple and scarlet sages)
- Spider Flower (Cleome)
- Cypress Vine
- Morning Glory
- Scarlet Runner Bean
- Trumpet Creeper
- Japanese Honeysuckle Vine (not recommended as it is invasive in many areas)
Early summer blooming perennials
- Bleeding Hearts
- Cardinal Flower
- Evening Primrose
Summer flowering perennials
- Hollyhocks (biennial)
- Bee Balm
- Tiger Lily
- Coral Bells
- Scarlet Campion (Lychnis)
- Jewelweed (note that this can self sow prolifically)
Finally, if you want to attract these delightful little birds to your yard or garden, wear red! Although there’s no scientific data to support this, it seems that hummingbirds will check out anything red, even you! More on the life of this fascinating and friendly visitor to our summer gardens, including their sounds, can be found at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
This information originally appeared on Perry’s Perennials, Hummingbird Gardens
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