How to attract hummingbirds
With the exception of Anna’s Hummingbird which stays year round, our visitors usually arrive by May and depart for warmer, flower-producing weather by October. Males arrive 2 to 3 weeks earlier than females.
There are two ways to attract hummingbirds to your yard—feeders with nectar-like sugar solutions, and naturally with flowers, shrubs and trees that produce blossoms with nectar. A combination of both is recommended: flowering plants for their nectar and insects, and a feeder or two for your viewing pleasure.
The four species of hummingbirds that visit Washington are only 3 to 4 inches long from end to end. Their bodies are no bigger than the end joint of your thumb and they weigh no more than a nickel. Yet they expend more energy for their weight than any other animal in the world. This energy is used mainly for flying and for keeping their tiny, heat-radiating bodies warm.
Hummingbirds can hover, fly straight up and down, sideways, backwards and even upside down. This is possible because their wings rotate from the shoulder instead of the wrist, so they get power from both the downbeat and the upbeat. While their average flight speed is 27 miles per hour, they can travel up to 50 miles per hour, with their wings beating 70-80 times a second.
Although hummingbirds often nest in lower tree branches and bushes, people rarely notice the golf ball-sized nest. The female assumes all nesting duties. She sculpts a cup of plant parts, mosses and lichens held together with spider webs for her nest. In it she lays 2 pea-sized, white eggs and incubates them for 14 to 21 days. Once hatched, she feeds the young ones a rich diet of regurgitated nectar. After about 25 days the youngsters leave the nest to survive on their own.Most hummingbirds eat nectar from flowers for instant energy, and insects for protein to build muscle. Protein meals include aphids, small insects and spiders. Hummingbirds meet their high energy demand by eating more than half their weight in food and drinking up to 8 times their body weight in water every day. To eat and drink, a hummingbird’s tongue is divided at the end into two rolled, muscular halves. These halves act like a double trough to soak up nectar and water, while the brushy tips of the tongue trap insects.
Gardens that support hummingbirds
Hummingbirds are best attracted to nectar-rich plants with bright red, orange or red-orange tubular-shaped blossoms. The brightest red flowers are perhaps the most effective, so you may want to begin with these. The preference is for single-flowered blossoms because they have more nectar than double-flowered ones. By planting hardy trees, shrubs, vines and perennial flowers, you’ll have a more permanent hummingbird garden. Select plants that grow to be 2-feet tall or taller. This gives a more comfortable level to feed at. Birds will also visit hanging potted plants if the right blossoms are available. To supply birds with food throughout spring, summer and early fall, select plants that bloom at different times of the year. A catalog of plants that attract can be obtained at the catalog link.
Select feeders that have red on them somewhere. Feeders with several feeding ports seem to work best. Choose feeders that come apart easily so they can be cleaned thoroughly. Molds and bacteria will spoil your sugar solution after several days of hanging in warm weather. Don’t forget to clean and change the solution in your feeders about every 4 to 5 days. Clean feeders thoroughly with a bottle brush, hot water and a little vinegar to discourage mold (do not use any soap or detergent, please don’t use bleach…how would you react to drinking water diluted with bleach). Don’t hang out more feeders than you have time to clean and maintain. Poorly cleaned feeders are a hazard to the birds’ health. A solution that is no more than 1 part sugar to 4 parts water is recommended. Boil the water, stir in the sugar, and remove the solution from heat. This will retard mold growth. Let the solution cool before filling your feeder.
Place your hummingbird feeder where you can watch it and where it can be easily reached for cleaning and refilling. Shady spots are best for keeping the sugar solution cool, which keeps mold growth down. Since hummers tend to fight over feeders hung close together, placing them far apart or out of sight of each other will attract more birds. I have mine hung under the eave by the back door. If the solution needs to be replaced or the feeder refilled the Anna’s will come to the back door to let me know I have fallen behind in my one important duty. Plant or place nectar producing blossoms near feeders so hummingbirds have both insects and natural nectar for a more balanced diet. Did I say hummingbirds eat aphids? They can be part of your pest control management plan.
Be thoughtful; don’t use insect sprays or repellents to control insects on or around the feeder.