Hummingbirds. Tiny balls of fire that blaze through the air and show off their brilliant colors. Many people enjoy watching the aerial displays of hummingbirds. Others are awed by the ability of hummingbirds to fly backwards. And then you have the people that enjoy watching hummingbirds fight. These little birds will voraciously defend a valuable nectar or sugar source from intruders. Watching hummingbirds jockey for position at a feeder can provide hours of entertainment. Want to create hummingbird habitat in your own yard? This blog will give you some basic tips to enrich your landscape in a way that can attract more hummingbirds by providing them with a valuable buffet of energy sources.
Enrich your landscape – The first step to making your yard attractive to hummingbirds is to dress up as a colorful (preferably red, pink, or orange) flower or plant. Hummingbirds are attracted to brightly-colored plants because they associate them with nectar sources. I recommend that beginners use an azalea costume, while more experienced gardeners/birders can mimic trumpet honeysuckle or cardinal flowers. In addition to these plants, sages and beebalms, as well as plants with red/orange/pink tubular flowers, are also good choices for providing a nectar source. Use plants native to your area to reduce the risk of harmful invasives. For more info about what plants to use in your yard, check out this great link from Audubon (http://www.audubon.org/content/nectar-sources-region). In addition to native flowering plants, having shrubs or trees for natural cover is great for all birds. Hummingbirds use small perches so try not to cut off every small branch from your bushes and trees. They often use lichen, moss, twigs, and spider webs to build their tiny nests on small forks and branches.
Clockwise from top left –> Female Ruby-throat feeding from Cardinal Flower, Male at a Trumpet Honeysuckle, Hummingbird feeding from a Bee Balm (Monarda genus), and a hummingbird nest.
Provide an extra food source – If you are able to grow some of the plants mentioned above in your yard or garden, they will provide a great food supply for hungry hummingbirds. You can also buy a feeder from the store for under $10. Most feeders are red with flower-shaped holes to attract the hummingbirds. Instructions on how to make sugar water for your feeder is provided at the end of this blog. I don’t recommend trying to live like a hummingbird. You might have a tough time working on a daily sugar high while missing out on important nutrition provided by foods such as lasagna and pizza. Hummingbirds do supplement their diet with protein from insects, so maybe eating like a hummingbird wouldn’t be so tough after all.
(Left photo: Black-chinned Hummingbird by Sam Wilson, Phoenix, AZ, 2007. Right photo: worldofhummingbirds.com)
Provide a water source – Hummingbirds also enjoy bathing, so feel free to grab a pink or red squirt gun so you can spray them when they’re at the feeder. Who doesn’t want a shower while eating? The other option is to provide a bird bath or misting device, but that’s not as fun.
Reduce pesticide use – Because hummingbirds feed on flowering plants and munch on insects, spraying pesticides on your garden can prove harmful to them and other wildlife. Allow the birds to take care of your insect problem. Though, there was one summer where I was being hounded by gnats as a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher danced around in the trees and taunted me. If you’re having major insect problems, do some research and find an alternative solution that won’t be dangerous to the birds eating the insects. You should also completely rid your yard of ants, as they are often attracted to sweet things and can overrun a feeder. This is best accomplished by borrowing an anteater from your local zoo. You may end up with holes and mounds of dirt in your yard, but at least there won’t be any ants competing with the hummingbirds.
Now is the prime time for hummingbirds to move through the U.S. and build nests, so hopefully you can put these tips into practice and start attracting these beautiful birds to your yard! Unfortunately, there is only one species that frequents the eastern U.S. – the Ruby-throated. People in places like California and Texas get the jackpot with numerous species. Of course, all of these states pale in comparison to the rich diversity found in Central and South America. Enjoy some more photos of awesome hummingbirds! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to down some sucrose and run around my yard really fast with a red bib while chasing off the competition.
How to make hummingbird food –> Mix a solution of 1 cup of water and 1/4 cup of pure white sugar in a small pot. Bring the solution to a boil and turn off the heat once the sugar has dissolved. Allow the mixture to completely cool and then it can be poured into your feeder. Please do not use brown sugar, honey, or other substitutes as this can harm or even kill a hummingbird that needs sucrose to survive. There is also no need to add any food dyes, as they may contain harmful chemicals. You should clean feeders about once a week with a vinegar-water (1-4 ratio like the sugar water) solution.