Attracting Hummingbirds

Patricia McDermitt
Adams County Master Gardener

One of the great joys of warmer weather is the annual arrival of the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. Last year, as I stood and watched the birds at the feeder on a particularly dreary, snowy, winterís day, I wondered where all the hummingbirds were and when they would be coming back to our area. I began planning what I could do to make sure to attract these delightful creatures to my yard. No doubt, many people would like to attract hummingbirds to their yards as well; and hopefully, once youíve read this article youíll know how to create a habitat for hummingbirds, and they will bless you with their presence. Keep your camera handy, too, because youíre in for a real treat.

The hummingbirdís territory is North and South America. They travel as far south as Southern Chili and as far north as Alaska. There are 163 different species of hummingbirds in Ecuador in northwestern South America, the only country with that many different species. In this part of North America (the eastern seaboard), typically we only see the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird.

There is a difference between feeding and creating a habit for hummingbirds. I encourage you to create a habitat for them versus just putting out a feeder with sugar water. Hummingbirds do love sugar water, and it supplies the energy they need to do all that flying about. They especially need that energy to migrate. They fly a great distance across the Gulf of Mexico to get to this part of the country. However, providing key essentials hummingbirds need can establish a much more beneficial environment for them.

Hummingbirds need a nesting place, food supply (both insects and nectar) and water.

Here are my suggestions for creating a habitat to attract these little wonders.

First letís start with a nesting place. They will build their small cup shaped nests in trees at the cross of a branch that is protected from wind and weather. The female usually lays 2-3 eggs. The male does not take part in the nesting. They do not use the typical birdhouse, but I did find a hummingbird house, manufactured by a man out west in his garage, that supplies all their needs for nesting. I have purchased a few of them for gifts and am trying one myself this summer. And of course, trees and bushes are the natural place for them to nest.

What we commonly think of as hummingbird feeders do not supply all the nutrients that these birds need. Hummingbirds eat insects and spiders for protein. While they are feeding their young, they usually donít go to the feeders for nourishment, and you will notice they are missing from your feeder during this time. If you use a feeder, please clean it regularly with hot water and replace the nectar if it spoils. The nectar can spoil within a couple of days during the hot summer. Please be diligent with cleaning and replacing the nectar as it is possible to kill a hummingbird with spoiled nectar. No need for food coloring either. Please leave that out. Use only white sugar water. Usually one cup of sugar to 4 cups of water. Boiling the mixture will deter the growth of bacteria and yeasts.

Water is also important to hummingbirds. They like to bath regularly and will be attracted to a place that gives them a place to bath. They also need water to drink.

The most important factor in attracting a hummingbird is the garden. Itís not hard to create a hummingbird garden, but it does need to contain key ingredients to attract and keep their attention all summer long. Choose plants that flower at different times so a food source is always present. Red flowers attract them, as well as red gazing balls or other red yard ornaments. Hummers have been known to fly into a garage attracted by the red handle on the automatic garage door opener. If this happens, cover the red handle and leave the doors open so they can find their way back out.

Some plants that hummingbirds are attracting to include azaleas, rhododendrons, red columbine, lantana, honeysuckle, hollyhock, petunias, morning glories, impatiens, day lilies, phlox, bee balm, and delphinium to name a few. They also like Butterfly Bushes and Rose of Sharon, BUT I am not recommending that you plant these because they are invasive in our area. Also, remember that whatever you spray on your plants is ingested by the hummingbirds and can make them sick or even kill them.

Hummingbirds are charming creatures that make the gardens they visit very special places. In addition, they have been favorite flower pollinators for a very long time. When early American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) saw a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird in her garden she wrote the following:

Within My Garden, Rides a Bird

Within my Garden, rides a Bird
Upon a single Wheel --

Whose spokes a dizzy Music make
As 'twere a travelling Mill --

He never stops, but slackens
Above the Ripest Rose --

Partakes without alighting
And praises as he goes,
Till every spice is tasted --

And then his Fairy Gig
Reels in remoter atmospheres --

And I rejoin my Dog,
And He and I, perplex us,
If positive, 'twere we --

Or bore the Garden in the Brain
This Curiosity --

But He, the best Logician,
Refers my clumsy eye --

To just vibrating Blossoms!
An Exquisite Reply!

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