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Attracting Hummingbirds

by Stephanie Suesan Smith on September 24, 2010

Hummingbird gardening is very popular right now.  As mentioned in another post, honey bees have supplanted many native pollinators.  Fortunately, they have not taken as many flowers away from the hummingbird.  A hummingbird has a long tongue inside the long beak, so they can reach deep inside flowers bees can’t get into.

Ruby Throated Hummingbird at feeder

Ruby Throated Hummingbird at feeder

Hummingbirds have very high metabolisms and have to eat a lot of sugar rich nectar to stay warm and alive.  The feeders people put out help hummingbirds eat a full day’s calories.  However, planting flowers that attract hummingbirds is better for them.  It is also less messy for the humans — that syrup is sticky and attracts ants.  If you do use syrup feeders, the ratio is one cup of sugar to four cups water.  Do not use food coloring as it makes the birds sick.  Similarly, use regular white sugar because anything else if too rich and makes the birds sick.

Flowers that attract Hummingbirds tend to be big and have a long throat, shielding the nectar from bees, wasps, and other creatures.  Only the hummingbird’s slender bill and tongue can sip the nectar.  For extra protein, especially when feeding babies, spiders and other anthropoids are eaten.  As the hummingbird feeds, it gets pollen on it which is deposited on the next plant, making it possible for the plant to produce fertile seed.

What do you plant?  That depends on where you live.  There are some 150 plants in North America that are used by hummingbirds as food.   Birds and Blooms lists 13 hummingbird attractors along with the zones the plants live in and what they look like.  There are other lists of hummingbird plants out there.

Foxglove is on several lists.  It is a pretty but deadly plant with the characteristic long narrow neck leading to the nectar.Foxglove Azaleas, lilies, and similar flowers are also good to plant.  Butterfly bush attracts hummers, as does flowering quince.  Bee balm, hostas, the list goes on.  If you are confused, try a vendor that sells a mix of seeds or plants that attract hummingbirds.

Wildflower Farms has a butterfly/hummingbird seed blend that will grow most places in the United States.  Many other seed companies do as well.  There are even some that sell plants you can transplant into a complete garden.

One important thing to remember is not to use pesticides on these plants.  Hummingbirds brush against the plants and can be poisoned when feeding.  In addition, they need to eat the little creatures on the plant for additional protein.  An organic garden is your best bet when trying to attract hummingbirds.

One final note:  Hummingbirds are feisty.  It is not unusual for them to guard a feeder and defend it against all comers.  If you want lots of hummingbirds, place multiple feeders and lots of plants out.  That way, no one bird can guard them all.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Patricia from lavenderuses September 26, 2010 at 10:31 pm

What an interesting post Stephanie. We don’t have hummingbirds in Australia but a small bird we sometimes call by that name but it isn’t!. It is now spring here and where there are native plants in the gardens around my home there are plenty of birds around feeding on the nectar. I love hearing them sing in the morning when I wake up and they are so friendly they perch on the windowsill and expect you to know they want some water to drink (or splash about in).
Patricia Perth Australia
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Stephanie Suesan Smith September 27, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Hummingbirds can be quite demanding. I have had them buzz the window near a feeder when it needs attention.

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Paul L. from Garden Decorations October 5, 2010 at 1:49 pm

Hi Stephanie,
Thanks for an informative post. I agree that hummingbirds are quite demanding due to their extraordinary metabolism.

Personally, I own a birdbath in my backyard water garden to attract other types of birds to frolic, feed and bathe. Its actually a pretty relaxing site in the morning to see them!

Thanks for the tips!

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