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When people think about attracting pollinators to their garden, they often think of things like bees and butterflies. But did you know that the hummingbird is also an important pollinator? Not only that, but these beautiful birds are a delight to observe, so it’s no wonder so many people want to attract them.
There are around 365 species of hummingbird across North, Central, and South America, and 15 of these species can be found in the USA. The information in this guide will help you attract some of these birds right to your backyard.
Best Ways to Attract Hummingbirds
Attracting hummingbirds to your garden can be done in several ways. Of course, the more things you can put in place, the more likely the birds will be to arrive.
Hang Nectar Feeders Up
If you have read our guide on the different types of bird feeders, you will know that there are quite a few to choose from. But if you are looking to attract hummingbirds, then you must make sure that you install a nectar feeder.
When choosing a nectar feeder, you should be aware of which colors attract hummingbirds most easily. These birds can see red very well, so you’ll find that most come in this color. There are different types of nectar feeders, including inverted tubes, saucers and glass bulbs. While each of these works well, you will notice that certain hummingbirds take to one kind more than others. For this reason, it is worth observing to see which feeders empty more quickly. You may then decide to exclusively use this type.
Placement of your hummingbird feeder is important. You’ll need to place the feeder in a quiet spot and away from any windows. If you have a naturally shady spot then this is ideal, but if not, you can buy a shade to keep the birds out of direct sunlight. Putting up your feeders from around mid-March will attract birds as early as possible.
You can buy ready-made hummingbird nectar but this really isn’t necessary when you can make it yourself. This involves mixing one part sugar to four parts water and boiling the mixture. This kills any chlorine or bacteria but you should allow it to cool before putting it into the feeder. It’s also essential not to include any red food dye. Using a red feeder is more than sufficient.
Place Feeders in the Right Spots
Like many other bird species, hummingbirds are territorial, and when they feel as though their space is being invaded, they can become aggressive. Males are more likely to display aggressive behaviors around feeders, but by spacing them out, they will not feel threatened, so fights are less likely to break out.
Not only this, but some individual birds may not be as aggressive and so will often be bullied away from the feeders by more dominant individuals. By spacing out your nectar feeders, these more timid birds will have a better chance at getting their fill. Also consider placing different feeders out of sight of others to further reduce interactions and possible aggression.
It is a good idea to place feeders so that all sides can be accessed. This gives more birds the chance to feed without having to fight over the food supply. When you have more feeders and the birds feel less threatened by one another, you’ll likely attract far greater numbers to your yard.
Use Native Plants That Hummingbirds Love
It’s important to remember that hummingbirds have better vision than they do smell. This is one of the main reasons that planting brightly colored flowers will yield the best results. Reds and oranges are particularly useful in attracting hummingbirds, but also go for tubular and trumpet shaped flowers as these have the most nectar.
Planting native plants will bring in the most native wildlife so this is one of the key factors to consider when trying to attract any animal to your garden, including the hummingbird. While there are a huge number of plants to choose from, the following seem to work particularly well.
- Butterfly bush
- Bee balm
- Trumpet vine
- Cardinal flowers
- Morning glory
- Bleeding heart
But you will also notice that by planting native flowers like those in the list above, you will also attract many insect species. Some of these are essential for your garden in many ways, but they’ll also serve as a food source for the hummingbirds, further attracting them.
Choose a Selection of Plants That Bloom at Different Times of the Year
As well as planting native plants, you should also consider planting those that bloom at different times. If everything blooms at once, then hummingbirds will only be attracted for that specific time period. If you want hummingbirds to be attracted for as long as possible, they need a consistent food source, and by choosing plants that bloom at different times, they’ll always be something available to them.
Also, you need to think about when hummingbirds will be around and choose plants that will bloom during these times.
By choosing a diverse range of plants that flower at different times, you could attract hummingbirds right from the beginning of spring all the way through to fall.
Provide Your Hummingbirds with a Place to Perch
Hummingbirds like to perch, so if you’re looking to attract them then you will need to provide them somewhere to do this. Planting tall shrubs and trees is one of the easiest things you can do and provides the birds with a natural perch. They prefer an exposed branch as this gives them not only a place to rest, but also a good view of the surrounding area so they can spot food and keep an eye out for danger.
If you cannot plant trees or tall shrubs owing to a lack of space, then you might create a hummingbird snag perch. This is as simple as placing a dead branch vertically into the ground around ten to fifty feet away from the nectar feeder. This will be particularly attractive to male hummingbirds.
Install Water Features in Your Backyard
Attracting any type of bird involves having some sort of water source, and hummingbirds are no exception to this rule. In fact, these birds absolutely love to bathe whenever they get the opportunity, so a water feature is a must if you want success in attracting them.
There are many different options to choose from, but a misting device is one of the best. These can be placed among flowers or on trees, and you might even use the mist setting on your lawn sprinkler. The hummingbirds will love sitting in the mist.
You might also choose something like a fountain or a dripper as the sounds alone will be enough to attract the birds. You’ll then have the pleasure of watching them bathe under the drips and rub against nearby rocks that have gotten wet from a strategically placed dripper.
Protect Hummingbirds from Backyard Predators
Hummingbirds are preyed on by several different animals; even your pet cat could be a potential threat so it’s essential to provide protection for the birds. They won’t come to your yard if they don’t feel safe there. To protect the birds from cats, make sure to hang feeders at least five feet from the ground but also not in a tree that the cat could easily climb.
Other animals that may pose a risk to hummingbirds are things like frogs, lizards, squirrels, and many larger bird species. Make sure that the hummingbirds have plenty of places to shelter as well as a vantage point to look out for potential threats such as the snag we discussed earlier.
One of the most surprising predators of the hummingbird is the praying mantis which can often be found hiding underneath a nectar feeder. While you cannot stop this, it is worth keeping an eye out for them and removing them should you notice one.
Minimize the Use of Pesticides
Hummingbirds can be affected by pesticides in ways that we may not previously have imagined. For example, recent research has shown that high levels of exposure to pesticides could have a devastating effect on the metabolism of certain species. Hummingbirds are at particular risk owing to how far they travel, how many thousands of flowers they feed from, and due to their already high metabolism.
To preserve the health of these birds, it is important to cut down how many pesticides and other chemicals you use in your yard; if you can eliminate their use altogether, that’s even better.
But more than this, using pesticides will cull the insect population in your garden. Since hummingbirds prey on many types of bugs, removing them is only going to serve as a deterrent to the very birds you are trying to attract.
Do Hummingbirds Fly South for the Winter?
In the warmer months, several species of hummingbirds can be found throughout North America and well into Canada. They will nest and breed here before heading south during the winter. Typically, most North American hummingbird species will spend the winter in places like Mexico. However, in warmer parts of the USA, such as California, you will still find a sizable hummingbird presence throughout the colder months.
Hummingbirds are thought to begin their migration when the abundance of flowers dies down towards the end of summer and the beginning of fall. Other factors may include daylight hours becoming shorter and a lack of insects for food.
When Should You Change the Nectar in Your Hummingbird Feeders?
You will need to change the nectar in your feeders regularly to ensure a fresh supply. If you’ve made a batch then you can store it in the fridge ready for the next time you top up the feeder.
Good hygiene is important to the health of the hummingbirds and this is especially important in warmer weather. You should aim to change the food at least every three to four days, and when you do so, clean the feeder with warm water and dry well. You should also use a diluted bleach solution once a month, ensuring you thoroughly rinse the feeders afterwards.
Will Hummingbirds Feed in the Winter?
In some parts of the United States, hummingbirds will stick around for winter, so you may still wish to offer them food. However, there are a few things to keep in mind if you want to avoid problems, such as the following:
- You may need to rotate nectar feeders more frequently to stop the liquid from freezing in very cold climates.
- Choose a location for the feeder that is out of the way of winds and exposure to cold.
- Using a cover like a dome will ensure that the feeders are not filled with ice and snow.
- Try insulating your feeders with fabrics; you can even add hand warmers.
- Place colored fairy lights around the feeder.
- Use heat tapes on pipes to help stop freezing.
- Ensure that anything you have added to the feeder does not obstruct the hummingbird’s access to it.
What Colors are Hummingbirds Attracted to?
Hummingbirds have a very dense concentration of cones in their retinas. In the most simple terms, this means that they are more easily able to see colors within the red to yellow spectrum than they are things like blues and greens. This is why you usually see hummingbird feeders in red and why it is advisable to plant red flowers.
With all that in mind, there has been some interesting research that shows hummingbirds can be trained into seeking out flowers regardless of color but because of a higher nectar content. While you can use plants with red blooms, hummingbirds will still pick out nutritionally beneficial flowers especially where this food source is consistent.
How to Deter Insects from Nectar Feeders?
In many cases attracting insects to your garden is a good thing as many are beneficial. However, you do not want them feeding from your nectar feeders, so it’s important to find ways to deter them. There are several things you can do.
Choosing a saucer style feeder that has holes on the top makes it difficult for flying insects like bees and wasps to feed, so they’ll largely serve as a deterrent. These feeders also typically feature an ant moat which sits in the center of the device and can be filled with water, therefore preventing the ants from climbing down and accessing the nectar.
There is some suggestion that using oils such as olive oil on your feeder will deter ants and make it hard for them to climb down the wire. While this will work, you should be careful using this method as the oil could be harmful to the birds. A better and safer way to deter ants is by hanging the feeder with fishing line, which is markedly more difficult for them to climb.