Hummingbirds 101: How to Attract and Keep Hummers in Your Backyard

How does one lure these winged jewels into the backyard for easy viewing? Better yet, how does one keep hummingbirds hanging around throughout the entire season? Attracting backyard hummingbirds is not as difficult as you might think.
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Everybody loves hummingbirds. Even those who otherwise have little interest in birds seem to be attracted to these amazing creatures. Many hummer species are long-distance migrants, traveling thousands of miles each year between their southern wintering grounds and their northern breeding areas. Hummers are the only birds capable of flying backwards and upside down. Seemingly effortlessly, these colorful sprites maneuver through the air, their iridescent feathers sparkling, adding a flare of magic wherever they go.

So how does one lure these winged jewels into the backyard for easy viewing? Better yet, how does one keep hummingbirds hanging around throughout the entire season? Attracting backyard hummingbirds is not as difficult as you might think. Like all birds, hummers need food, water, and shelter. Here are a few tips to help you provide these basic necessities for your backyard hummingbirds.

Attract Hummers with Feeders

The quick and easy way to attract hummingbirds is to put out a nectar feeder (or two or three or four). Select feeders that are sturdy, durable, and easy to clean. Prepare artificial nectar by mixing one part table sugar with four parts water. Boil the solution, allow it to cool, and then fill your feeders. Adding red coloring to the food is unnecessary and may actually be harmful; most feeders have ample red parts to attract the birds.

Place your feeders near windows for easy viewing, preferably near flowers. Keep your feeders several feet above ground in order to prevent cats or other predators from snatching the birds as they feed. A strategically-placed twig or other perch can provide hummers a place to pause to investigate the feeding station before moving in—this may also give you the opportunity to watch the birds as they rest between feeding sessions.

In some areas, hummingbirds are present year-round, but throughout much of North America, hummingbird feeding is a seasonal activity. Determine when hummingbirds typically arrive in your area in spring, and put out your feeders accordingly—no need to wait until you see that first hummer before putting out the feeders! Remember to keep nectar fresh and the feeders clean throughout the season, changing the nectar every three to four days and cleaning your feeder thoroughly with warm, soapy water. Keep your feeders up until about two weeks after the last bird has departed. This will allow stragglers to take advantage of your offerings late in the season.

Attract Hummers with Plants

Feeders are great, but nothing attracts hummingbirds like a garden of nectar-producing plants. Sometimes it takes only a few flowers to grab the birds' attention. The key is to include lots of red plants in your hummingbird garden—hummingbirds are especially attracted to this color. Keep that in mind when planting flowers, vines, shrubs, and trees.

Specific planting recommendations will vary depending on your region, but here are some general suggestions to get your hummingbird garden started. Great hummingbird flowers include bee balm, cardinal flower, columbine, coralbells, daylily, four o'clock, red salvia, and zinnia. Add vines such as trumpet honeysuckle, red morning glory, and trumpet creeper. For shrubs and trees, try azalea, butterfly bush, flowering crabapple, and Siberian pea tree.

Attract Hummers with Water

Like all birds, hummingbirds will regularly bathe if a ready supply of water is at hand. The best way to entice these tiny birds is with a mister, which is a small-hosed attachment for your regular garden hose. With the hose turned on to just a trickle, the mister shoots a fine spray, or mist, through its pinhole openings into the air. Hummingbirds love to fly through the fine spray! Misters are available at hardware stores, lawn and garden centers, specialty bird stores, and online.

No matter where you live in North America, these basic essentials should have the local hummingbirds lining up at your backdoor.

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