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Attracting Hummingbirds to the Garden

Attracting hummingbirds is one of nearly every gardener’s dream. We all want these brightly colored, quick-moving birds flitting about in our gardens. Watching them sparring over mates and territory in the summer is as fascinating as watching the sunset in the Flint Hills of Kansas.

But how do we attract hummingbirds to the garden? Can it all be done with flowers? Do we need feeders and if so, what kind? What kind of hummingbirds are there? What all do they eat?

About Hummingbirds

There are 23 species of hummingbird in North America. However, here in the Central Great Plains, we are not likely to see any except the ruby-throated. Once in a great while, a stray rufous hummingbird may appear, during its migration season. But 1 hummingbird is better than no hummingbirds.

A hummingbird’s heart beats over 1200 times per minute during the day, and they need to eat at least 20% of their body weight in sugar per day. That sugar comes in the form of nectar or sugar-water.

Male hummers court a female until after fertilization, then hits the road to let the female rear the young. The nest she makes is tiny, about the size of a small walnut, and is camouflaged with lichens, on a branch that already has lichens growing on it. The female lays 2 eggs which take about 16 days to hatch. Fledging takes another 20 to 22 days.

ruby throated hummingbird
Ruby-throated hummingbird on perennial salvia

When do they arrive?

flowers
Hummingbirds flock to sugar-water at Grimm’s Gardens

Here in Northeast Kansas, I usually see the first hummers in early April, before many flowers have started blooming. That is why it is important to offer sugar-water in place of nectar.

Recipe for Sugar-Water

Sugar-water should be made with granulated cane sugar only, not beet sugar nor sugar substitutes. Mix 1 part sugar to 4 parts warm water. Make sure all the sugar dissolves and the water comes down to room temperature before filling the feeder. There is no need to add red food coloring or other dyes.

DO NOT use store made pre-mixes that contain dyes or chemicals, they may injure the hummers.

Hummingbird feeders are usually red, so that coloration is enough to attract the birds. Add room temperature (about 70o F) sugar-water to the feeder and hang above the ground, at least 6 feet high (if possible) to keep predators at bay.

Feeders should be emptied and cleaned with hot, soapy water, weekly while the hummingbirds are here. If you do not clean it regularly, black mold can form on the surface and cause illness to the birds.

Attracting Hummingbirds with Flowers

Hummingbirds cannot smell, so they rely on their vision to direct them to nectar and sugar-water. While they do not see colors in the same way as humans, they can see bright colors, especially reds and oranges very well. Using feeders that are red is important, but it is more important to have a variety of flowers throughout the spring, summer, and fall that they can use.

Becuase of their long beaks and tongues, having tubular flowers is important. While they may go to a variety of flower shapes, tubular flowers are easier for them to get nectar from.

columbine
Ruby-throated hummingbird in the author’s Entry Garden

Shrubs and Trees for Attracting Hummingbirds

If you do not already have some of these in your garden, then you may want to look at where you can add them in. Shrubs and trees are the backbone plants of the garden, and trees provide a place for hummingbirds to make their nests.

Native shrubs are great nectar sources for hummingbirds in early to late spring, before perennials and added annual flowers begin to start their longer bloom periods. The following list are the best shrubs and trees for hummers.

  • Beauty-bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis)
  • Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)
  • Limber Honeysuckle (Lonicera dioicus)
  • Yellow Honeysuckle (Lonicera flava)
  • Northern Bush-Honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera)
  • Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia)
  • Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)
  • Silk Tree (Albizia julibrissin)
  • Red horsechestnut (Aesculus x carnea)
  • Weigela (Weigela florida)
  • Clove Currant (Ribes odoratum)
  • Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii)
Flowering shrubs to attract hummingbirds

Perennials for Attracting Hummingbirds

Once spring is over, you will need perennials and annuals to cover the rest of the seasons for nectar production. Many native perennials are excellent choices for attracting hummingbirds with brightly colored flowers. Besides the hummers, you will also get a variety of colorful butterflies and bees.

perennials to attract hummingbirds

Annual or Tropical Flowers for Attracting Hummingbirds

Using annuals flowers in the garden not only enhances the garden, but they often add bright colors that attract hummingbirds and other pollinators. Annuals or tropicals can bridge the gaps left by perennials or shrubs, and they are great for filling in empty spaces. Use any of the following annual flowers to attract hummingbirds.

  • Salvias
  • Cannas
  • Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana)
  • Fuschia
  • Petunias
  • Verbenas
  • Lantana
  • Cypress Vine
  • Scarlet Runner Bean
  • Firecracker Plant (Cuphea)
  • Gomphrenas
annual flowers for hummingbirds

Conclusion

Hummingbirds are fast-moving, tropical-looking birds. By providing a source of food (sugar-water and nectar), you can have these humming flyers in your garden. Just keep adding flowers to attract them and soon the diversity in your garden will attract other things too, like butterflies and bees.

Happy planting!

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