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Hummingbird
Female Ruby-Throated

See the Activities section for more instructions, hints and tips.

Here are some more ideas to help you enjoy hummingbirds.

Saucer Feeder
Saucer Feeder
Bottle Feeder
Bottle Feeder
Window Hanger
Window Hanger
Ant Moat
Ant Moat

Hummingbirds are jeweled aerial acrobats of the garden! They can be very entertaining. It's fun to watch them fly around visiting flowers and occasionally catching a bug out of the air. It's hard to believe the aerial stunts they can perform.

Hummingbirds are one of God's most amazing creations.

And all this in a package 3.5 inches long that only weighs 1/2 oz. - about the weight of a penny! To do this they need a lot of high power food - sugar. They eat half or more of their body weight every day in nectar - about 1.5 teaspoons!

Favorite Plants

The best way to attract hummingbirds to your yard is to have plenty of flowers that they like. It is difficult to attract them if you only put out a feeder. When hummingbirds are looking for food they look for lots of red and orange flowers. Often they will find the flowers in a yard before they find the feeder.

Salvia coccinea
Salvia coccinea
Scarlet Sage
Agastache cana
Agastache cana
Hummingbird Mint
Cuphea ignea
Cuphea ignea
Cigar Plant
Malvaviscus arboreus
Malvaviscus arboreus
Turk's Cap
Anisacanthus quadrifidus
Anisacanthus quadrifidus
Flame Acanthus (Hummingbird bush)

Hummingbirds are attracted to tubular shaped flowers. Some examples are shown in the photos above. They seem to prefer the colors red and orange. From my experience, some of their favorite flowers include:

Check to see what your local nurseries recommend - especially those that sell native plants.

Many lists of plants that attract hummingbirds can be found on the Internet and in books. But you have to be careful with these as many of them list flowers that hummingbirds will "visit", but don't "love". A good example is lantana. I have several lantanas in my landscape, but have never seen a hummingbird visit them. I believe that's because I have many other flowers that they really prefer. So, do you want to plant flowers that hummingbirds might visit or one's they love to visit?

If you want to attract hummingbirds early in the spring and keep them there all summer long, and into the fall, you need to have their favorite flowers in your yard that bloom in the early spring, the heat of the summer, and into the fall. Other hummingbird enthusiasts, your local nursery, and the local chapter of the Audubon Society are your best sources of information.

The flowers in your yard alone may not be enough so be sure to put your feeder out before the first hummingbirds are scheduled to arrive. Remember to keep your feeder full at all times.

Hummingbirds need a lot of nectar every day - half a tablespoon. That's a couple hundred drops or many hundreds of flowers. Fortunately, many of the hummingbird's favorite flowers are prolific bloomers. And that is why they look for yards with lots of red flowers.

Feeders

The most popular feeders you find in stores have several artificial flowers and a large container that holds many ounces of nectar. Most will look similar to the one in the photo below. Notice that I've added a couple of wire perches for the hummingbirds to use.

Hummer Feeder

Those living in the western half of the United States get a wide variety of hummingbirds visiting their feeders and yards. Most of these are very sociable. With so many hummingbirds visiting the feeder, they can consume a lot of nectar. In this case, larger feeders like these make sense. I still prefer the saucer shaped ones because they don’t drip.

Those living in the eastern half of the United States have one type of hummingbird visiting their yards and feeders - Ruby-Throated. They have a range from Central America, through the eastern United Sates, and all the way into eastern Canada. They are very territorial so you'll only get one visiting your feeder at a time and it will try to chase all others away. It is unusual to see two at a feeder at the same time. To make the best of this situation, use a number of small feeders that are out of sight of each other (think front, back and sides of your house or on opposite sides of a dense tree or garage).

In the south you also have to contend with the heat. Nectar spoils quickly in hot weather. Feeders must be emptied, cleaned, and refilled every day or two.

For those in the southeastern United States, the typical feeder, like the one in the photo above, is a huge waste considering it will only be visited by one hummingbird at a time and you have to change the sugar water every couple of days because it spoils and grows mold. The hummingbirds will only drink a little bit of nectar each day – half a tablespoon per hummingbird per day. Most of the sugar water will drip out of the popular feeders because the air inside the container expands as it is heated by the sun and air. A better solution is the saucer shaped feeders, but get a small one, or make a saucer feeder yourself.

Keeping feeders clean is also a concern. Mold can grow in feeders and kill hummingbirds. Get a feeder that is easy to clean. A bottle brush may be necessary for reaching inside the container. See below fo more information.

Saucer shaped feeders are usually easier to clean than container feeders.

If your feeder becomes very popular consider putting up a second or third feeder instead of a larger one.

Nectar

To make nectar, take 4 parts of water and 1 part white granular sugar, sometimes called table or cane sugar (for example, 2 cups of water and 1/2 cup sugar). Bring the water to a boil, add the sugar, stir, and bring to a boil again. Use a funnel to help you put it in a container while it is still hot. With the lid in place, slosh the hot nectar around so it kills anything rying to grow in the container. The nectar will stay fresh in the fridge for a couple weeks. You can re-use water or soda bottles to store the nectar after rinsing them out well. Label the bottle so no one drinks it by accident.

Boiling the nectar is important because it kills bacteria, mold, and yeast that like to grow in sugar water and can harm hummingbirds.

Don't substitute honey or anything else for the sugar.

Don't use any red food coloring.

Store sugar water nectar in the refrigerator.

Fill the feeder in the late evening when hummingbirds have finished feeding for the day. You will be filling the feeder with cold or hot nectar. Filling it in the evening allows the nectar to warm up or cool down over night. I don’t know if hummingbirds get “brain freezes” like people do when they drink or eat something cold, but the chill could be hard on their very small bodies.

Don't forget to empty, clean, and refill the feeder every 3 or 4 days (every day or two if the temperature is over 90 degrees). If you leave the nectar longer, it will spoil and nasty things will start to grow in it and these will hurt your hummingbirds.

If you see any black spots in the nectar or container or the nectar gets cloudy, throw it all out and make a new batch and store it in a new container.

Feeder Problems

Cleaning the feeder is very important. Clean it and refill it every 3 or 4 days or more frequently if it is hot. Always use hot water to rinse out the feeder, don't use soap. If you notice the remaining nectar is cloudy or you see black spots of mold you've got something growing in the feeder that can harm hummingbirds. Use a paper towel or bottle brush to remove the mold. Then rinse the feeder completely in a solution of 10% Clorox (1 part Clorox and 10 parts water), scrub, and rinse thoroughly. It's a good idea to clean them with Clorox about once a week to prevent any problems.

Nectar goes bad faster in temperatures above 90 degrees so change it every day or two.

If you have problems with ants visiting your feeder, it will keep hummingbirds away. Put a glob of Vick's VapoRub™ on the wire the feeder hangs from, but away from where a hummingbird might touch with feet or wings. Replace it as needed.

Another way to defeat ants is to use an ant moat. Ants can't swim, so keeping the ant moat filled with water will keep them away from the nectar and bothering the hummingbirds.

You shouldn't have problems with wasps and bees at a saucer feeder unless the flower holes are too large in diameter. A hummingbird's tongue can reach about 2" into a feeder. Wasps and bees don't have long tongues like hummingbirds so they can't reach the nectar stored below in the bowl of the container.

Feeders that drip nectar will attract bees and wasps and they keep hummingbirds from using the feeder.

Feeder Location

The feeder should be hung in a location that's easy for you to frequently observe and enjoy the activity. This may be on a patio or outside a high traffic area of your house, maybe near a large window. Hang the feeder from a tree limb, a post, or a hook. Try to pick a shady location. If the feeder is in the sun, the nectar will spoil more quickly.

The best location of all is on a window so you can watch them up close. Either purchase a window hanger or make a suction cup hanger yourself. I have not had any issues with hummingbirds flying into windows.

When you first put up a feeder, don't be disappointed if you don't see any activity for a week or two or more. Find out when hummingbirds visit your area and be patient. It may take them a while to discover your feeder. It helps if you have flowers nearby that will attract them. You can also put red ribbons out. Hummingbirds are very curious and will check out anything red that catches their attention. If it moves, that's even better.

Don't forget to keep emptying, cleaning, and refilling the feeders every few days. The nectar will spoil and start growing nasty things even if hummingbirds are not visiting.

Hand Feeding

Hummingbirds are much more tolerant of people than most other birds and animals. Maybe they sense that we couldn't catch them if we tried (well, it would be very difficult) and we wouldn't hurt them. This gives you the opportunity for a rare encounter with a wild animal.

Once hummingbirds are visiting your feeder frequently, try to get them to eat from your hand. This is best done in the fall when they are trying to put on weight before they migrate south. Hummingbirds will try to get a good feed first thing in the morning and just before they settle down for the night, so these are the best times to try.

Start by sitting VERY STILL in a chair near the feeder. Get them used to you being near their feeder. Get comfortable, you may have to sit still for 5 to 30 minutes.

You have to be very still and not move or the hummingbird will be gone in a flash.

If at first they don't come to the feeder, back off a little until they return to feeding.

They will slowly learn to trust you. Once they are comfortable with you being nearby, hold the feeder in your hand and rest your elbow on the arm of the chair. Be very still and try not to move. Don't be startled when they buzz around you checking out the new decoration in their yard (you). They couldn't hurt you if they tried. The wind from their wings will tickle your hand. You will barely be able to tell when they land on the feeder.

If you hold your hand in a convenient location they may even land on your finger or hand.

This is a real thrill. It's so neat to see them up close. We don't often get to see a wild animal behaving naturally that close. As you are sitting there marveling at their colors and flying capabilities, remember some of the facts from the top of this page.

Here is a really nice video by Scott Kemp showing his family in Alaska feeding some hummingbirds from their hands.

More Ideas

Another thing you can try is to put out some ripe fruit. This will attract fruit flies that the hummingbirds will enjoy.

Get your neighbors excited about hummingbirds. Teach them what flowers to plant and how to feed them. The more hummingbirds in your neighborhood, the more that will visit your yard and feeder.

Add a perch to your feeder. Hummingbirds seem to appreciate a place to rest near the feeder. A 1/8" diameter wire can be twisted around just about anything to make a perch. Make the perch 6" to 8" long. Here is a photo of a very simple hanger with a perch.

Hummer Perch


References:
How to Enjoy Hummingbirds
World of Hummingbirds
Science and Tech Mail Online - Side by side, how the humble Hummingbird flies faster than a fighter jet


Copyright © 2012 Vincent Hale