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Gardening: Resources for enriching the plants and animals in your backyard.

Habitat Resources: Attracting Hummingbirds

Hummingbird Facts

  • The smallest bird in the world, the Cuban bee hummingbird, is 2 1/4 inches long -- about the size of a bumble bee.
  • Hummingbirds, like helicopters, can hover. They can also move ahead, sideways or backward at will.
  • A ruby-throated hummingbird, weighing about one-tenth of an ounce, can travel 600 miles inmigration.
  • Hummingbirds not only sip nectar, but also eat tiny insects and spiders. They may drink up to eight times their body weight daily in water. Although their normal body temperature is about 103 degrees F(40 degrees C), it may drop to 70 degrees F(21 degrees C) at night. They have the ability to endure temporary cool weather or cool nights by becoming dormant.
  • There are 340 species of hummingbirds in the world and all are found only in the western hemisphere. Of these, only one, the ruby-throated hummingbird, is found regularly east of the Mississippi.
  • Flying consumes a great deal of a hummingbird's energy. Wingbeats have been measured at 20-200 beats per second.

Key Requirements for Hummingbird Feeding

Hummingbirds in the United States feed on flower nectar and many small insects. Your garden should provide a healthy, steady diet of both.

Hummingbird feeders:

  • should be hung in the shade
  • should be cleaned and refilled every three to five days under normal circumstances
  • should be filled with a solution of one part table sugar to four parts water brought to a boil and then cooled and stored in the refrigerator for future use.
  • do not use honey solutions in feeders as they may produce a fungal disease fatal to hummingbirds.

Spread your hummingbird foods -- flowers and feeders -- throughout your entire garden to discourage dominance by any one bird. Hummingbird flowers, unlike flowers for butterflies, are attractive to these birds whether in the sun or shade. Hummingbirds in the east usually return in late March (south) to mid-May (north). They usually leave in early September (north) to late November (south). In the Deep South, more and more hummingbirds are overwintering. Hang your feeders accordingly. Pesticides, especially sprays, can be lethal to hummingbirds. Even if they do not take in enough nectar dosed with malathion, Sevin or diazinon to kill them directly, the number of small insects available to them in your garden will drop precipitously. This may cause starvation and/or death of the young.

Plants that Provide Nectar for Hummingbirds

If hummingbirds live in your area, you can attract them by planting red, tubular flowers. There are many red-flowered plants to choose from. Over 160 native, North American plants depend exclusively on hummingbirds for pollination. Many of the red-flowered annuals, perennials, vines, and shrubs available from mail order sources or local garden centers have been developed from the native red-flowered plants of the western hemisphere.

Here is a list of some of the plants that most successfully attract hummingbirds:

  • Trumpet honeysuckle
  • Bee-balm
  • Trumpet-creeper
  • Fire pink
  • Cardinal-flower
  • Scarlet petunia
  • Scarlet penstemon
  • Red buckeye
  • Scarlet morning glory
  • Geiger tree
  • Cypress vine
  • Scarletbush
  • Scarlet paintbrush
  • Coral bells
  • Scarlet salvia

There are dozens of other plants, mostly red and tubular, that also work very well. Try a few new ones each year.



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