Attract & Support Hummingbirds

Photo by Bud Hensley

The sight of a hummingbird in the garden is always a delight. Their mesmerizing flight, flashy feathers, and tiny size are simply captivating. Who wouldn't want to serve such an enchanting visitor? Brush up on some basic behaviors, needs and preferences of hummingbirds to create a more inviting setting – one that encourages them to keep returning. Note: Feeders that dispense sugar water are highly promoted as "the best way to feed hummingbirds." While this does attract and feed hummingbirds, it is not the best way. There ain't nothin like the real thing, baby!  Native plants are best for hummingbirds. Plants are beautiful, beneficial and provide important ecosystem-services.

Hummingbirds Rely on Keen Eyesight

Unlike other pollinators, hummingbirds don't rely on their sense of smell to find nectar. Instead, their extremely keen eyesight helps them find what they need. Hummingbirds see color as well as or better than humans, and they also see ultraviolet light, which really amps up the color intensity. Bright saturated colors help to inform them – from a safe distance – that a food source might be available. Hummingbirds hone in on bright reds, pinks, rich lavenders and blue colored flowers. Orange is also good, but they are less attracted to white or yellow blossoms. Although they don’t visit them for nectar, the deep pink color of roses can lure hummingbirds in to make further investigations. Their keen eyesight also helps make possible their rapid flight and slick maneuverability.

Flower Shape is Important

Tubular flowers with deep nectaries are required, as hummingbirds have evolved both qualities and abilities that allow them to access a tube-shaped opening — their long beaks being the most obvious. Hummingbirds are able to reach deep into a flower with their beak, where they then lap at the nectar using their (also long) tongue. Their amazing hoverability allows them to fly-in-place while they feed. It could be that the competition at tube-shaped flowers is less than the competition at open-shaped flowers, which have easy access, a stronger aroma and may attract numerous competing visitors at once. Penstemons, Liatris, Lobelia, Coral Honeysuckle, Monarda and Catchfly are all good examples of tube-shaped flowers.

Hummingbirds Need Insects

The tiny hummingbird has a huge appetite and requires a good deal of fuel for their high metabolism and zippy flight. Hummingbirds cannot live on nectar alone! Besides nectar from flowers, hummingbirds also need to consume plenty of small insects. A hummingbird eats about half of its body weight in nectar and insects each day, feeding every 10-15 minutes throughout the day. Nesting females require countless insects to feed their young, too.  Flowers such as New Jersey Tea, Yarrow, Milkweeds, Elderberry, and plants with large clusters of tiny flowers will attract numerous ants and small insects that are hummingbird-sized fare.

Between the insects and the nectar, hummingbirds consume 1.5 to 3 times their body weight in food per day. 

Vertical and Layered Growth, with High Perches

Between meals, hummingbirds spend time perched in trees, overseeing their territory, and basically resting from their rapid activity. Hummingbirds often nest along the edge of wooded areas, and they can adapt to urban areas as long as some trees are present. They like to perch on high branches, rather than in dense shrubbery. Vertical and layered growth consisting of trees shrubs and perennials is preferred by hummingbirds. If trees or tall shrubs are not available, consider adding a trellis or tall posts as perches.

Leaving the Nest

In Wisconsin Hummingbirds fledge in late summer. Generally late July or early August.  An abundance of late summer flowers such as Cardinal Flower, Blue Larkspur, Rose Mallow, Marsh Phlox and Obedient Plant will help to support the young as they learn to fend for themselves. Unlike other birds such as Robins, hummingbird fledglings can't walk, so they need to learn to fly relatively quickly. The mother will stick around to help them stay fed for the first week.

Hummingbird Territory & Migration

Hummingbirds are very territorial, and a single hummingbird's claim can be up to 1/4 acre (apprx.10,000 sq. ft). If your yard is to its liking,  a hummingbird will fight off other contenders to keep the territory to itself. So unless you have quite a large yard, the hummingbirds you see in your yard from day to day are likely to be the same ones. Hummingbirds do not pair up to raise young, and the male and female birds defend their own territories. The female territory is defined by the location of the nest, so if you notice a female visiting your garden, there may be a nest nearby. The male hummingbird is more colorful, and the female is usually slightly larger.

Hummingbirds begin their northward spring migration in late February to early March, from as far away as Costa Rica. By late March they've arrived in the southern U.S.  Ruby-Throated hummingbirds typically reach Wisconsin by May. During this long trip, and when they arrive, they need nectar. Plant any of these early blooming flowers to support hummingbirds at this critical time: Lupine, Beardtongue, Blue Phlox, Virginia bluebell, Fire Pink

 Of the more than 300 hummingbird species in the world, only 16 live in North America, with less than a dozen of those inhabiting the U.S. and Canada. There are no hummingbirds outside of the Americas — all are from North, Central or South America.

Attract Hummingbirds to Your Yard

Pre Planned Hummingbird Gardens  –  Our 32-plant gardens for hummers are full of the bloom colors and shapes most attractive to hummingbirds, and include a planting plan.

Hummingbird Haven Custom Kit  –  This 16-Plant Kit can help boost the hummingbird potential of your garden. Choose your plants from a collection of hummingbird favorites.

Hummingbird Favorites – The plants that we offer which are known to be attractive to hummingbirds.

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