If, after reading this past week’s posts, you want these flying jewels to come and visit you on a regular basis, you can do everything from hanging out a nectar feeder to building your own hummingbird garden in the backyard.* Our recent gift of a nectar feeder to a family member had the hummers beating a regular path to their backyard within a few weeks. But with nectar feeder ownership comes great responsibility. 🙂
Fragrant Honeysuckle is the first summer perennial to bloom en masse, and it entranced this female Rufous hummingbird to the point where she completely ignored the photographer nearby.
* However, let’s first establish where you are in the world, because hummingbirds are exclusively New World birds; that is of the Americas (sorry, bloggers of the Old World). They have not carved out niches in Europe, Asia, Africa, or Australia … at least, not yet.
NECTAR FEEDER DOs AND DON’Ts
We have four hummingbird refueling stations: three are located in the backyard on the branches of our fruit trees (shaded, or partially shaded), and the fourth is on the giant California lilac bush on the front lawn. We have spaced them well apart from each other (out of the hummingbird’s line of sight) to prevent squabbling between challenger and owner hummingbirds (no one hummingbird can guard every feeder), but we get fights anyway. 🙂
|√ DO get a feeder with ant moat and bee guards. Fill moat to the brim with water. If ants/bees are still accessing the feeder, move it to a different location.||√ DO space the nectar feeders close together if spacing them far apart doesn’t help to keep the peace between hummingbirds.||∅ DON’T apply Vaseline or fly paper to the feeder, because whatever you use on insects can also adversely affect hummingbirds.|
A young Anna’s hummingbird waxes meditative on one of our backyard feeders. We have found the red glass ones (8 oz, 16 oz) with built-in ant moats to be favourites of our hummers.
We use white refined sugar only in a 1 part sugar, 3 parts boiled water solution. Stir thoroughly and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature before filling your nectar feeder (put in only as much as you think the hummers will go through in a few days). The unused solution can be stored in the fridge for up to a week.
|√ DO wash your feeders regularly. In the summertime, every 2-3 days, in the fall/spring/winter, a week.||√ DO give the feeders a good scrubbing with hot water and vinegar. Do not use bleach or soap or any other chemicals.||√ DO take your feeders down if you are planning to go on a long vacation. Cloudy sugar water is very, very bad.|
You may get other fairly regular opportunists like Chickadees, Orioles, and Nuthatches at the nectar feeder. Relax, the hummingbirds know how to take care of them, and if not, sharing is caring.
|√ DO take feeders into the house in winter to keep them from freezing, and hang them back up at first light.||∅ DON’T use coloured (red dye) mixtures, brown sugar, or honey, all of which can (and/or will) harm hummingbirds.||∅ DON’T hang feeders where there is constant direct exposure to sun; hot, spoiled nectar is not good for hummers!|
By virtue of their need for nectar from flowers, hummingbirds are also pollinators. In fact, there are varieties of flowers that rely specifically on pollination by birds (these are known as ornithophilus flowers).
This female Rufous hummingbird was also quite taken with the deep purple Columbine that had just started to open in earnest. A hanging planter made this particular shot possible.
Columbine flowers and flowering red currant bushes are two of the earliest springtime bloomers that hummingbirds will gravitate towards. Columbine has worked well for us; specifically, it’s a hit with Rufous hummingbirds. Although we tried flowering red currant bushes, the Anna’s are more particular and prefer nectar water until the flowers really start blooming in the summer.
We have also planted bee balm, lemon frost, scarlet trumpetvine, butterfly bush, kniphofia, lobelia, fuschia, and lupins for the little guys and girls. Kniphofia drips with nectar and is popular with the “younger” crowd. The butterfly bush is usually given the cold shoulder (and used as a perch instead). The bee balm is a strong second favourite, while lemon frost, lobelia, and lupins get a lukewarm reception.
This very young (and probably recently fledged) Anna’s hummingbird samples one of two varieties of kniphofia in the backyard. This is the single coloured tritoma/red hot poker.
The undisputed winner for our hummingbirds–Anna’s and Rufouses–is Anise Hyssop (also known as Hummingbird Mint or Agastache). These small purple / hot pink flowers bloom from May until first frost, which for us in Vancouver, thanks to our extremely warm winter, was mid-November last year. Long-lasting flowers like these are not “one and done”; they will “regenerate” fresh nectar.
The legendary Anise Hyssop, or Hummingbird Mint, is *the* flower that both Anna’s and Rufous hummers go to war over. It’s like catnip … for the birds!
HUMMINGBIRD-FRIENDLY VEGGIES AND FRUITS
The yellow flowers of flowering kale and arugula are extremely popular with hummingbirds and bees, as are the purple fuzzy heads of flowering chives.
Flowering kale continues to be a huge hit with both Anna’s hummingbirds and the bees.
Even the purple heads of flowering chive drew the interest of this female Rufous hummingbird. And it’s not for the smell of scallions, either, because like other birds, hummers have no sense of smell.
The flowers of flowering blueberry, raspberry, and blackberry bushes as well as flowering citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and limes have attracted hummers as well.
That recently fledged juvenile Anna’s hummingbird is test tasting the flowering blueberry.
HUMMINGBIRD-FRIENDLY GARDEN LAYOUT AND DESIGN
Don’t clump all your hummingbird-friendly flowers together. Space them out for your visual enjoyment and aesthetics (try a horseshoe or semi-circular design), and this will also give the hummers lots of room to experiment. Hummingbirds will go after red flowers, but they will test taste any flower to see if it contains at least 12% sugar. Any less than that, and it’s a waste of their precious energy reserves to do so. If neighbourhood cats are a problem, think about elevating low-growing favourites like lemon frost or grow them in hanging planters.
Although our bird bath does get replenished daily, this is more for the bigger birds. Hummingbirds, like all wildlife, need fresh water to keep their feathers clean. Don’t be surprised if you see one who wants to get into the spray of your hose when you’re watering vegetables, fruits, and trees in your backyard. ♠