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Extension Forestry & Natural Resources

Wildlife & Fisheries Biology  -  Environmental & Natural Resources  -  Forest Resources



A Haven for Hummingbirds

Candace Cumming, Urban Wildlife Specialist

Often people ask about how to attract hummingbirds to the home garden. What can be done to create the ideal backyard haven for these beautiful, energetic little creatures? This can be accomplished two ways: 1) plant and maintain a natural wildflower or cultivated flower garden with plants providing nectar to hummingbirds; or 2) place artificial feeders out filled with sugar water or commercially-prepared nectar solution. Many people opt for a combination of the two. Now is the time – April and May – to put out feeders, and start planting those hummingbird-attracting plants.

Male Ruby-Throated HummingbirdTo start off, it is a good idea to become familiar with the plants that are the most successful at attracting hummingbirds in your immediate area – even a few blocks of where you live.

If you take a walk around your neighborhood, you may notice hummingbirds using certain flowers for food. By making note of which flowers the hummingbirds favor the most, you’ll have a good head start toward attracting them into your yard by using the very same plants.

As most fans of hummingbirds are quick to learn, the primary color of these flowers is red or some related color, such as orange or pink. In addition, bees do not see red, so this excludes them from competing with the hummingbirds for these flowers. Also, since these flowers have no scent as a rule, they are largely ignored by butterflies and moths, too, which rely on scent to a great degree in locating their nectar sources.

Although red is probably the most popular flower color among hummingbirds, these birds visit flowers of a great many other colors for nectar. A successful hummingbird garden could have a mixture of annual, perennial, and biennial flowers with a number of red flowers such as bee balm and Indian paintbrush, along with a variety of other colors, such as morning glory, honeysuckle, lantana, petunia, snapdragon, butterfly weed and hollyhock.

Indeed, a good combination of hummingbird flowers in window boxes and hanging baskets such as impatiens, phlox and geranium, combined with a feeder or two, can create a hummingbird garden in just about any apartment environment.

Rufous HummingbirdThere are many types of hummingbird feeders commercially available in various shapes and sizes. Some are shaped like flying saucers, while others are tall; some have landing platforms for the hummingbirds, while others do not. Whichever type of hummingbird feeder you decide to use, or how many, there are a number of guidelines that you can follow to make sure that both you and the hummingbirds are well served by the feeders you provide.

Hummingbird feeders should be easy to clean. Feeders need to be cleaned and refilled at least once a week (and at least every few days in hot weather and when feeders are situated in direct sunlight) in order to keep the sugar water from becoming moldy, which can be harmful to hummingbirds.

Nectar for artificial feeders should consist of a four-to-one solution of water and granulated white sugar. This solution should be boiled for a couple of minutes in order for the sugar to dissolve completely, and retard growth of microorganisms. Excess solution can safely be stored in the refrigerator for about a week. Honey should not be used in any nectar solution, nor should brown sugar or artificial sweeteners, as all of these items can be harmful to hummingbirds.

Nectar solution need not be artificially colored red. Most feeders have bright colors which attract hummingbirds, and once they discover where a hummingbird feeder is, they don’t need to be reminded of its whereabouts. Hummingbirds will return year after year to the same feeders.

Other feeder tips to remember include the following:

  • placing feeders in part shade slows fermentation of nectar;
  • separate feeders by at least six feet, so one hummingbird does not dominate all of the feeders;
  • attach an “ant moat” to the feeder wire to prevent ants from entering the feeder;
  • finally, you may keep your feeder up year round, or remove it in late fall. The choice is up to you. Migrating hummingbirds will still head south in the fall, even if there are feeders or flowering plants available to them.

Download the printer-friendly version of A Haven for Hummingbirds (PDF, 75 KB)

 


This article is a publication of Clemson University Cooperative Extension's Forestry & Natural Resources team.
Please visit one of our sites for additional information and educational opportunities:

Extension Forestry & Natural Resources
Department of Forestry & Natural Resources (in the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Science)

 

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