All bird species require food, water, shelter and nesting spots. Birders who understand how to attract hummingbirds will create sanctuaries in their backyards to fulfill all those basic bird needs with exactly what hummingbirds are looking for.
Food for Hummingbirds
There are three principle ways to provide tantalizing food for hummingbirds: through plants, feeders and insects.
- Plants: Hummingbirds feed frequently on nectar-rich flowers, and planting flowers specifically to attract these flying jewels is an easy way to make any yard a perfect hummingbird habitat. While the color red is very attractive to hummingbirds, the most important factor is that the flowers must produce plenty of nectar. Bleeding hearts, impatiens, petunias, salvias, bee balm, columbine, cannas, viburnums, honeysuckles and many other flower, tree and shrub species will attract a variety of hummingbirds. The best hummingbird gardens will include flowers that bloom at different times so hummingbirds always have an available food source, no matter when they visit.
- Feeders: Nectar feeders are one of the most common ways to attract hummingbirds to your yard. A wide range of feeder styles is available, including glass bulbs, inverted tubes and saucer dishes. Feeders may come with wasp, hornet and ant guards, and they are often colored red to help attract hummingbirds. Commercial nectar concentrates and mixes can be used or birders can fill their feeders with a homemade hummingbird nectar recipe. Feeders should always be kept clean, and there are steps that can be taken to keep insects from monopolizing the nectar if necessary.
- Insects: While hummingbirds are most well known for their fondness for nectar, they also eat a large quantity of insects, including spiders. This protein is especially critical during the nesting season, when young hummingbirds need plenty of protein for proper growth. To attract hummingbirds to backyard insects, avoid pesticides or insecticides that will kill off this food source and choose flowering plants that are also attractive to insects. Nurture beneficial insects in the yard, and leave cobwebs intact so hummingbirds can pluck gnats and other prey from these natural traps.
Water for Hummingbirds
Not all birds will visit feeders, but they are all attracted to water. Hummingbirds prefer moving water sources such as sprinklers, fountains, waterfalls, misters and drippers. They will often perch in a spray or fly through moving water to cool off or bathe. Deeper water sources, such as traditional bird baths, are not suitable for tiny hummingbirds, though they may perch on the rim of a bird bath.
Creating a shallow section of the bath by using pebbles or stones can make a deeper basin more suitable for hummingbirds.
All types of water sources should be kept fresh and clean, and positioning the water near nectar-rich flowers will make it even more attractive to hummingbirds.
Shelter for Hummingbirds
When they aren’t feeding, hummingbirds look for perches to rest and preen. Providing perches such as slender poles, clotheslines, thin vines, trellises, wires and multiple levels of shrubbery will give birds suitable shelter. At the same time, because many hummingbirds are very aggressive, they will prefer perches that also have good fields of view to protect their territories. Position perching plants and shrubs near food sources for the best results in attracting hummingbirds.
Unlike many backyard bird species, hummingbirds will not use bird houses or nesting boxes. Instead, they build their double-lined, cup-shaped nests in trees and shrubs, though bolder birds may build their nests along wires, clotheslines or poles. Providing sheltered, safe areas of native plants for the birds to nest will make a backyard more attractive. Birders can also supply suitable nesting materials including fine natural cotton and animal fur to attract nesting birds.
Spider silk is especially attractive for nesting hummingbirds, because the elasticity of the silk is essential for their nests and female hummers use the silk to bind their nests together.
The Most Attractive Hummingbird Yard
Just by meeting hummingbirds' needs, it is possible to attract these tiny, beautiful birds to the backyard. The very best hummingbird yard will meet all four of these needs even in a small space, and will take additional steps such as...
- Protecting hummingbirds from hungry predators, including cats, snakes and large insects that will attack hummingbirds.
- Safeguarding windows to minimize hummingbird collisions so these birds are not injured by large panes of glass.
- Providing splashes of red color to attract hummingbirds, but avoiding unnecessary red dye in nectar that can endanger hummingbirds.
Like all backyard birds, hummingbirds are wild animals with basic needs. Birders who understand how to attract hummingbirds by satisfying those needs can be rewarded with dozens of beautiful hummingbirds in their backyard.