All bird species require food, water, shelter, and nesting spots. While hummingbirds are no different, because these tiny birds are so specialized, their needs are specialized as well. Birders who understand how to attract hummingbirds will create sanctuaries in their yards to fulfill all those basic bird needs with exactly what hummingbirds are looking for.
Food for Hummingbirds
The very easiest way to attract hummingbirds is to be sure they have plenty to eat. There are three ways to provide tantalizing food for hummingbirds: with plants, feeders, and insects.
Hummingbirds frequently feed 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 flowers, trees, 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.
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. Different hummingbirds will show preferences for different feeder styles, and observant birders will note which types of feeders the birds are emptying more quickly. Using at least a few different feeder styles will still ensure every hummingbird finds a feeder it prefers.
Incorporating several feeders throughout your yard provides more space for hummingbirds to feed. The feeders can be combined in groups to attract the birds' attention, and several feeding stations, each with multiple feeders, can be positioned throughout the same yard. While one bird may defend a single feeding station, it will be less likely to defend multiple positions, which will give more birds the opportunity to take a sip.
Feeders are often colored red to help attract hummingbirds and they may come with wasp, hornet, and ant guards. Nectar can be just as attractive to bees and wasps as it is to hummingbirds, and these large, stinging insects can be dangerous to hummingbirds. If the feeders are covered with insects, the birds will stay away. Larger insects, such as praying mantises, may even be hummingbird predators and will perch on feeders to hunt hummers. Keeping insects off hummingbird feeders can ensure the feeders are more suitable and attractive to birds.
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.
Hummingbird feeders should be cleaned every few days, and all the feeding ports should be scrubbed to be sure they are clear and unblocked.
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.
The more food sources a yard has for hummingbirds, the more quickly these tiny flying jewels will find their way to the buffet. A yard that provides all three types of food will be most attractive to hummingbirds.
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 birdbaths, are not suitable for tiny hummingbirds, though they may perch on the rim of a birdbath. 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 birdhouses 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 yard 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 yard. The very best hummingbird yard will not only meet all four of these needs, however, but will also take additional steps to make these birds safe, comfortable, and welcome. Extra steps to attract hummingbirds include:
- 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 be toxic.
Like all 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 yard.