Every hummingbird book, article, and expert will recommend planting flowers to attract backyard hummingbirds, but it takes more than just beautiful blooms to entice these birds for a visit. Many of the most common, widespread flowers are actually terrible choices for attracting hummers. Knowing which blooms to avoid can help birders develop stunning flowerbeds that will also serve as nutritious, bountiful buffets for visiting hummingbirds.
Why Not All Flowers Are Hummingbird-Friendly
Hummingbirds may visit hundreds of different flower species, but not every type of flower is equally appealing to these nectivorous birds. With approximately 400,000 flowering plants in the world, there are many blooms that hummingbirds do not like. Many flowers produce no nectar at all, and therefore have no food that will satisfy a hungry hummer. Furthermore, hummingbirds have evolved their specialized, needle-like bills to probe deep into flowers with elongated tubular shapes, and flowers that have other shapes such as puffs, bowls, saucers, or lips are less attractive to hummingbirds. Because hummingbirds often hover while feeding, flowers that do not provide good space for hovering birds are also less appealing.
When a flower blooms can also affect how attractive it may be to hummingbirds. For example, some of the earliest spring flowers in northern regions reach their peak long before hummingbirds return from their winter ranges, and therefore are of no use to the birds. Similarly, late-blooming varieties may only be bountiful when hummingbirds have already left on their fall migration, and so wouldn't be useful as a food source.
European, African, or Asian flowers that are not native to hummingbirds' typical ranges in North and South America may be less recognizable or appealing to the birds. Similarly, hybrid cultivars, even with the proper shape and colors that appeal to hummingbirds, may also not have sufficient nectar and would not keep a hummingbird's interest. Even if a flower is initially appealing to hummingbirds, if the plant is an invasive, exotic variety it may be less suitable in a hummingbird garden because using it would crowd out other plants that are more attractive and could eventually damage additional landscaping.
Flowers Hummingbirds Don't Like
While any curious hummingbird may investigate any flower before it decides whether or not to sip at the bloom or stay nearby, some flowers that are most popular in landscaping, containers, and gardens are least popular with hummingbirds. Blooms that do not strongly appeal to hummingbirds include:
- Lily of the valley
- Oriental lilies
- Sweet peas
Any Flower Can Still Be Useful
While different flowers may not be useful as a rich nectar food source, these tiny birds may still use less appetizing flowers as favorite perches to rest or survey their territory, particularly if feeders or nectar-rich flowers are nearby. Hummingbirds may also nest in thick floral shrubbery that provides adequate shelter and protection from predators, even if the flowers themselves do not provide abundant nectar. Any flowers can also provide insects for food, which are essential protein in a hummingbird's diet, as well as spider webs for nesting material. The colors of different flowers can catch hummingbirds' attention and attract them to a yard, where they can then discover other, more suitable flowers, feeding areas, and nesting sites.
If a yard has flowerbeds filled with inappropriate flowers, it won't matter how beautiful the bed may be or how lush the flowers bloom, hummingbirds will not visit. Fortunately, it is easy to replace flowers in order to attract more hummingbirds without destroying the integrity of established flowerbeds.
- When an established flower or shrub dies, replace it with flowers hummingbirds like.
- Expand flowerbeds to include hummingbird-friendly flowers as borders or edging.
- Add an arbor or trellis with nectar-rich vines to increase space in the flowerbed.
- Fill in bare spots in flowerbeds with taller hummingbird flowers.
- Add hummingbird feeders to flowerbeds to provide instant food for the birds.
- Add new flowerbeds, containers, or hanging pots with top hummingbird flowers.
Whether or not every flower will be suitable for hummingbirds, other birds, butterflies, hummingbird moths, and various pollinators may enjoy different blooms and can make use of less hummingbird-friendly flowers. Ideally, the best hummingbird-friendly yards will include a range of flowers to meet all birds' needs, as well as other trees, shrubs, grasses, and vines that can provide food, shelter, and nesting sites for all types of birds, including hummingbirds.