Attracting Hummingbirds To Your Yard
If you never seem to be able to attract hummingbirds to your yard, try one or more of these tips, and you should see hummers at your feeder soon!
- Make sure the feeder is placed near a tree or shrub as hummers like to perch near the feeder first to survey the area before coming in to feed.
- All hummingbird feeders that are purchased these days have red or yellow on them somewhere, but if you are in doubt that there is enough red or yellow, try tying a red ribbon on the feeder.
- If the hummers don't seem particularly interested in what you're offering, check your bag of sugar. If it doesn't specifically say cane sugar, it may be beet sugar. Given a choice of your neighbor's nectar made from cane sugar and yours made from beet sugar, hummers will probably choose the cane. (Yeah, they have expensive taste!)
- Adding a mister to your yard with a nearby bush to perch on will encourage the hummers to stay close instead of having to go off in search of a daily bath.
- Another way to attract attention to your feeder is to place it among flowers that hummers like, or hang a basket of flowers nearby. Favorite flowers include cardinal flower, bee balm, honeysuckle, trumpet vine, penstemon, salvia, crocosmias, and agastache.
You will find that feeder activity slows as more flowers bloom in your yard. Do not panic! They prefer natural nectar over what we give them in our feeders, so they are still around, and you will see them at your feeders more often as the blooms start to diminish.
If you live in the eastern part of the United States, you may find you only have one hummingbird that will visit for the summer, and that is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. They are very territorial and defend flowers and feeders within their favorite roost spot, so if you want to attract more than one hummer, try putting up 2-3 more feeders out of sight from each other, perhaps on another side of your house.
Finally, don't worry that hummers won't migrate at the right time if you leave your feeders up too long. Their internal clock tells them when to leave and even an abundance of feeders won't tempt them to stay. Leave your feeders up for a week or two after you've seen the last hummer. Remember that after your regulars have left, there may be others migrating through that need to stop in for some nourishment before continuing on their long journey.
This is the best recipe for making your own nectar. As long as your feeder has some red parts there is no need to add red food coloring.
1 Part Cane Sugar
4 Parts Water
Boil water, remove from heat and add sugar, stirring until dissolved
Cool & store unused portion in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks
Never use honey or artificial sweeteners! Honey ferments easily, and can cause sores in a hummer's mouth. Artificial sweeteners have no food value.
Taking Care of your hummingbird feeder
Your hummingbird feeders need to be cleaned, and nectar changed every 2 to 5 days, depending on how warm the weather is. Placing the feeder in a shady location will keep the nectar fresh longer. Cloudy nectar is an indication of spoilage. If you see black spots inside your feeder this is mold and you will need to scrub it out with a good bottle brush. If you can't reach it with a bottle brush you can add some sand with water and shake the feeder to remove the mold.
You should never use harsh detergent to clean your feeder. Rinse the feeder out each time you change your nectar with hot water, and if you do this on a regular basis you should not have a problem with mold inside the feeder.
What To Do About Ants and Bees?
The best way to prevent ants at your feeder is to use an "ant guard". An ant guard is a barrier between the ants and the nectar. These guards are built into many feeders, but are also available as an add-on accessory for existing feeders.
If you have a bee problem, avoid hummingbird feeders with yellow parts, as the color yellow seems to attract bees. Capillary style feeders which have a tube hanging down tend to drip more that other styles, giving bees and other insects a free lunch.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Q I have one hummingbird that chases all of the other birds away. Why is it doing that?
- A The bird that is chasing the others away is a male. They are very territorial and will guard the feeder from the other birds. You can hang other feeders out of the direct line-of-sight of each other and will be able to feed multiple birds that way.
- Q I moved my feeder from where I had it last year and I don't have near as many birds. Why is that?
- A The hummingbirds have a great "GPS" system and it has been documented that many birds return each year to the same place they were feeding the past year. Try hanging your feeder where it was or hanging orange or pink ribbon near your feeder to attract more hummingbirds.
- Q Do hummingbirds hibernate or migrate?
- A They do not hibernate, but instead go through a metabolic change called "torpor". When the nights get colder, their body temperature can drop significantly and thus slow down their heart and breathing rate, thus burning much less energy overnight. As the day heats back up, the hummingbirds body temperature will come back up and they will get back to their normal activity. They store up fats from the nectars and insects to prepare them for their migration south during the winter months. The nectars they drink during the warmer months allow them to build up their muscles in their wings to make the long flights.
- Q Do hummingbirds nest in a bird house?
- A No, hummingbirds will not build a nest inside of a bird house or construction. They actually build their small nests on the crook of a branch or on the limb. They may use spiderwebs to construct their nest with due to the sticky nature of the material. The birds may also eat the small spiders under the eaves of your house. Typically the birds will not be able to re-use the nest from one season to the next due to the fragility of the materials that the nest is constructed from. They may, however, use the same tree to nest in each season. It has also been found that female hummingbirds may use the same nest to hatch their young in during the same season.
- Q When hummingbirds migrate, do they hitch rides on the backs of geese?
- A This is not true due to the fact that the geese fly very high (20,000 feet or higher) and the hummingbirds fly very low to the ground. The hummers probably wouldn't function very well at such high altitudes. Also, the geese tend to stop their southward migration in the Carolinas, not nearly far enough south for the hummingbirds.
- Q When should I take my feeder down or stop feeding the hummingbirds?
- A By leaving a hummingbird feeder up, you will not discourage the migration pattern of the birds. The hummingbird migration is stimulated by the length of time of the days. As the days become shorter they start putting on more fat for the migration south. If you do have birds that stick around during the Fall or Winter, these birds may not have been healthy enough to make the migration south and you will be providing them a source of food. Change your nectar regularly (once to twice per week) to keep it fresh for the birds.
- Q How does the hummingbird get the nectar out of the feeder?
- A The hummingbirds have a long tongue that laps up liquids like a dog or cat would, just at a much faster rate.
- Q When should I start feeding the hummingbirds in the Spring?
- A Depending on the weather in your area, the hummingbirds should start showing up in the Southern U.S. around late February or early March. They should reach the middle U.S. by early April and the Northern U.S. by late April or early May.
- Q What kind of habitat or plants can I plant in my backyard to draw in more hummingbirds?
- A Plant native hummingbird flowers, flowering shrubs and trees, as well as a hummingbird feeder will draw and keep hummingbirds in your backyard. To attract more birds initially, try tying pink or orange surveyor ribbon in a few places to draw the birds to it. Remember to change your nectar frequently (once or twice per week) to keep it fresh.
- Q What kind of plants should I plant?
- A The Trumpet Creeper vine, Honeysuckle, or other flowers similar in nature will attract hummingbirds to your yard.
- Q Does the #40 red dye (food coloring) have an adverse affect on the hummingbirds? Will it hurt them or not?
- A There is no scientific evidence that red food coloring (#40 red dye) harms the hummingbirds. Most feeders made today have enough red made into them that the red dye in the nectar is not necessary to draw the birds in. Also, once the hummingbirds have found the feeder, and if the nectar is replaced regularly, they will keep coming back to it whether or not the nectar is red, clear, or another color.
- Q I have orioles coming to my hummingbird feeder. Is this normal?
- A Orioles feed very similar to hummingbirds. They also eat a sugar-water concentrate, but they do not need quite as concentrated of a sugar mix as hummingbirds do. There are oriole feeders commercially available, as well as oriole nectar to feed the birds.
- Q I've seen hummingbirds hovering around the eaves of my house. What are they doing?
- A In the spring, the female hummingbirds will gather spider webs and soft plant parts to build her small nest. This is probably a female hummer collecting spiderwebs, eating small spiders, and getting her nest ready to lay her eggs.
- Q We've had a hummingbird get inside the house and couldn't get out. It finally got so tired that it fell to the ground. What should we do?
- A Gently pick the bird up in your hand and get it some water or sugar water to drink. Just gently stick it's beak near the nectar to allow it to get small drinks. Take the bird outside and release it safely. It should get its energy back quickly and take flight.
- Q What are some of the different types of hummingbirds we will see in the U.S. and where will we find them?
- A There are sixteen species of hummingbirds in the U.S. Some of these are quite rare, occurring only in deep S. Texas, S. Arizona or Florida. The most commonly seen U.S. hummingbirds and their general areas of distribution are:
- - Allen's: Coastal California
- - Anna's: Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico and West Texas
- - Black-Chinned: Western U.S. generally west of Texas to Wyoming
- - Blue-Throated: Southwestern Arizona
- - Broad-Billed: S.W. Texas, S.W. New Mexico and S.E. Arizona
- - Broad-Tailed: Parts of the Rocky Mountain regions, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Idaho, Arizona, Colorado and mountains of Central California
- - Buff-Bellied: Rio Grande valley of South Texas
- - Calliope: Montana, Washington, Idaho, Oregon, E. California
- - Costa's: S. California, S.W. Arizona, S. New Mexico, W. Texas
- - Ruby-Throated: E. United States from Central Texas to N. Dakota
- - Rufous: N.W. United States to coastal regions of S. Alaska
- - Violet-Crowned: S. California and West Texas
- - White-Eared: S. Arizona and West Texas
Other species that are rare visitors to the United States are Bahama-Woodstar, Berylline, Cuban Emerald, Green-Breasted Mango, and Plain-Capped Starthroat.