It’s that time of year again — hummingbirds are already flying toward their winter destinations. If you live anywhere south, it’s the perfect time to make sure your gardens are extra welcoming to the little zoomers. I’m seeing lots of Ruby-Throats right now, males and females both.
Hummingbirds love both nectar plants and feeders in the garden. If you can provide both, you’ve got a great chance to attract the little cuties. I always say that you should get your native plants in the ground right away but use feeders to help the hummingbirds find your garden faster.
Hummingbirds are very much attracted to tubular flowers in the red and orange color range, but some visit a variety of nectar plants. Some of the hummingbird favorites I plant in my garden include:
* Signifies native to Texas
Flame Acanthus (shown) *
Turk’s Cap *
Standing Cypress *
Autumn Sage *
Tropical Sage *
Coral Honeysuckle *
Red Yucca *
Lantana, Texas *
Purple Coneflower *
Yellow Bells *
Texas Betony *
Red Columbine *
Hummingbirds also eat insects and small spiders for their protein, so it is important to avoid using pesticides in your hummingbird garden. Mosquitoes, gnats, aphids, fruit flies, midges, and more provide important nutrients in the hummer diet — what wonderful garden helpers hummingbirds are!
Hummingbirds love shallow running water. I have a variety of water features at my house for birds in general, but today I decided that it is my new goal to put in a special birdbath created especially with hummingbirds in mind. I’ll put it in the backyard garden they frequent the most. I want to get a picture of a hummer taking a bird bath in a birdbath!
When choosing a feeder, the top priorities are:
- Is it easy to clean, including the inside of the basin? See below for more info on cleaning.
- Does it have an all red basin? See the info about bees below.
- Is it made of a safe material? (in other words, no metal)
My favorite hummingbird feeder is the Hummzinger — it has a little perch for the hummers and it is oh so easy to clean. A built-in ant moat keeps ants from reaching the feeder.
The company also makes a window version — my parents love using one on their camper. We keep ours on the kitchen window. It uses little suction cups, and it lets you watch the little flyers up close.
Feeders don’t have to be gorgeous. You really want them to be functional, and that means easy to clean and red in color. Pretty simple really.
And no metal parts — iron from rust and iron that leeches from metal can kill hummingbirds in a short amount of time.
Filling the Feeder
The following recipe has become the standard for safe hummingbird nectar:
Nectar Water Recipe
4 parts water to 1 part white cane sugar
- Never use food coloring or another additive, and do not use turbinado, raw sugar, honey, or brown sugar — these can be dangerous or even deadly.
- It is not necessary to boil the water first.
- It is okay to change this recipe to 5 parts water in the hot summer and 3 parts water in the cold winter, but if in doubt, stick to 4:1 recipe.
- You don’t need to fill the feeder to full each time — put in an amount that is likely to be used in that short time period.
Bees, Wasps, and Ants
Bees and wasps are attracted to the color yellow, so they are drawn to feeders that have little yellow flower parts. If you are having trouble with bees or wasps and your feeder has yellow flowers, either remove the yellow part or replace your feeder with one that has an all-red basin.
Ants can be avoided by using a feeder with a built-in ant moat or by purchasing an ant moat that hangs above the feeder. Use plain water in the moat and never add anything to it, since small birds sometimes like to drink water from the moat.
Cleaning Your Feeder
Be sure to clean your feeder every 3 days and replace the sugar water. This prevents the growth of black mold and the spread of disease between hummingbirds.
To clean, open the feeder up and use a bottle brush to scrub out the inside. Be sure to get all the potential hidden spots that some feeders seem to have — if you can’t clean it, I promise you that mold will start to grow there. If using a mild dishwashing detergent, make sure that rinse the feeder very thoroughly. And every few weeks, use vinegar to give a good cleaning.
To scrub the tiny holes, use a small brush as shown below. These are very inexpensive and available online or at many stores that sell feeders.
Enjoy Your Hummingbird Visitors
When the hummingbirds arrive, be prepared for some feisty behaviour. They don’t like to share with each other much, so you’ll get to hear them fuss at each other as they try to keep other hummers from using the feeders or plants. I’m sure they are quite serious in their endeavours, but to humans it seems pretty cute.
Here in the South, I keep my feeders up year-round. There is always the chance that a straggler hummer will be in need of an energy source, and if plants are not blooming, I want to provide for them.
Welcome, little birdies, to our hummingbird haven. And good luck with the hummers in your own haven!