From The Ground Up: Attract hummers to garden with variety of plants, homemade nectar

A male ruby-throated hummingbird at Prairie Fire Penstemon.
A male ruby-throated hummingbird at Prairie Fire Penstemon.

Hummingbirds are fascinating. I love mid-April when I see them returning to my yard. Ruby-throated hummingbirds (hummers), the most common in Iowa and North America, return to the same area they hatched and visit the same garden or feeders year after year. Hummers live an average life of three to four years.

Attracting these entertaining birds to your garden is easy by offering a place to perch, a hummingbird feeder and a variety of plants they like. Hummingbirds are drawn to red and tubular flowers and plants with multiple open blossoms like red petunias, cardinal vine and fuchsia plants. They also like cannas, Agastache, coral bells, bee balm, salvia, and Nicotiana.

Fragrance isn’t important to hummingbirds, they’re after the nectar. They get their main energy from flower nectar, using a feeder’s sugar water as a boost of energy to hunt down protein, soft-bodied insects and spiders. Their metabolisms are amazing so they require a lot of nectar.

Hummingbird feeders are a great way to attract these little birds to your yard. Place them where you can see them and you’ll be entertained by their antics. There’s a variety of feeders on the market, some are red, or clear. Some feeders have little yellow flowers on them for feeding ports. The yellow color attracts bees and wasps so remove those or paint them red before putting your feeders out in the spring to avoid getting lots of the bees in the feeders.

Make sure you keep your hummingbird feeder clean and replace the sugar water regularly. You can make your own sugar water, by boiling 1 cup of white sugar and 4 cups of water for 30 seconds, cooling before putting into feeder. Keep this solution for up to two weeks in your refrigerator. Never put honey, jello, brown sugar or fruit in your feeder. These ferment quickly and can be detrimental to hummers. Don’t add red dye to your sugar water either.

Hummingbirds are territorial about feeders and may be aggressive toward other hummers. The ones in my yard battle quite often. When a hummingbird defends its territory, it chirps loudly and quickly to discourage another hummers from feeding. They also flare their tails, spread their wings and dive at the other hummers. This behavior is fascinating to watch, but you can take a few steps to help them share the nectar. Try adding one or more feeders and place them further apart, allowing other hummers to get nectar before getting chased out. Place the feeders out of sight from each other. I have a hummer that sits guard atop an arbor in my yard and watches two feeders.

Hummingbirds migrate south for the winter, leaving anywhere from September to November. Don’t stop feeding them until you’re sure they’ve migrated. They need to feed more until their fall departure date. Keep feeders out for two weeks after seeing your last one.



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