JoAnne Skelly: Tips for attracting hummingbirds

Crocosmia

Crocosmia

Someone asked me how to attract hummingbirds to her yard, since they were a wonderful reminder of her grandmother.
Watching hummingbirds fly and hover, it’s obvious they use a lot of energy. They must eat at least half their body weight every day, so they need plants that supply copious amounts of nectar from early to late in the year. Their long beaks are perfect for tubular flowers. They are especially attracted to red, orange, blue or purple flowers, because they do not have a good sense of smell and need the colors to guide them to nectar.
They also eat a large number of insects, which means don’t use pesticides in your yard or garden.
Flower choices include: beebalm, penstemon, bleeding heart, columbine, daylily, lupine, crocosmia, cleome, foxglove, hollyhock, hosta, lavender, red aloe, catmint, coral bells, delphinium, iris, lily, petunia, morning glory, red hot poker, salvia and other mints. Shrubs that feed hummers are: butterfly bush, quince, caryopteris. Rose-of-Sharon, rhododendron, currant, blue false indigo and weigela, to name a few. Trumpet vines and honeysuckle are nectar sources too. Crabapple, western redbud, hawthorn, horse chestnut, catalpa and tulip tree are a few hummingbird-attracting trees.
Besides food sources, hummers need room to hover and move between flowers. Did you know they like shade? And moving water? Another tip is to leave spiders and spider webs around the house and yard, because hummingbirds use the web material in their nests. Besides, the birds like to steal spiders’ trapped insects.
Although native and ornamental plants are the ideal choices for feeding hummingbirds, feeders can be a non-plant alternative, particularly during nesting season or times when fewer flowers are blooming. According to https://www.allaboutbirds.org, the recipe for the sugar water is: ¼ cup of refined white sugar to one cup of water. Don’t use honey because disease organisms thrive on honey. Don’t use artificial sweeteners either.
Audubon recommends bringing the solution to a boil and letting it cool before filling the feeder. Refrigerate the excess after boiling. Don’t add red food coloring to the water, because coloring can be harmful to the birds. All About Birds reminds us that nectar is, after all, clear and the feeder is usually red. During hot weather, empty and clean the feeder twice per week. If the birds empty the feeder more often, then clean it more often. Hot tap water is fine and don’t use soap.
A diverse palette of plants with a long bloom time to flower through all seasons will keep hummers in your yard.
JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator Emerita, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Email skellyj@unr.edu

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