There’s something undeniably special about hummingbirds. Is there anyone who doesn’t want to attract hummingbirds to their garden?
The best part is, it’s so easy!
You need only three simple ingredients to attract hummingbirds by the dozen: flowers or nectar, water and perches.
Flowers and nectar feeders attract hummingbirds
Hummingbirds need to eat – a lot. To avoid starvation, the average hummingbird eats half its weight in nectar and insects each day.
If the average man had the metabolism of a hummingbird, he would need to eat 285 pounds (129 kg) of meat every day just to maintain his weight!
Attract hummingbirds with flowers
Hummingbird in motion
Image by Dan Pancamo (CC BY SA 2.0)
Image by Lucky7879613459 (CC BY SA 4.0)
Hummingbirds have excellent vision and find flowers by color, not fragrance. So plant lots of the flowers they like, with a focus on red, orange and pink flowers with a long tubular shape.
For even more benefits, focus on native plants, such as bee balm, trumpet honeysuckle and hummingbird sage.
Not only do these plants provide much more nectar than hybrids and non-native versions, they support more of the insects that hummingbirds (and other birds) need to eat.
Choose plants that bloom at different times to provide natural nectar throughout the season.
Non-native plants may have a role to play here if they bloom later than native ones but be sure to avoid any (like Japanese honeysuckle and Butterfly bush) that are known to be invasive.
Whatever plants you use, resist the urge to use insecticides as these reduce the birds’ food supply and can also directly poison birds. The small bodies of hummingbirds are especially vulnerable to pesticides.
Some native flowers that help attract hummingbirds:
- Bee balm
- Coral honeysuckle
- Spotten Jewel-weed
- Cardinal flower
- Obedient plant
Attract hummingbirds with nectar
Gardening is more of a long-term way to attract hummingbirds but if you can’t (or don’t want to) care for a garden, you can still attract hummingbirds with nectar feeders.
If you want to see what can be achieved with nectar feeders, check out this video:
This video is a live stream from a lady named Carole who lives in California. In addition to the feeders you can see, there are another 10 off-camera!And all of them have to be refilled about three times a day. Even if you don’t want that many hummingbirds, you can get that same feeder on Amazon.
How to choose a hummingbird nectar feeder
There are so many nectar feeders available that you might be wondering which ones are the best. Pretty much any of them will work to attract hummingbirds, but not all of them will be convenient for you.
Here are a few criteria you should consider before you choose a feeder to attract hummingbirds.
What to put in a nectar feeder
There’s no need to buy a commercial nectar mix – all you need to do is mix ¼ cup plain white sugar with 1 cup of hot water.
Shake or stir it well to dissolve the sugar and you’ve got nectar.
Don’t use any other kind of sweetener, even if you think it’s more ‘natural’ (e.g. brown sugar, honey, molasses, etc.) as hummers don’t digest them well.
Plain white sugar is best for hummingbird nectar.
This is one case where refined white sugar really is the best option!
Never add red food coloring as it’s not necessary and is probably very harmful to those tiny little bodies.
Keep your hummingbirds healthy by replacing the nectar every week or so, or when it gets cloudy.
Especially in warmer weather, you might want to use a product called Nectar Defender to keep nectar fresh for up to two weeks.
In addition to keeping the nectar fresh, Nectar Defender also provides an essential micro-nutrient (copper) for better hummingbird health.
I use Nectar Defender in my own feeders and am pleased to say that it works well.
Where to put your hummingbird feeder
Hummingbird feeders ideally should be placed in the shade to keep nectar from spoiling.
Some recommend placing them away from other bird feeders, but in my experience it makes no difference.
Hummingbirds are plenty plucky enough to chase any other birds that bother them, but it’s never been an issue at my home.
Hummingbird feeders also attract insects, so have a plan for keeping ants and bees off your feeder(s).
Hummingbirds have very short legs, so they can’t run or hop like other birds.
Where did my hummingbirds go?
Depending on where you live, you may find that hummingbirds “disappear” for 4 to 6 weeks in summer.
Broad-tailed hummingbird female landing on a feeder.
Image by Danorton (CC BY SA 3.0 unported)
This happens for a few reasons, but mainly because the females are busy incubating their eggs and feeding their young.
Baby birds are fed exclusively on insects, so mama hummingbird is on the hunt and may not have time to sip nectar.
If you want to provide protein for your hummingbirds you can attract insects for them by leaving out overripe fruit and banana peels.
This, as you probably know, will attract fruit flies that will breed like, well, fruit flies and provide lots of protein for your hummers.
If you don’t want to have a mess in plain sight or attract animals that eat garbage, consider using an insect feeder like this one.
Just don’t forget to replace the fruit every week or you’ll have a small still going before you know it.
Fun fact: Hummingbirds are deadbeat dads - after mating, the females do all the work!
When to put up and take down hummingbird feeders
If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you’ll have Anna’s hummingbird all year round, so you won’t need to worry about this.
Migrating hummingbirds start moving into the southern US as early as January and have landed everywhere by around the end of March.
They begin their return to winter quarters around the end of August.
You can follow the migration here.
It’s best to bring your hummingbird feeders out of storage about two weeks before the first hummingbirds are expected in your area.
Put hummingbird feeders away about two weeks after you’ve seen the last hummingbird.
How to clean a hummingbird feeder
First of all, do not put any bird feeder in your dishwasher. Birds, including hummingbirds, carry diseases that can spread to your family.
And no matter what the seller says, plastic parts will warp or melt completely in a dishwasher's hot interior.
To clean your feeder take it apart and scrub any gunk from the outside and inside using a bottle brush.
Then soak all the feeder parts for one hour in a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts hot water. Rinse well and allow it to dry thoroughly because chlorine bleach evaporates.
Grapefruit seed extract (GSE) has been scientifically shown to kill germs 10 to 100 times better than bleach and is also non-toxic and biodegradable. You can read more about GSE and how to use it here.
Use water to attract hummingbirds
A shallow bubbler fountain is a very effective way to attract hummingbirds! Image by Mike's Birds (CC BY SA 2.0)
All birds need water to drink and for bathing, and they especially love water that moves.
You can take advantage of this and attract hummingbirds by adding a very shallow birdbath, water bubbler or mister to your garden. Just watch the videos below to see how well this works.
The first one shows a record 30 hummingbirds all taking a dip at the same time!
Here’s another fun video of hummingbirds enjoying a mister:
One golden pond
If you really want to go for the gold, consider installing a small pond in your garden.
It will attract insects that lay eggs in water, such as gnats, midges and mosquitos, which then hatch and become food for birds.
This doesn’t have to be a huge, expensive project – you can make a small pond in a wine barrel or other container.
Attract hummingbirds with perches
Hummingbirds use a tremendous amount of energy, beating their wings around 90 times per second, and flying at up to 98 mph.
Not only do they feed around 2,000 times a day, they need to rest a bit too.
Fun Fact: A resting hummingbird takes about 250 breaths per minute.
If you have shrubs and trees nearby, they’ll use the twiggy branches to rest on and maybe even for nesting – more on that later. (I have also seen them rest on a clothesline!)
What if you don’t have trees and can’t plant any?
Try provide perching spots by taking a long dead branch with small twigs on it and standing it up on the ground or in a plant pot.
Ideally, you’d provide several of these – some in sheltered areas and some out in the open where the little buzzers can monitor their territory.
You can also add a decorative element by hanging some cute hummingbirds swings in sheltered areas near your flower or feeder.
Notice that in the first video in this article, Carole has placed quite a few swings among her hummingbird feeders.
Note: If you buy one of these swings, be sure to get one with a very slender perch for those tiny little feet.
How to attract hummingbirds to nest
Hummingbirds build their tiny cup-shaped nests on the forked branch of small tree limbs that are sheltered from sun, rain and wind, and they like to nest near good food sources.
Hummingbird nests are about the size of a ping-pong ball and are stuck together with spider webs so they can expand as nestlings grow.
They are also camouflaged with bits of lichen, bark and leaves to make them less visible.
Fun fact: hummingbird babies don't leave the nest until they are almost fully grown.
Hummingbird nest with two babies
Image by Mike's Birds (CC BY SA 2.0)
To attract hummingbirds to nest in your yard, plant shrubs and small deciduous trees, especially those with thorns, near the flowers to attract hummingbirds to nest.
If you already have trees or shrubs, you could also try placing a few of these cute nesting pods.
They like to nest up high - between 10 and 40 feet or even higher. They don't use birdhouses of any kind but they might use a nesting pod.
To make the area more attractive keep the number of hummingbird feeders low and keep cats, dogs, snakes and other predators away.
Provide nesting materials
You can hang out a sock or wire cage full of nesting materials like natural cotton balls, collected lichens, plant down from thistles, dandelions, cattails and cottonwood trees. Or use Hummer Helper nesting material.
Don't remove spiderwebs during spring and summer – hummingbirds use them to make their nests stretchy enough to accommodate their babies.
I hope I've shown you how easy it is to attract hummingbirds with flowers and nectar, resting spots and water.
It does take some work to attract hummingbirds, but once you do they’re incredibly loyal. If they find a reliable source of food they will keep coming back year after year.
And if the food is located near some good nesting places and a source of clean water, you’ll win their heart for good.
Know someone who loves hummingbirds? Please share this article!