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Turn Your Yard Into a Hummingbird Spectacular

Green Lifestyle  (tags: birds, conservation, CoolStuff, eco-friendly, environment, garden, greenliving, protection, Sustainabililty )

- 1432 days ago -
For creatures that weigh barely more than a penny, hummingbirds certainly give you your money's worth--through their metallic colors, feats of aerobatics, and pugnacious, outsized personalities.

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Kathy B (106)
Friday April 18, 2014, 5:34 pm
For creatures that weigh barely more than a penny, hummingbirds certainly give you your money's worth--through their metallic colors, feats of aerobatics, and pugnacious, outsized personalities.

But for all their popularity, there is a lot that science still doesn't know about the lives of even the most widespread hummingbird species. For example, what proportion of ruby-throats fly directly across the Gulf of Mexico twice a year, a nonstop trip of about 500 miles, instead of detouring around it? And why are many rufous and other western species of hummers expanding their winter range into the East and Southeast? (See "The Drifter," March-April 2010.)

Climate change also poses serious threats. "Scientists are finding disturbing changes to blooming times of flowers and also to arrival times of hummingbirds," says Gary Langham, Audubon's chief scientist. "The potential mismatch of nectar sources and hummingbirds means we must monitor this closely and be thoughtful about what we plant in our yards and communities."

Fortunately, it's easy to make your yard a hummingbird haven even as you help scientists learn more about these feathered jewels.

Build a Habitat

Hummingbirds are attracted to flowering plants (see sidebar), but they need more than just nectar. To draw hummers, create a complex, varied backyard with staggered blooms that also includes feeders, perches (dead saplings "planted" in the ground work well), a natural abundance of insects, and places to hide when predators are near. Avoid using toxic garden chemicals--after all, as much as 60 percent of a hummingbird's diet is actually made up of tiny insects, spiders, and other arthropods, so the birds are providing some natural pest control. The hummingbirds will also appreciate a water mister that creates a fine spray in which they can bathe.

Feed 'em Right

Choose a hummingbird feeder that comes apart completely for regular scrubbing, inside and out, with a bottlebrush and hot water. Use only a mix of four parts water to one part plain white sugar--never use honey, which promotes dangerous fungal growth, molasses, or brown, raw, or organic sugar, which contain levels of iron that could be lethal. Plain white sugar perfectly mimics the chemical composition of natural nectar; don't waste money on commercial mixes. It's not necessary to boil the water, but keep any extra nectar refrigerated, and empty the feeder every few days, more often in hot weather. Never use red dye; nectar is naturally clear, and the coloring could be harmful.

Count Their Blessings

You can do your part by getting involved in a newly launched Audubon citizen science project called Hummingbirds at Home, which aims to provide details about which nectar sources hummers are using nationwide--and will give you a chance to explore these amazing, mysterious aerialists. Langham says, "The Hummingbirds at Home project asks people to help us determine what hummingbirds are feeding on in their communities, so we can better understand how to help." Learn more at

10 Plants for Hummingbirds

Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans). A sprawling, aggressive vine, it produces large, bell-shaped blossoms with abundant nectar. Plant it where it can climb a fence or a dead snag.

Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens). This vine is a reliable nectar source for rufous and other hummingbirds wintering along the Gulf Coast. But ruby-throats in the Southeast tend to avoid it.

Coralbells (Heuchera hybrids). Long a garden staple, coralbells come in a bewildering number of varieties. The masses of tiny flowers always draw hummingbirds.

Jewelweed/spotted touch-me-not (Impatiens capensis and I. pallida). One of the most important sources of late-summer nectar for migrant ruby-throated hummingbirds.

Scarlet gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata). Comes in shades from white and pink to orangish and purple, but the red form is most attractive to hummers.

Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis). The quintessential hummingbird plant, this widespread native bears intense red blossoms in summer and early fall.

Trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). Unlike the invasive Japanese species, this vine is not aggressive. It has long, tubular flowers (in yellow, orange, and red varieties).

Beebalm (Monarda). Available in a range of cultivars and colors; many native Monardas are also appealing to hummingbirds.

Penstemons. The genus Penstemon includes P. barbatus, which blooms in late summer when rufous hummingbirds are migrating.

Scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea). This tender Southern native is a Salvia, a genus that ranks among the very best for luring hummingbirds.

DaleLovesOttawa O (198)
Friday April 18, 2014, 8:33 pm
Hummingbirds are Nature;s colourful and tiny treasures, simply marvellous!

Past Member (0)
Saturday April 19, 2014, 3:36 am
This isn't just for the animals but ourselves

June M (139)
Saturday April 19, 2014, 5:47 am
thank you Kathy for sharing ♥

Barbara K (60)
Saturday April 19, 2014, 1:36 pm
Thanks for the info, I love butterflies. Thanks, Ken, for the forward.

Birgit W (160)
Saturday April 19, 2014, 1:46 pm
Thank you very much for sharing.

Nelson Baker (0)
Saturday April 19, 2014, 5:14 pm
Thank you for the article. I use over 80 pounds of sugar making sugar water for hummingbirds from late April until early September.

Ruth C (87)
Sunday April 20, 2014, 7:08 am
Thank you for the information.

Lin Penrose (92)
Sunday April 20, 2014, 9:37 am
Thanks Kathy, Starting 3 years ago in March, after some local destruction of natural habitat by the PTB, & possible other causes, the humming bird population at our feeders increased from about 6 individuals to 2-4 dozen at 3 feeders. We had to increase the number of feeders and our sugar/water supply increased along with them. We go through about 8 - 10 pounds of sugar a week. We are in a drought area so water is precious. Cleaning feeders and the sugar solution demands even more stringent rules for our personal consumption and use. The hummers are truly amazing, we and others are enjoying their presence. We are seeing one - a Costa - not seen at our feeders by us before before. Lots of work/costs, and can only hope we are helping these incredible birds with the damaging changes to our and their environments.


Anne F (17)
Sunday April 20, 2014, 10:43 am
So glad to see the lovely flowers listed - let's have more gardens for hummingbirds!

Charlene Rush (79)
Tuesday April 22, 2014, 8:41 pm
I have only a small deck, but, that could work, also.

Melania P (122)
Friday June 12, 2015, 10:15 am
Beautiful, thanks!
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