Creating a Hummingbird Habitat

Do you love to watch hummingbirds fly around your garden? Many gardeners are fascinated with the beauty and aerobatics of hummingbirds. The key to attracting hummingbirds to your yard is to plant lots of flowers and provide the habitat that will give them shade, shelter, food, and security. These birds are loyal and once they find a habitat that satisfies their needs, they faithfully return year after year. Feeding hummingbirds for your personal enjoyment also helps the eco-system. These birds are pollinators and play an important role in the life cycle of flowering plants.

Did you know: There are 340 species of hummingbirds (16 of which actually breed in the United States) making them the second most diverse bird family on earth. Hummingbirds are the tiniest of all birds, weighing less than an ounce and measuring only 3 inches long. Their brightly-colored, iridescent feathers and quick movements make them appear as living sun catchers—hence their nickname, flying jewels. They have a unique ability to fly in any direction, even backward, with their wings beating up to 80 beats per second.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when creating a hummingbird habitat.

Location: Before you start planting a hummingbird garden, the first thing that needs to be picked out is the location. The hummingbird garden needs to be positioned where you can see it; otherwise, what is the fun of attracting the hummingbirds in the first place.

Flowers: Brightly–colored flowers that are tubular hold the most nectar, and are particularly attractive to hummingbirds. Hummingbirds are very visual creatures and have excellent vision and do not rely on smell. The best hummingbird gardens will include flowers that bloom at different times so hummingbirds always have an available food source, no matter when they visit. Make sure to deadhead spent flowers to enhance blooming.

Water: Hummingbirds need water to drink and to bathe. They prefer moving water sources such as sprinklers, fountains, waterfalls, misters and drippers and will often perch in a spray or fly through moving water to cool off or bathe. A small birdbath or even a shallow bowl with rocks works very well for hummingbirds to perch and drink water. All types of water sources should be kept fresh and clean. Position the water near nectar-rich flowers to make it even more attractive to hummingbirds.

Feeders: Nectar feeders are one of the most common ways to attract hummingbirds to your yard. A wide range of feeder styles is available and may come with wasp, hornet and ant guards. They are often colored red to help attract hummingbirds.

Hummingbird feeders impose a responsibility on the provider. To be safe, they must be clean, and that is a challenge in hot weather. The solution should be changed at least every other day, even if no hummingbirds are using it, so that it doesn’t ferment or get moldy. Every filling, you should flush the feeder with hot tap water and clean with a tooth brush or bottle brush. Most experts advise against using soap or detergent.  If all this is too much trouble, just plant the flowers and skip the artificial feeders. You’ll still attract hummingbirds, and you won’t be harming them with unsanitary feeders.

Nectar is easy to make for your feeders.  Boil four cups of water and stir in one cup of white sugar, let it cool and pour into clean feeders. It is recommended to avoid honey, which can cause a fatal fungal infection on the birds’ tongues. You do not need to add food coloring to the solution, the red color on the feeder is sufficient. If your feeder does not have any red on it, attach red flagging tape to the feeder or hanger. You can store the excess syrup in the refrigerator for a week or two. If the ants find your feeder you can apply petroleum jelly to the wire hanger to prevent them from getting to the nectar.

Hummingbirds are territorial and are not likely to share “their” feeders. So, hang more feeders far enough apart to attract more birds.

Insects: While hummingbirds are most well known for their fondness for nectar, they also eat a large quantity of insects, including gnats, aphids, and spiders. This protein is especially critical during the nesting season, when young hummingbirds need plenty of protein for proper growth. To attract hummingbirds to backyard insects, avoid using pesticides or insecticides that will kill off this food source.

Perches: Hummingbirds do not walk or hop but do perch about 80% of their life. Providing perches such as slender poles, clotheslines, thin vines, trellises, wires and multiple levels of shrubbery will give birds suitable shelter. At the same time, because many hummingbirds are very aggressive, they will prefer perches that also have good fields of view to protect their territories. A perch also supplies a spot “preening”, which is removing built up debris in their feathers.

Nesting Spots: Hummingbirds build their nests mostly in trees and shrubs. Providing sheltered, safe areas of plants for the birds to nest will make a backyard more attractive. You can supply suitable nesting materials including fine natural cotton and animal fur to attract nesting birds. Spider silk is especially attractive for nesting hummingbirds, because the elasticity of the silk is essential for their nests and female hummers use the silk to bind their nests together.

I hope you will think about trying to welcome these marvelous gifts of nature to your garden. With a few easy additions you can turn your yard into a hummingbird haven.

If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website: sjmastergardeners.ucanr.edu.

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  • Blog Author

    Marcy Sousa

    Marcy Sousa is the San Joaquin County UC Master Gardener Program Coordinator. She is a Stockton native and enjoys teaching others about gardening. She has her bachelors from Stanislaus State in Permaculture. She has been with the program since 2007. Read Full
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