The warm weather has brought back those tiniest of our feathered friends, the hummingbirds. Truly a delight to watch in the garden, they double as entertainment and insect control. Attracting these little birds to the garden is an extremely rewarding task, as they remember where their favorite spots are, and will return to them year after year.
The only hummingbird common to this part of the country, east of the Mississippi River, is the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, so named for the bright iridescent red throat feathers of the males of the species. Both male and female birds have bright green wing and back feathers, though the females are much more subdued, having slightly paler green coloration, and tan undersides, no red feathers at all. There will often be several females living in the same area as one male, and all will strongly defend their territory from other hummingbirds. Vocalizations are a series of squeaks or chirps, often heard in a scolding tone, if one gets too close.
Planting for hummingbirds is a delightful task, as they are attracted to flowers that bloom in brighter reds and pinks. Summer blooming plants are key, but it is important to have some early spring and late fall bloomers as well, to ensure enough food is available for those early or late migrators. Trumpet-shaped blossoms are ideal, as the long, slender beak of the hummingbird can easily reach the nectar deep inside the flower.
Flower color is much more important than fragrance in a hummingbird garden. A plant that may not have much fragrance but flowers profusely will be visited much more than one that smells nice. Plants that are frequented by hummingbirds in our gardens are Beebalm, Tall Phlox, Foxglove, Hosta (only if they flower!), Daylilies, our native Honeysuckle vine, Butterfly Bush, and shrubby flowering Weigela. Favorite annuals include large-flowered Fuchsia and Scarlet Sage. But any red or deep pink blossom will bring the little birds flocking to your garden! Beebalms seem to be one of their absolute favorites.
Shelter and water are other important considerations for your hummingbird garden. Their small size makes them ideal targets for neighborhood cats, larger birds, and other predators, so having places to hide is essential. Shrubs that have dense branching like viburnum, lilac, small leaf rhododendron, and weigela offer a place to zip into if the birds feel threatened. A mix of shade and sun in the garden is important, especially on hotter days, and having a small, raised birdbath available in the shady area will provide a welcome source of relief.
Hummingbird feeders are another way of attracting these tiny birds to your garden, and can provide the opportunity of some amazing photographs and experiences, as well as a supplemental food source if there are no blossoms available. Important things to remember if using hummingbird feeders are to never, ever use red food coloring (commercial food mixes are OK), honey, or artificial sugar substitutes. Feeders are generally bright red, which will attract birds just fine. Only a 1 part sugar to 4 parts water (1/4 c sugar to 1 c water) mix should be used. The best place to hang a feeder is a place you can easily see it, but a place that doesn’t get too much direct sun, as this can lead to the growth of mold and fungus. Feeders should be changed every three to five days, and washed with hot water. Soap can be used if necessary, but the feeder must be thoroughly rinsed afterward.
Planting for hummingbirds goes hand-in-hand with planting for butterflies, too! If you have a garden that the hummingbirds are happy to visit, you will probably notice an increase in the amount of butterfly visitors that appear.