Thoughtful Gardener | Create a Hummingbird Garden -
Hummingbird at flower feeding

Hummingbirds delight in our summer gardens filled with a wide variety of abundantly blooming flowers. However, we can provide more for hummingbirds than simply offering colorful blooms. We can focus on all their needs, including water, food, and shelter.

As the summer heats to oven temperatures, hummingbirds — like all creatures — need an easily available and clean source of water. Since most bird baths are too deep for these aerial performers, we need to think more creatively to slake their thirst and cool their feathers.

Water for hummingbirds

Hummingbirds often grab a sip of water as they fly through mists. Adding a misting stand, spraying with a sprinkler, or elevating a drip emitter provides a cooling mist for hummingbirds to dart through to cool down and get a drink. If some of the water catches in the leaves of plants, they may pause for a deeper drink or even a bath from the leaf.

If you don’t have a water feature in your garden — for the soothing sound, at least – consider adding a hummingbird-friendly water source. Creating a water feature with flat surfaces, such as a flat rock or tile with a bubbler trickling water, will make a wonderful water sound and delight the birds at the same time.

Tubular shaped flowers

Most of us know that hummingbirds adore tubular shaped flowers in bright colors. In spring, they are drawn to red and pinkPenstemon flowers penstemons that begin blooming in March. By mid-summer, they are hovering around the yellow birds of paradise, trumpet vines, and sunflowers, which also provide pollen and small insects. As summer declines, they visit the hardy salvias, including meadow sage, Mexican bush sage, and cherry sage. Natural nectar is their first choice.

Many gardeners may not know that hummingbirds must have small insects to fuel their antics and feed their young. Though research is limited, it reveals that hummingbird diets consist of more insects than previously supposed. Hummingbirds grab gnats, mosquitoes, and other tiny insects out of the air to supplement their diet. Hummingbirds also use spider webs to create their nests, which they often reuse from year to year. Therefore, it makes sense that to be a good host and entertain these birds safely, a gardener should not use pesticides.

Feeding hummingbirds

Concern about red dyes in hummingbird nectar causing harm to the birds has been published for decades. I cringe every time IHummingbird at feeder see a feeder with dyes or any other ingredient beyond sugar and water. After all, flower nectar is a clear, natural sucrose syrup. Hummingbird feeders have colorful parts that attract hummingbirds, and the syrup is simple to prepare.

There is very little research about whether commercial nectar products are harmful. However, Sheri Williamson of the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory (SABO), and author of A Field Guide to Hummingbirds and Attracting and Feeding Hummingbirds, writes on the Cornell Lab for Ornithology website: “The bottom line is that ‘instant nectar’ products containing artificial coloring are at best a waste of your hard-earned money and at worst a source of disease, suffering, and premature death in hummingbirds.”

It’s also harmful to hummingbirds to let the syrup get moldy, so clean the feeders thoroughly every few days and refill with fresh syrup. Then place the feeders in a spot that gets some shade during the day.

Hummingbirds need shelter at night when they go into a state of torpor. I’ve never figured out where hummers go at night, but I suspect that is because they are hiding deeply in an evergreen tree — where they also often make their nests — or nestled into a thick shrub. To attract the most birds, a garden should have a range of plants at varying heights from trees to shrubs to flowers with blooms in very season.

Admit it. We hang hummingbird feeders so we can enjoy their chitter, colors, and amazing aerial acrobatics. I hang hummingbird feeders in front of my kitchen window and my work desk. However, I’ve learned not all hummingbird feeders are created equal. I look for feeders with easy to clean bottles; no yellow to attract bees and wasps; and that hold the nectar below the feeding holes so bees and wasps cannot get to the nectar. I add a large ant moat between the feeder and the hook, and I’m ready for visitors.

Once your welcome mat is out – water, food, and shelter – sit back with an icy glass of your favorite beverage and enjoy your vivacious visitors.

Make your own hummingbird nectar

Combine 4 parts water to 1 part sugar. For example, dissolve 1/2 cup sugar in 2 cups of water.

Heat sugar and water until the sugar dissolves. Allow the syrup to cool. Pour into a clean feeder.

DO NOT use honey, brown sugar, or sugar substitute to make hummingbird syrup.

DO NOT add coloring agents or vegetable food dyes.

DO NOT add oil, butter, or Vaseline anywhere on the feeder or hanger. Add an ant moat filled with water if needed.

Written by Jackye Meinecke
Originally published in Neighbors magazine | 2020

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