Terry Hershberger, Merrifield Plant Specialist
Every spring I look forward to the arrival of hummingbirds in my garden. These agile birds use their wings (which beat between 70 to 200 times per second) to hover in place, fly backwards, and even fly upside down! Not only are these amazing creatures fun to watch, they also make excellent pollinators, visiting as many as 1,000 to 2,000 flowers each day to make up for the energy they expend performing their aerial acrobatics. Here in Virginia we most often see the Ruby Throated Hummingbird. The males in this breed are instantly recognizable by their bright red throats.
You can easily create a sanctuary for these incredible birds at your own home with bright flowers, a supplemental nectar feeder and a hummingbird friendly water source.
Catch the eye of local hummingbirds with brightly colored flowers. Some sources say that hummingbirds are particularly attracted to red, I find that the color does not matter as much as the sugar content of the flower’s nectar (ideally 10 to 11%). Tubular or elongated flowers are best suited to the shape of hummingbird tongue, which folds to form a straw. I plant a variety of flowering plants to attract birds throughout the spring and summer.
Bee balm: Blooming in mid to late summer, beebalm’s tubular flowers make the perfect addition to a hummingbird garden. Try the Jacob’s Cline variety for a native plant option.
Native cardinal flower: Due to the shape of this vibrant red flower, most insects are not able to feed from this plant, making it the perfect option for people seeking to attract hummingbirds but keep away other critters.
Annuals and Bulbs
Gladiolus: These showy bulbs produce tall spikes of flowers in an array of vibrant colors. Plant these bulbs after the danger of frost has passed in spring and you can expect flowers in the summer.
Gartenmeister fuchsia: This plant grows in full or partial shade and is an excellent addition to any hummingbird garden with orange, tubular flowers.
Honeysuckle: Grow this flowering vine on a fence or trellis for blooms that you can enjoy during spring and summer.
Trumpet vine: The yellow, orange, or red flowers of the trumpet vine make it a cheerful addition to a hummingbird garden! These vines grow very quickly and will need pruning. Blooms from summer to fall.
Supplemental Food Source
Hummingbirds need to eat every 10 to 15 minutes, every day to sustain their energy. They supplement their diets with food from a nectar feeder. Hang one at your home to provide them with an extra food source. You can purchase food for the feeder or make your own.
To make your own hummingbird food, boil four parts water and mix in one part white granulated cane sugar. Do not use brown sugar or honey as they can both harm the birds. It is very important to clean the feeder with hot water or a vinegar solution at least once per week as the sugar can ferment and spoil. If the weather is particularly hot, consider cleaning the feeder every 3 to 4 days to keep any visitors safe. Hang your feeder in the shade to preserve the sugar solution. Hummingbirds will continue to visit your feeder until they migrate south in the fall. You can take your feeder down in the middle of September if you are concerned that it might be causing any birds to linger too long.
If you need to protect your feeder from uninvited guests like ants and bees, try using ant guard or Tanglefoot Insect Barrier to protect the feeder by applying it in a small strip where the hummingbirds do not land. The base of the shepherd’s hook where your feeder hangs is a good locations. Consider adding bee guards if bees start snacking at the feeder, as a bee sting can cause serious harm to a tiny hummingbird.
A bird bath is not the best option for hummingbirds since most are too deep. A drip fountain or misting device is a great alternative that they can easily access. You can also run a sprinkler in your yard, and the birds will fly through it to catch the water droplets.