Hummingbird 101

Entice these enchanting birds to make a stop in your garden.
Ruby Throated Hummingbird Hovers Over Red Petunia

Ruby Throated Hummingbird Hovers Over Red Petunia

A ruby throated hummingbird hovers over a red petunia.

Growing up in the South, we always had hummingbird feeders adorning the eaves of our house. After all, what better show is there than watching these tiny, frantic birds in their pursuit of sweet nectar?

As an adult, my fascination with hummingbirds goes beyond the red plastic feeders of my youth. Now I’m more interested in knowing what kinds of plants attract hummingbirds, so that I’m sure to have them visit even if I forget to fill my feeder with hummingbird food.

I took my hummingbird questions to an expert, Peg Beute from Ijam’s Nature Center, a 275-acre wildlife sanctuary and environmental learning center.

What do hummingbirds like to eat?

Hummingbirds are nectar drinkers, and get the bulk of their sustenance from nectar producing flowers and hummingbird feeders. However, they also eat small insects — people ask me a lot how to keep ants out of their feeders and I encourage them to leave them be. Hummingbirds love an ant appetizer before their meal of nectar!

How do you make hummingbird food?

It’s a 4:1 sugar:water ratio — heat the water just until the sugar melts. Boiling the sugar water actually reduces some of the energy it provides, so try to not over-heat.

Do hummingbirds live in nests? Can you put a “hummingbird house” in your yard?

When mating or raising their young, hummingbirds make a very tiny nest, the size of a ping pong ball. These nests are incredibly intricate, using spider webs, lichens, ferns and other small plants. They may be fragile looking, but they are very strong. As far as birdhouses go, hummingbirds aren’t “cavity nesters” like bluebirds and woodpeckers; they build their nests out on a limb. What really attracts hummingbirds are the feeders.

Besides feeders, how can you best attract hummingbirds? Are there plants or flowers they like best?

Hummingbirds flock to anything that creates nectar and is the color red. Even red flowers that don’t produce nectar will attract them to feeders placed nearby. Some nectar producing flowers they love are trumpet flowers and cross vines. There are also some vegetables that attract hummingbirds — scarlet runner beans have a beautiful red bloom and snap peas bloom pink or purple. They feed the hummingbird while in bloom, and then you can reap the rewards later on.

Armed with this information, I’m ready to welcome spring with a charm of hummingbirds. That’s right, a group of hummingbirds is called a charm. Isn’t that, well … charming?

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