A visit from one of these colorful creatures always feels magical. Here's how you can encourage them to stop by more often.

Every well-planned party should offer a banquet of tasty treats for guests to enjoy, and the same goes for a hummingbird fiesta. Delightful, darting hummers maintain their high metabolism, which is the highest of any warm-blooded animal (except shrews) by feeding every 10 to 15 minutes. They often have to visit hundreds of flowers each day to find enough food. That's why a diverse collection of nectar-rich plants is key for rolling out the welcome mat for these busy little pollinators. Here's what you need to know about selecting the best annuals, perennials, vines, and shrubs, plus a few other tips for attracting hummingbirds.

hummingbird feeding from flower
Credit: Ian Adams

Best Plants for Hummingbirds

Look for varieties that have tubular, scentless, brightly colored (often red, orange, or blue) flowers, and grow so it's easy for the birds to hover and sip nectar. Some flowers are shaped to accommodate short or long bills of specific hummingbird species.

Variety is also important. You wouldn't want to eat the same food every day, right? Try to offer many different kinds of plants that bloom for long periods of time throughout the growing season. For migrating hummers, flowers that open in spring and late summer are vital food sources. Year-round bloom is important in mild-winter regions of the West and along the Gulf Coast, where some species overwinter. They're not particular about differentiating between the flowers of annuals, perennials, and vines.

How to Design a Hummingbird-Friendly Landscape

Hummingbirds are attracted to a garden that includes open spaces, allowing them to move freely from one nectar source to another. A yard that's one-fourth shaded, one-fourth partially shaded, and the rest in open sun is ideal. Curved beds and borders allow these agile birds to approach blooms from several sides. Keep shorter flowers in front of tall ones to make access even easier.

When not feeding, hummingbirds need to rest. Providing places for them to perch can keep them in your yard longer. Males perch almost anywhere in the open, including on twigs, clotheslines, and overhead wires. Females and juveniles prefer to remain hidden among trees, shrubs, and vines. Plant trees and shrubs that have hummingbird-friendly flowers to amplify nectar offerings while providing safe perches. Some trees and shrubs for hummingbirds include mimosa, scarlet buckeye, abelia, butterfly bush, and weigela.

hummingbird flying toward feeder
Credit: Bob Stefko

Supplementing with Feeders

Besides providing nectar-producing plants, you can offer nutrition from a hummingbird feeder. The standard recipe to fill them closely approximates flower nectar: four parts water to one part sugar. To make food for hummingbirds, combine the ingredients and boil the mixture for two minutes to sterilize the syrup. Don't boil longer; evaporation of more water can make the solution stronger, which can be bad for the birds' health. Cool the hummingbird recipe solution to room temperature before filling the feeder. Store extra solution in the freezer; thaw to use in the next cycle.

More Smart Tips for Using Hummingbird Feeders

Don't substitute honey for the sugar in the feeder recipe; the solution spoils quicker and may contain bacteria that can cause a fatal fungal disease in hummingbirds. Also avoid artificial sweeteners; they don't provide any calories, and these active avians need lots of calories to keep them going.

Adding red food coloring to the hummingbird feeder recipe is unnecessary; most hummingbird feeders are made from red plastic or glass to help attract the birds. Also, chemicals in the food coloring may be harmful to the birds' health.

Clean hummingbird feeders at least once every three days in hot weather or every week in cool weather so harmful bacteria don't build up. Rinse the feeder with warm water. If you see mold, add a splash of vinegar and grains of uncooked rice to the water and shake vigorously to dislodge it. Remove the vinegar and rice and rinse carefully with clean, warm water. If you see any remaining dark spots, scrub them off with a toothbrush or bottle brush.

If your hummingbird feeder is being avoided, pay attention. It's probably because your sugar solution has gone bad. Clean the feeder carefully, refill with fresh sugar-water, and offer it again.

When to Feed Hummingbirds

Begin feeding hummingbirds in spring as they migrate to your area. Because the birds depend on protein from insects, migration typically occurs after bug populations have built up from the winter season. In mild-winter areas where the birds may not migrate, gardeners can mix up the hummingbird feeder recipe and make it available to the birds all year long.

hummingbird perched on nest with babies
Credit: Edward Gohlich

Hummingbird Habits

Once you invite hummingbirds to your garden, they'll return from migration, seeking flowers in the same places they visited the year before. If you no longer provide them with food, they'll search out a new source of food. If you must be away during critical periods, such as early spring when flowers are scarce or during nesting periods, ask a neighbor or friend to refill your feeders so the birds don't go hungry.

Don’t Forget Water

Along with a source of food, hummingbirds also need a water source. Each day, they take in as much as eight times their body weight in water. Much of this comes in the form of nectar, but they also sip from dew-soaked leaves and other sources.

Hummingbirds love flying through a fine mist from a sprinkler, but avoid most birdbaths, which are too deep. An elevated birdbath (they avoid coming to the ground to drink or bathe) with very shallow water levels may appeal to them.

Comments (1)

Better Homes & Gardens Member
August 14, 2018
Thank you for this wonderful article. I will be taking my husband’s feeder down and cleaning it tomorrow and looking into planting some flowers for them