Although there are over 330 species in the Americas, the ruby-throated hummingbird is generally the only species that inhabits the mid-Atlantic between spring and early fall, before crossing the Gulf of Mexico to winter in Central and South America.
To regularly see the little winged wonders while they’re in the area, you need to turn your garden into a hummingbird paradise. We talked to three experts about how to create an enchanting environment that will attract hummingbirds to your garden, including how to feed them and what to plant. Here are their suggestions.
Go flower forward. Hummingbirds are attracted to the nectar of a variety of flowers. They function as natural pollinators as they move between flowers, so the more flora the better. Emma Greig, project manager of the FeederWatch project with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, recommends lemon balm (Monarda), cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) and fuchsia hanging baskets. John Rowden, Senior Director of Bird-Friendly Communities for the National Audubon Society, suggests planting trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) and some species of milkweed, including swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) and common milkweed (A. Syriac).
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Don’t forget the trees and shrubs. Hummingbirds like to nest and roost in places that are protected, secluded and not too close to the ground, so trees and shrubs are essential. Birds use pieces of lichen, down and plant fibres, twigs and spider webs to create cup-shaped nests which they attach to branches. These larger plants also attract an abundance of insects, an important source of protein for hummingbirds. “Pagoda dogwoods and flowering dogwoods are excellent native plants that support insects,” says Rowden. “And the oak trees offer an assortment of insects.”
Embrace native plants. “Native flowers often attract native insects, which favor native birds,” says Greig. Don’t know what to plant? Audubon has a native plant database where people can search by zip code to determine what hummingbird-friendly plants will grow in their area and where to buy them.
Nix pesticides. “Pesticides are the number one threat to hummingbirds,” says Sheri L. Williamson, author of “A Peterson Field Guide to Hummingbirds of North America.” “Recent studies have revealed alarming levels of pesticides in the urine and feces of hummingbirds. Pesticides can interrupt migratory instincts and cause birds to lose weight. Additionally, these toxic substances can kill the insects they depend on. for food, as well as spiders, whose webs are an essential building material for their nests.
Give the little guys a big sugar rush. Hummingbirds love nectar. Besides planting lots of flowers, gardeners can make a simple substitute by mixing 4 parts boiling water with 1 part sugar. Allow the sugar solution to cool before putting it in the feeder. “We don’t recommend adding anything else, like food coloring, vitamins, or other extra gimmicks that you can buy,” Greig says. “Most are totally useless. The [are] no studies show they are beneficial, and they can be harmful.
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Get a good feeder. There are many feeders on the market, but there are only two important elements to making a good one: you must be able to see clearly into the area containing the nectar, and the feeder must be easy to disassemble for thorough cleaning. . “During warm months, check it every couple of days to make sure there is no cloudiness in the nectar,” says Rowden, as this is likely a sign of bacterial or fungal growth. which could be harmful to birds. “If you see any, it’s time to wash it off.”
Place the feeder near a window. It may seem counterintuitive, but “the closer you place your feeder to the window, the safer it is for birds,” says Williamson. “That way when they’re spooked by a feeder – maybe they see a hawk going by – they don’t accelerate as much when they hit the window, so they won’t hurt themselves as much.”
Help them see the windows. When birds bang on your windows—known as window knocking—they can seriously hurt themselves, make themselves vulnerable to predators, or even die. Consider applying stickers, stickers, or decals to your windows to alert birds to the presence of the glass. Williamson recommends placing stickers between two and four inches for maximum effectiveness. Or, she says, you can buy an Acopian BirdSaver, otherwise known as Zen curtains, which have parallel lines of thin cords that stretch vertically across a window.
A birdbath is nice. A birdbath gives hummingbirds a place to drink and bathe. Just be sure to check it about once a week to make sure the water is clean. “Put stones that break the surface of the water,” says Rowden. “It lets them know the depth of the water and gives them something to perch on, because hummingbirds have very weak feet.”
A small pond is more pleasant. If you have the space, the money, and the inclination, building a small pond on your property will exponentially increase the chances of your yard being a hummingbird den. “It becomes a functioning ecosystem,” says Williamson, “attracting some of the tiny little insects with aquatic larvae whose adult forms are very important food for hummingbirds, like gnats and gnats. Don’t worry: they don’t bite or transmit disease. You will provide a richer and more diverse food source for hummingbirds, and may even attract breeding hummingbirds.
Pay attention to your pets. Cats and dogs are threats to the birds in your garden, so keep them indoors or limit their time outdoors so someone can watch them. Don’t think hummingbirds are exempt from these risks because of their speed or small size. “Hummingbirds hover close to plants, well within reach,” says Rowden. “And they’re delicious little morsels for pets.”
Martell is a writer based in Silver Spring, Md. His website is nevinmartell.com. Find it on Twitter and instagram: @nevinmartell.