One of my favorite things about spring is seeing all the beautiful wild birds return to my yard.
I've never had much of a green thumb, so instead of my garden I've devoted myself to the finches, jays, and cardinals in my neck of the woods.
But my favorite visitors of all are the hummingbirds.
These tiny birds have a reputation for being rare and hard to attract, but if you know what they like it's actually pretty simple.
This guide will tell you everything you need to fill your garden with happy little hummingbirds.
What do hummingbirds eat?
First things first: hummers may not look like it, but they're big eaters.
These birds have some of the highest metabolisms in the animal kingdom, and will try to feed every 10 to 15 minutes.
In a given day, a single bird can drink nectar from thousands of flowers. So you need to make your yard a buffet for hummingbirds.
These birds rely on two main types of food: insects, and nectar.
Your backyard is probably crawling with insects already, but leaving out baskets of ripe fruit or banana peels will attract more.
If you're feeling ambitious, try building an "insect hotel" out of leaves, twigs, and other bug-friendly materials.
Next, you need sources of nectar.
For best results, offer the birds natural nectar from flowers (you'll learn more about those below), and homemade nectar in a feeder.
You can buy those recognizable hummingbird feeders from any hardware or big box store, but it's easy to make your own too.
Before we fill the feeder, pay attention to where you place it.
Birds like their feeders somewhere in plain sight, so they can watch out for predators.
When it comes to hummingbirds, it's best to have multiple feeders on display. These birds are very territorial, and are known to fight over flowers and feeders.
How can I make hummingbird nectar?
You can buy hummingbird nectar from any store that sells feeders, but it's easier (and cheaper) to make it at home:
- Mix four parts water and one part sugar.
- Boil the mixture for two minutes to remove bacteria.
- Let the nectar cool before pouring it in your feeder.
- You can make extra nectar ahead of time and store it in the freezer.
Don't make your nectar using honey or artificial sweeteners. Your batch will spoil more quickly with honey, and sweeteners are not good for the birds.
Don't mix in red food coloring either. Hummingbirds are attracted by bright colors, but your feeder is already red. Chemicals in the food dye could be bad for the birds.
Unlike other bird feeders, hummingbird feeders require plenty of care and attention.
You'll need to swap out the nectar every few days to keep bacteria from building up. Hanging the feeder in a shady spot will keep the nectar fresh for longer.
Clean your feeder by rinsing it with vinegar and scrubbing the insider every time you change the nectar.
Don't forget to scrub the inside of the spout, where the birds dip their beaks.
Do hummingbirds use birdbaths?
Hummingbirds aren't just big eaters, they're heavy drinkers too.
A hummingbird can consume up to eight times its own body weight in water daily - including the nectar they sip.
While hummingbirds won't "bathe" in a birdbath like other species, they like to soak in a shallow pool.
Filling a regular birdbath with a layer of marbles will make it more welcoming for hummers.
But what these birds like best is moving water.
Birds will follow the sound of dripping, sprinkling, and rushing water from long distances.
Adding a simple device like a bubbler or sprinkler to your bath will attract more birds. With a little know-how, you can even build your own.
If hummingbirds are already visiting your yard, spritz the leaves on nearby trees and shrubs with a hose. The birds will drink water off the plants.
Do hummingbirds use birdhouses?
Hummingbirds seem to be very busy, but they do stop and look around once in a while.
Making a nice place for your birds to rest and relax will encourage them to return to your yard - and bring friends.
Hummingbirds shy away from typical birdhouses, because they build nests in open areas. You can leave out a hummingbird platform and some nesting material, but there's no guarantee they will use it.
It's better to leave safe places for birds to perch throughout your yard.
Trees and shrubs, in a mixture of shady and sunny areas, are ideal. But hummers will also sit on clotheslines and even twigs left inside bushes.
Make your yard look a little wild, with a natural mix of trees, bushes, flowers, tall and short grass, and hummers will feel welcome.
What type of flowers do hummingbirds like?
Despite how much they eat, hummingbirds are surprisingly picky.
Hummers prefer flowers with bright colors and tube-shaped heads, which are easy to fit their beaks into.
Some of their favorite plants include: bee balm, morning glory, lupine, azaleas, geraniums, red hot poker, hollyhock, petunias, begonias, foxglove, butterfly bush, and trumpet vine.
For best results, plant native species to your region that bloom in the spring and summer.
The birds are also very finicky about how your flowers are arranged:
Round planters are more comfortable for the birds because they can approach from any angle.
Planting shorter plants in front of taller ones will also make the nectar more accessible.
Why won't hummingbirds come to my yard?
If you know that hummingbirds visit your neighborhood, but they won't stop by your yard, start this guide again from the top.
Are you sure you're providing food, water and shelter that the birds like?
Is your yard hummingbird-friendly, with plants they like and places for the birds to rest?
It may still take a while for birds to visit, because they're creatures of habit and will return over and over to places they visited before.
You can improve your odds by asking your neighbors to take the same steps you did: planting flowers, leaving out nectar, and not using pesticides on their lawns.
Make sure your yard is appealing to hummingbirds and they will come - sooner or later.
Do hummingbirds visit your yard?