With their territorial sass, iridescent colors and quick motions, hummingbirds are a delight to many. These impressive little birds are unique in that they can fly forward, backwards and upside down; they can even hover. The ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) is the only hummingbird species that nests in Pennsylvania, but you might spot a rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) passing through. Now let's explore how to attract hummingbirds to your yard.
It’s a well-known fact that hummingbirds are attracted to the color red—it's the hue most hummingbird feeders are and the shade some retailers suggest coloring the sugar water mix to fill those feeders. I don’t recommend adding the dye, because while there are no definitive studies indicating the dye is harmful, there are no studies that show it’s safe either. Plus, nectar is naturally clear, and hummingbird-enthusiasts will vouch that the red liquid is unnecessary in keeping the hummers humming! A clear mix of four parts water to one part sugar is best for these feeders, which can serve as an important food source, especially early in the year and during fall migration. Having a feeder or two (or 10!), is a great start in attracting hummingbirds.
Hummingbirds have no sense of smell, but their eyesight is excellent. Besides red, they are especially attracted to orange, pink and yellow—although they will sup from flowers of other colors too. Some reports indicate that blossoms in these colors are higher in sucrose—a form of sugar that hummingbirds can fully metabolize—and reflect UV light on the warmer end of the spectrum that appeals to hummingbirds more than insects, which prefer flowers in cooler colors and that are higher in fructose and glucose. This limits competition between hummingbirds and insects.
To attract hummingbirds, place native plants in your yard, be it throughout your landscaping or via container gardening. No yard is too small! Consider planting in drifts with three or more plants of each species to provide a mass of color that is sure to catch the eye of hummingbirds and other pollinators. Focus on plants that meet the color and shape criteria for hummingbirds and provide a lot of nectar to keep them coming back. Try to ensure continual blooms throughout the season. Brightly colored, tubular flowers—especially short, straight ones that fit their bill—are hummingbird magnets. Some of the best native perennials for hummingbirds include wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), bee balm (Monarda didyma), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), royal catchfly (Silene rigea), and Indian pink (Spigelia marilandica), pictured here growing in the Brandywine's Penguin Court greenhouse.
Annuals can supplement the native blooms in your garden. Fuchsia, saliva, petunia and zinnia are great examples of annuals with appropriately shaped flowers that will add a pop of color to your landscape. Further, consider adding gazing balls, hanging baskets, flags and other ornamental features—in their preferred colors—to your yard to entice hummingbirds to stop by.
Trees and shrubs are also helpful to provide refuge, shelter and possibly a place for the hummers to build a nest! Hummingbirds use spiderwebs in nest construction and will even steal insects from them for a protein-packed meal, so leave the spiderwebs! Also, males need an exposed perch from which to view and defend their territory. Even placing a stick in the ground or shepherd’s hook close to your feeder or blooms is helpful. Finally, no bird can resist the sound and lure of water. Consider adding a drip fountain or a mister to your garden to the delight of birds and yourself!
Photos by Melissa Reckner