Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Come hither, hummingbird. (How to attract them.)

Rufous Hummingbird, male, today.

One of the most common questions received at nature centres in North America is, "How do I attract hummingbirds to my yard/garden/balcony?"

Here are some hints:

Make sure you have hummingbirds where you live. In most of North America there is at least one species during summer months. There are more southern than northern species, but in much of Canada there is at least one; in the extreme west, the Rufous Hummingbird, and in the east, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Make sure you have appropriately attractive habitat in and around your yard/garden/balcony. Trees and shrubs provide cover, preening spots, and possible nest sites.

Flowers or things that look like flowers. Flowering shrubs such as red-flowering currant, and hanging baskets, especially containing Fuchsia, will draw them. In the absence of flowers, red faux flowers or red ribbons attached to branches can work. So can a floral-patterned bathing suit hung on a line. So can falling asleep in the sun wearing mirror-lensed sunglasses. (They attack their own reflections. It's an exhilarating way to wake up.)

A sugar-water feeder is needed to keep them coming back on a regular basis, or attract them in the first place in the absence of other attractants. These can be purchased at gardening stores, pet shops and elsewhere. Don't bother with the red-coloured "food" mix. The red dye is unnecessary, and who knows what it does to a tiny bird. Most sources recommend a table sugar:boiled water ratio of 1:4 (by volume). For Rufous Hummingbirds, sweeter mixes are often recommended. I use 1:3. Don't fill the feeder to the top unless you are receiving heavy traffic, because the solution will spoil, faster in hot weather. Change it at least once a week. Hang the feeder somewhere near cover, but where you can see it.

The latter point (where you can see it) is important, because you will want to monitor it. A lot of people hang up a feeder, don't see any hummers, and believe they have been overlooked or rejected. Not necessarily so! Feeding visits may be brief, hit and run, and if there are only one or a few visitors, the fluid level may not go down much. Be patient. Sit outside and read a book near the feeder. You'll hear the buzz of the hummers' wings, even if you don't see the bird.

When to put up feeders? Now, if you haven't already.

Bonus advice:

How do I attract shopping carts to my ditch?

Easy. Dig a ditch at the edge of your property. Fill it with ordinary water. The shopping carts will find you. See here, here, here, and here. Recently, Wanderin' Weeta observed a beauty.


gardenerprogress/Catherine said...

I love seeing hummingbirds. We've had Anna's here all winter. I saw a Rufous on our Pink flowering currant this afternoon. They love the hardy fuchsias in our yard too.

Hugh said...

Catherine, We have Annas overwinter here now too. (A very recent development.) I've yet to see how they react to the Rufous interlopers. Today I saw two female Rufous feeding from cherry blossoms.

Wanderin' Weeta said...

I'd forgotten that I have a hummingbird feeder in storage, waiting for spring. I'll dig it out in the morning.

Thanks for the reminder. And the link.

Susan said...

Thanks for the hummingbird tips. I hope.hope, hope I can attract them to my new place this spring. I might even try the reflective sunglasses trick and stake out a spot in the hammock.

Emily said...

I cleaned & re-stocked my feeder late this year. (I didn't keep food in it for the Anna's overwinter, I'll start that next winter).

A couple weeks ago I heard a hummer in the yard at about 6 am.... I thought, Crap! I'm late. I peeked out the window and saw a male Rufus dipping into the empty feeder from last year, he didn't like that so much.

A few days later I I cleaned out my feeders, boiled my food, let it cool, then put it out. The time was 7:50 pm. I string one feeder across the yard on my clothes line, and I put another on my deck under cover.

I put up the feeders, turned my back and walked inside. It was almost dark. Closed the patio door and looked up. There was ALREADY a male Rufus hummer on the feeder! I eas being WATCHED!

I also see them around more when it rains, early spring. I wonder why this is?

Hugh said...


Here also, they feed in the evening, as darkness is falling. I've noticed too that the rain encourages them to visit. Comfort food, perhaps.