Currently found only in the western hemisphere, those of us lucky enough to encounter hummingbirds know just how special they are. Several species of these tiny aerial acrobats can be found throughout the United States and Canada during their breeding season. Their size, diet, body shape and behaviors are so different from many of the backyard birds we are used to seeing, watching them is a unique delight. So in this article we’re going to talk about how to attract hummingbirds to your yard.
We’ve put together 10 tips to attract hummingbirds to your yard. If you know when to expect them, and what to add to your yard, you can attract them all season long. Pretty soon you’ll be like me, patiently waiting each spring for their return.
How to Attract Hummingbirds
1. Hang Hummingbird Feeders
This is probably the most obvious step. After all, we put out bird feeders for other birds! But hummingbirds don’t eat seed. If you want to know how to attract hummingbirds, the best and easiest way is to simply put out a nectar feeder for them. Hummingbirds are always on the hunt for nectar, and by offering a steady supply in your yard they will come back all season long. They may even fight over who has dibs on your feeder!
Tips on choosing a hummingbird feeder
- Make sure the color red is featured prominently on the feeder, they are most attracted to the color red and it will grab their attention.
- Choose a style that is easy to take apart and clean. Nectar feeders need constant cleaning and you want something easy to get a sponge / brush into, not a million little parts or very hard to reach spots
- Don’t buy a big feeder if you don’t need it. If you live in a hummingbird hot spot and have 20 swarming your feeder all day, a feeder with a larger capacity makes sense. But if you just have 2-3 visitors throughout the day then you’ll have a lot of nectar left unused, and you should be changing it out multiple times a week.
We recommend a saucer shaped feeder for most people, they are super easy to clean, work great, and don’t hold an excessive amount of nectar. For those who need larger capacity because you have many hummingbirds feeding constantly, choose a container with a wide mouth.
- Hang in the shade if possible, it slows down nectar spoilage.
- Make sure you change the nectar often.
- Clean the feeder every time you refill it.
- Put feeders out in the spring and leave out till fall.
- If two males are getting territorial, put up a second feeder on the other side of the house. Another tactic is multiple feeders close together. It will attract multiple hummers and one male cannot defend all the feeders at once and may stop trying so hard.
2. Make your own Hummingbird Nectar
Making your own nectar is really simple and it will save you a lot of money. All you need to do is add plain white sugar to water in a 1:4 ratio (1 cup sugar to 4 cups water). We have an easy how-to article for you. One bag of sugar will make several batches. This is not only more cost effective than buying a bottle of nectar, but it also is fresher and doesn’t contain any of the preservatives that store bought nectar may contain. Also it won’t contain any red dye, which is completely unnecessary in hummingbird nectar and has been shown to be potentially harmful.
Being able to whip up a quick batch at home means you can refresh your feeders more often, keep the nectar cleaner and fresher, and you won’t run out leaving the hummingbirds confused why their supply is gone and potentially leaving your yard to find food elsewhere.
3. Learn when to expect hummingbirds in your area
In some places certain species of hummingbirds do stick around all year long, but not everywhere. In most places hummingbirds are just migrants so you can’t really attract hummingbirds that have flown hundreds of miles south for the winter. It’s important to know when hummingbirds are in your area.
For the majority of the United States, hummingbirds head south in the fall and return in the spring. If you know when they return to your area, you can be prepared and have all the tips in this article ready to go when they arrive. Or at least have your feeder out. If you don’t know when to expect them, check out our article for arrival times in each state. Let them know your yard is a haven early in the season and you might even get them to nest close by!
4. Plant bright, nectar rich flowers that attract hummingbirds
One of hummingbirds main food sources in the wild are nectar rich flowers. They are especially attracted to flowers that are red (as well as orange, pink and purple), and flowers with trumpet or tubular shaped blossoms. If you don’t put out a feeder, this can be a great way to still attract hummingbirds to your yard and garden. Even if you do use a hummingbird feeder, additional plants can add great variety.
Whenever I have offered both, the visiting hummingbirds would visit both my feeder and the flowers. They don’t pick and choose, they want it all! When possible, choose plants native to your location. Some great choices for hummingbirds are beebalm, trumpet honeysuckle, cardinal flower, cigar flower, petunias, columbine, fuchsia, bleeding hearts, clematis and salvia.
The more blooms the better. To maximize your space try some vertical planting. An obelisk trellis or a flat trellis attached to the side of your house can provide a great vertical surface for long cascading vines of flowers.
Tip: Deadhead your flowers to keep the plants blooming longer. Plant clusters of three or more of the same species to provide more nectar.
5. Plan a blooming schedule
If you do plant specific flowers, shrubs and vines to attract hummingbirds, plan out a “bloom schedule”. This means choosing varieties of plants that will bloom at different times of the year. By planting flowers that bloom in different months, you can provide an uninterrupted supply of nectar for the hummingbirds and keep them continuously interested in your yard. Staff at your local garden center can be a great resource to help you choose plants that will bloom during different months in your area.
6. Use bright colors in your garden decor and pots
We already mentioned above that you want your hummingbird feeder to be bright red, and that you want your flowers to be brightly colored. It really is true that hummingbirds are drawn to these bright reds, oranges, pinks and purples. If you want your plants to stand out even more and make sure they catch the eye of any hummingbirds flying by, you can choose brightly colored decor. Incorporate planters, flower pots, and garden decor that featuring those bright colors. This will ensure the hummingbirds stop in your yard to investigate what you are offering.
7. Adding a water feature can attract hummingbirds
Water is necessary for birds both for drinking and bathing. If they feel secure enough, some hummingbirds may visit a regular dish-style bird bath. However the activity from other, larger birds might scare them away. They also do not seem to like getting too close to deep water, and it doesn’t take much to be considered “deep” when you’re as tiny as a hummingbird! They much prefer to get themselves wet by flying through water, and then perching on a branch to preen themselves. In the wild they can accomplish this by flying through or rubbing up against droplets of water on plant leaves.
Making water features “hummingbird friendly”
- Make your water bowl or container very shallow so the hummers feel comfortable.
- Try adding a fountain that sprays water upwards that the hummers can fly through. These solar powered fountains work great in bird baths. As a bonus, the sound of moving water attracts almost all types of birds. So this might just increase increase all sorts of bird traffic at your bath!
- In a bowl or your bird bath basin, place a submersible pump and surround with large rocks. Position so the water flows over the rocks. Hummingbirds will enjoy rolling in the thin stream of water that flows over the rocks, while they rub themselves on the rocks to clean their feathers.
- The most recommended type of water feature for hummingbirds is a mister. Misters make a very very fine spray of water, nice and gentle and perfect for hummingbirds to fly through. Or they may sit right under it and enjoy being “rained on”. You can have it mist over your bird bath, over some plants, hang from a tree branch, or pretty much position it anywhere you like. Make sure there are spots underneath or close by for perching.
8. Create perching spots
Hummingbirds like having places to perch. They perch to rest, to preen, to sleep, or just to survey their territory. Males especially like to keep watch over their areas to chase away rivals. Leave small branches on trees and shrubs to give them a secure place for resting and a little protection from weather. If you have feeders or water features for them, have some perches nearby.
You can buy and hang “hummingbird swings“, or just grab some small branches and position them near feeders and flowers. You can also strategically place plants or shrubs that have good perching stems and branches. Near my feeder I had a trellis that I grew a large honeysuckle on. The vines provided not only the flowers they liked, but spots to sit.
9. Promote Insects / Avoid Pesticides
Hummingbirds need to balance their diet just like we do. They can’t live on sugar alone, they also need to eat protein. Up to a third of their diet is small insects. This includes mosquitoes, fruit flies, spiders and gnats. They can hunt small insects in the air, and snatch them off of leaves, plants and spider webs.
Insects are also important for raising young. While newly hatched hummingbirds are still in the nest, they are fed an almost entirely insect diet. Help out your hummers by staying away from pesticides. I’ve even heard of some people leaving out little bits of apple or other fruits that are overripe near hummingbird feeders to attract fruit flies for them.
Even something as simple as not knocking down spider webs (as long as they aren’t in your way) can help with both access to food, but spider webs are also used in nest building. The sticky web of spider is often used by hummingbirds to bind their nests together, and to help affix the nest to the tree. How cool! This transitions well into our next point.
10. Offer Nesting Materials
Hummingbirds line the inside of their tiny nests with soft materials. This cushions the eggs and helps with warmth. Consider adding some plants to your yard that they can use such as cinnamon fern for its fuzzy stems and pussy willow for its fuzzy flowers. Thistle and dandelion produce those soft, fluffy seed carriers after they bloom. Cat tails and cottonwood trees are other natural sources of plant “down”.
Those natural materials tend to be best, but if you are unable to have any of these plants you can still offer some all natural cotton to the hummers with something like these rattan spheres filled with nest material. Chances are other birds will like it too. You can even leave out tufts of clean pet hair, as long as your pet has not been recently treated with flea and tick guard.
Never offer plastic, string or yarn. These can contain dyes and can very easily become tangled around the birds causing injury or death. Another material never to offer is dryer lint. It seems like the perfect soft material, but it actually becomes soggy and crumbly when wet which can endanger the integrity of a nest in the rain if it can’t hold together. Lint is also often saturated with soap residue, fragrances and dyes from the laundry that are harmful to the birds.
Now that you know how to attract hummingbirds to your yard, get out there and hang some hummingbird feeders. I was hooked after the first year I put out a feeder and have never missed a year since. Even when I didn’t have a yard, I used a window feeder and they still found me. You can even log your sightings with the Audubon Society’s Hummingbirds at Home program, if you enjoy doing a little citizen science. Keep that nectar fresh, and happy birding!