Inviting hummingbirds to the garden
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Issue: April 12, 1999

Inviting hummingbirds to the garden

Question:

I enjoy watching hummingbirds and want to have more of them visiting my garden. What can I do to attract them to my garden?

Answer:

Hummingbirds, the smallest birds native to North America, are pleasant and beneficial visitors to our gardens. Besides serving as pollinators, they also eat small insects, are extremely active and fun to watch, and are colorful. They feed on nectar and small insects, so these are the things you need to attract them. Brightly colored flowers that produce good quantities of nectar are good attractants. Of course, the flowers will also attract the insects.

Dr. Jon Boren, NMSU Extension Wildlife Specialist, and Byron Wright, NMSU Extension Agriculture Specialist, have recently released a publication, "Attracting Hummingbirds to Your Yard." This publication is available through your local Cooperative Extension Service office.

According to Dr. Boren, your desire to have many hummingbirds present requires some planning on your part. He says that hummingbirds are very territorial and aggressive if there is a single food source, so he advises using several feeders. Since hummingbirds are attracted to colorful flowers, especially those with red color, it is a good idea to plant flowering plants for them as well as placing feeders in the landscape. Dr. Boren suggests that the feeders be placed in the flower garden, or near the flowering plants, to encourage them to feed on natural nectar sources as well as from the feeder. It is okay to place some feeders near the house as well so that you can enjoy watching these very acrobatic birds.

There are a variety of different types of hummingbird feeders that you can purchase, but Dr. Boren recommends one with a perch at the feeder to encourage the birds to remain at the feeder for a longer period of time. Red color on the feeder is also attractive to hummingbirds.

You can purchase artificial nectars and you can make your own. Dr. Boren gives a recipe of four parts boiling water to which you add one part sugar; that is, for four cups of boiling water, add one cup of sugar. After the mixture has cooled, you may put it into the hummingbird feeder. He states that the red food coloring often added is unnecessary if the feeder has a red blossom at the feeding point. He goes on to say that the red food coloring is unhealthy for these interesting visitors to our gardens. He also warns us not to use honey which attracts bees and favors the growth of a black fungus that causes a fatal liver and tongue disease in hummingbirds. He advises that you leave some of the small insects which collect around the feeding port on the feeder as these insects provide protein for the birds.

It is important to clean the hummingbird feeder every two to three days during warm weather, according to Dr. Boren. He recommends washing the feeder with a solution of one tablespoon white vinegar added to one cup of water. Use a bottle brush at this time to remove hardened material and any insects.

Many people worry that leaving the hummingbird feeders up too late into the autumn will cause the birds to delay migrating and cause them injury. Dr. Boren says that this is not the case. The birds will migrate when it is time for them to go. Additionally, the feeders are not the primary source of food for these little birds. They obtain most of their food from flowers.