Hummingbirds have almost reached southern Illinois and it won’t be long until they return to our backyards. After their winter vacation in Central America, hummingbirds started their trek back to our landscapes in January. Males started the journey first; females followed a couple weeks later. They flew 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico and then continued northward following flowers and other food sources.
A warmer than normal spring has put hummingbirds on a fast track this year, so get those feeders out. Imagine the energy it takes to beat their wings up to 80 times per second! There aren’t nearly enough flowers blooming to provide the nectar they require. They need our feeders to supplement their diet.
Invite hummingbirds to belly up to the bar.
Hang feeders at least four feet above the ground out of the reach of predators. Refill them with fresh sugar water every few days. Hummingbird nectar can be purchased or you can make your own by dissolving 1 cup of cane sugar in 3 to 4 cups of bottled water. The unused portion can be stored in the refrigerator for a week. Never use red food coloring.
If space allows, hang multiple feeders as far apart as possible. Hummingbirds are territorial and will fight to defend their feeders.
Let hummingbirds dine au natural.
If your garden doesn’t already have plants on a hummingbird’s preferred menu, add some of these perennials this year. Create a succession of their favorites throughout the season.
Early-blooming preferences include bleeding heart (Dicentra), columbine (Aquilegia), coral bells (Heuchera) and creeping phlox. Good choices for mid-season bloom include bee balm (Monarda), beardstongue (Penstemon), delphinium, hummingbird mint (Agastache) and salvia. To keep hummingbirds well fed until they leave for the winter, plant butterfly bush (Buddleia), cardinal flower (Lobelia) and Russian sage (Perovskia).
Hummingbirds prefer large groups or drifts over individual plants scattered about the landscape.
Include their favorite annuals in containers and in the garden, too. Flowering maple (Abutilon), fuchsia, hibiscus, impatiens, nicotiana, pentas, petunia, salvia and verbena are all good choices. Red is reportedly their preferred color, but Salvia ‘Black & Blue’ is a hummingbird magnet in my yard.
Flowering vines also provide nectar for hummingbirds. Honeysuckle, cardinal climber, cypress vine, morning glory and scarlet runner bean are favorites.
Hummingbirds do not live by nectar alone.
Plants that provide nectar are just one source of food for hummingbirds. They eat spiders, gnats and other small bugs found on flowers or in spider webs. They also catch small insects while in flight. Hummingbirds feed insects to their young.
If your garden contains a wide variety of plants, and you limit your use of pesticides, there should be no shortage of these protein sources.
Splish, splash, hummingbirds need a bath.
Hummingbirds need water for drinking and bathing. They prefer shallow water and enjoy moving water whether it’s from a sprinkler, a fountain or a waterfall in a backyard pond.
Give hummingbirds a place to rest their weary wings.
Offer hummingbirds a place to rest and nest. Densely branched trees and shrubs offer protected sites for repose and a respite from summer’s heat.
Hummingbirds work so hard on their the long journey to return our backyards. Reward them with a garden layered with trees, shrubs, flowering vines, perennials, annuals, a source of water, and feeders. In return, they will delight you with their escapades all summer long. Make hummingbirds happy and garden with me!