by E. S. (“Gene”) Naccari
Most of us have enjoyed the benefits of having bird feeders in our yards, where we attract a great variety of seed and suet-eating bird species. Not many of us, however, make a special effort to attract hummingbirds, even though it is not difficult to do so. It simply calls for understanding the needs of “hummers” and planting the proper flowering plants that they feed upon.
It’s a very special thrill when the hummingbirds show up in your garden because they are so different from other birds. To begin with, no other bird flies like a “hummer”. These little creatures, usually no longer than 3 to 3-3/4 inches, come flying in at amazing speed, hover miraculously in mid-air before a flower, and feed on the blossom’s nectar, using their long beak and extended tongue. They may also quickly grab insects that speed about 50 times per second. They quickly draw nectar from the blossom, then back up (no other bird can do this), turn and speed away to the next flower or the next yard. Such amazing speed uses so much energy that they must return. Often they perch nearby between feedings. The hummingbird’s long beak and extendable tongue makes him particularly adapted to drawing nectar from long tubular or trumpet-shaped flowers. Red or orange flowers are most attractive to the hummers, but they will feed on certain other colored blossoms, too, especially if they are trumpet or tubular in shape.
The basic strategy for attracting hummingbirds is to grow plants in your garden that offer a constant succession of bloom from early spring through mid-fall or longer. This requires planting several different flowering species, since very few plants flower during the entire period of time when these birds are in our area.
FLOWERING PLANTS ATTRACTIVE TO HUMMINGBIRDS. The following plants will help you reach the above goal: Sage (Pineapple, Bog, Mexican, Scarlet, etc.), Red Salvia, Bee Balm (Bergamont), Red Buckeye, Bottle Brush, Turk’s Cap, Sultan’s Turban, Shrimp Plant, Impatiens, Cardinal Flower, Mexican Cigar, Fire Spike, Red Hot Poker, and Japanese Plum (Loquat).
FLOWERING VINES include: Coral or Trumpet Honeysuckle, Japanese Honeysuckle, Trumpet Creeper Vine, Cypress Vine, and Scarlet Morning Glory.
Some of the above are annual or biennial plants, while others are perennial; some are cold hardy, others are not. For more details, consult a good gardening book, your local nurseryman, or a seed house catalog.
HUMMINGBIRD FEEDERS. The two most important purposes of a feeder are 1) to offer the hummers a reliable, ever-present source of high-energy food and 2) to attract them to an area of your garden where you can easily view on the chance that one might be more attractive than others to certain birds. Place the feeders about 15 feet or more apart. This makes it harder for a single or a pair of very aggressive hummingbirds to dominate the feeders and drive away other hummers from “their” territory.
There are many variations in feeder design, but there are certain desirable features. The feeder should hold and display a good supply of the red-colored, sugar-based nectar so that you do