Attract hummingbirds to your yard with food and flowers

Since many of us are spending most of our days at home, whether working, homeschooling our children, or participating in a hobby, it’s the perfect time to watch for hummingbirds, which, with the onset of warmer weather, have begun visiting the northern United States again. With most people at home right now anyway, it’s the perfect time to start observing hummingbirds in your own yard.

The birds, named for the characteristic humming sound made by their wings, are “quick moving, and come in a variety of colors,” says Bob Ferrigno, co-owner of Treeland Garden Center & Nursery in Bridgeport, adding that hummingbirds are drawn to warm areas with filtered sun. They have no sense of smell, but can hear better and see farther than humans. Their good memories help them to remember the quality of individual flowers and how long they’ll take to refill with nectar.

Unlike other birds, hummingbirds are solitary. They neither live together nor migrate in flocks. After wintering in southern Mexico and Panama, they begin their migration north in late April.

“We only see the Ruby-throated Hummingbird in the eastern United States,” says Joe Warren, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Darien, “even though there are over three-hundred species. They’re also known as ‘The New World Bird,’ as they’re only found in North and South America.” The humming sound they make when flying earns them the nickname, hummers.

There are basically two ways to naturally attract hummingbirds to your yard: through colorful nectar-producing flowers, or bird feeders. For flowers, Ferrigno recommends planting perennials, which typically start flowering in early April, and then adding annuals. “Color is key, so choose flowers in yellow, orange, pink, peach, red, or purple,” he says.

Jeff Deorio, the owner of Reynolds Farms Nursery in Norwalk, suggests planting bee balm, (Monarda), which is also known as the herb, bergamot. “This is a fragrant perennial that hummingbirds love,” he says. “It starts blooming in early summer, comes in a variety of colors, and grows to mature heights.” Another perennial he recommends is Columbine (Aquilegia), which thrives in the shade, also blooms in late spring through early summer, and comes in a variety of colors. A native plant, cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), with its beautiful scarlet hues, is another option.

“It’s a good idea to plant a combination of annuals, perennials, and flowering vines, as they all bloom at different times and have different strengths and weaknesses,” says Eugene Reelick, owner of Hollandia Nursery in Bethel. “Salvia black and blue is a hummingbird magnet,” he says. Other plants he suggests are Lantana, bee balm, lilac, and honeysuckle, all of which will come back every year. Consider filling patio bowls with hummingbirds’ favorite plants so you can watch them from the house.

Food, glorious food

Although hummers weigh less than a nickel, they’ll fly about 500 miles a day until they reach their destination. “They usually get here before Mother’s Day,” says Warren, “but because the past few months have been warmer than usual, their prime migration has changed. Now is the time to get your feeders clean and ready.”

Stores such as Wild Birds Unlimited, and most garden centers, carry some type of hummingbird feeder. They typically come in plastic and glass, which is easier to clean, and a variety of colors; sometimes the feeding part of the feeder may be colored, as well.

Begin by washing your feeder with soap and warm water. Then rinse and dry it thoroughly before filling it with liquid nectar. Ready to use nectar is available at garden supply stores, but you can also make your own: Boil a mixture of one part sugar and four parts water. Let it cool before filling your feeder, and don’t add red food coloring (they’re attracted to the color red) to the feeder as it can be harmful to the hummingbirds.

Most feeders are tubular with little perches on their sides, which give the hummers a place to rest while feeding. They have tiny hairs on the tips of their tongues that are grooved like the shape of the letter W. This helps them to lap up nectar about 13 times a second. They can consume up to double their body weight in one day.

Red is the most common color of feeders. “It’s like a magnet to them,” says Reelick. A bright red feeder is like a blinking light in the dark to the hummingbirds.

Once the hummers arrive, they’ll be tired, hungry, and thirsty. They’ll build their nests and search for food. Unlike other birds, they’ll dart back and forth from food to nest. The nectar they consume gives them quick and instant energy while they meet their nutritional needs from the insects they consume.

“Hummingbirds are aggressive and territorial,” Warren says. “If you’re going to hang more than one feeder, place them fifteen to twenty feet apart to shield their view of one another.” Hang them out of the reach of cats and other predators and far enough away from windows to avoid collisions. Unwanted insects will be attracted to your feeders if they’re too close to anything yellow, such as flowers, ornaments, or lawn decorations.

If feeders are hung in hot sunlight, the nectar will spoil quickly. Try to hang them where they can get some afternoon shade, and clean your feeders every few days.

Hummers have no sense of smell, but can hear better and see farther than humans. Their good memories help them to remember the quality of individual flowers and how long they’ll take to refill with nectar.

If you really want to attract hummingbirds to your yard: “Go the extra mile and use hummingbird plants and a feeder,” Ferrigno says.

With Mother’s Day right around the corner, this would be a great time to visit local bird supply stores and garden centers online to find the perfect gift for a mom who loves birdwatching. Most stores offer curbside pickup, and many will deliver.

Get ready to enjoy these colorful miniature birds as they fly in helicopter fashion from your feeders to the flowers on your plants. Listen for their gentle and calming hum. It’s hard to miss.