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Tuesday, July 23, 2024
Growing Together: Using your garden to attract hummingbirds
Attracting hummingbirds is easy, says Joanne Young. Just use a feeder with the right mixture of water and sugar. JOANNE YOUNG

Who isn’t amazed by the sight of a ruby-throated hummingbird? They are indeed a marvel of the natural world.

To think, these little creatures can fly up to 25 miles per hour or faster if the wind is pushing them.

They can zip along going in any direction even backwards. Their wings beat an average of 53 beats per second. That’s right — per second. 

While flitting about your garden, their heart rates can reach 1,200 beats per minute with a resting heart rate of 600 beats per minute.

Those are some amazing statistics. Besides all that, they are awfully cute to watch.

With burning all those calories, they require a good supply of nectar to replenish their resources.


Ruby-throated hummingbirds are easy to attract to feeders because they are intensely curious.

They will not hesitate to approach any red object, even including red clothing, looking for potential food sources. They also are attracting to orange and pink items.

Place hummingbird feeders near the flowers you wish to attract them to, and near windows where you can watch these little birds close up.

Feeders should be set out in mid-April to provide food for the earliest  arrivals.

The best nectar solution to offer hummingbirds at any time of year is a 4-to-1 mixture of water and sugar. Honey and other types of sugar are not recommended, and food colouring should not be added.

Higher concentrations of sugar are not recommended in cold weather because hummingbirds have very basic kidneys and cannot easily process excess amounts of sugar. Excess sugar concentrations could harm or even kill hummingbirds. 

Protein solutions are not recommended either. The hummingbirds will find protein sources in the environment.  

Glass feeders are recommended because soft plastic can break down in heat and sunlight, potentially adding chemical residue to the nectar. 

Choose a feeder that is easy to take apart for cleaning. Clean the feeders with warm, soapy water and rinse well every three to four days in cool weather and more often during the hot summer months.

Feeders should be left out in the fall until freezing becomes a problem.

This will not prevent hummingbirds from migrating but will provide a food source for late migrants. It may also attract the attention of a wandering rufous hummingbird, a rare winter visitor of Ontario.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds provide hours of entertainment at the feeders as the aggressive males chase rival hummingbirds, other species of birds, and even butterflies and bees.

Plants that attract hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are guided by visual means, and are especially attracted to certain shades of red. Many red-coloured flowers just happen to be good sources of nectar, a clever signal from Mother Nature. They also prefer flowers with a tubular shape.

When choosing a location for plants that will attract hummingbirds, find an area that gets full sun for the better portion of the day.

Hummingbirds appreciate the warmth from the sun and will be guided more quickly to the plants you have placed to attract them. Also, nearly all the plants that they prefer like full sun exposures, oddly enough.

Encourage hummingbirds to visit your property by planting flowering material that will provide nectar from spring through fall. Also, provide fresh water in a birdbath if you don’t already have a water feature.

Don’t give up looking! If you don’t see any action the first season, wait another year or two and just enjoy the flowers in the meantime.

Alter the times you go out in the garden until you figure out the favourite feeding time. And remember to keep as quiet and as still as possible.

Some of the flowering shrubs that will attract hummingbirds: azaleas, butterfly buh, flowering quince, mimosa, weigela and beauty bush.

As far as flowering vines: honeysuckle, morning glory, scarlet runner bean and trumpet vine are good choices.

For perennials consider planting bee balm, cardinal flower, columbine, coralbells, daylilies, delphiniums, foxglove, hostas, agastache, liatris, penstemon, red hot poker, scabiosa, and summer phlox.

Some annuals that attract hummingbirds are canna lilies, cleome, fuschia, nicotina, salvia and shrimp plant.

Let the hummingbird watching begin!

Joanne Young is a Niagara-on-the-Lake garden expert and coach. See her website at joanneyoung.ca



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