Make hummingbirds feel at home

No matter where in North America you live, you have a good chance of hosting hummingbirds in your yard. Some regions are real hot spots like the Southwest, which boasts more than 20 species while other areas, such as the Great Plains and locales east of the Mississippi, may see only a single species, the reliable ruby-throated hummingbird. Most of the 339 hummingbird species stick to Central and South America (and the islands off those coasts). Some species, particularly the rufous hummingbird, are rapidly changing their habits and expanding their range; the rufous now winters regularly in the South and may show up at feeders just about anywhere in North America.

The good news is that hummingbirds stray far and wide (and fast: up to 50 miles per hour in a tailwind), so if you prepare a welcoming garden, you are likely to have a visitor. Here are a few ways to say, “Come on in!”

SERVE UP SWEETS

Flower nectar is Mother Nature’s version of sugar water, and hummingbirds love it right from the flower and served up in feeders. For the jaw-dropping experience of seeing these birds at close range, put up a nectar feeder close to a window. You can even get the kind that sticks to your window with suction cups.

Nectar feeders generally come in two basic models: a vertical tube reservoir with feeding holes at the bottom, and a saucer shape. Pick the one you feel most comfortable filling, hanging, and cleaning. (Expect to repeat that cycle every 3 days and more frequently if you attract a lot of hummingbirds.) The more red on the feeder, the faster it will attract a hummingbird’s attention. A transparent reservoir will enable you to see more easily when a refill is needed.

DO-IT-YOURSELF: QUICK AND EASY FEEDERS

* Use a test tube (available from chemistry supply houses) or a clean, tall, skinny, jelly jar or similar container. Wrap wire around the lip of the tube or jar and attach the other end of the wire to a tree branch. Use a funnel or turkey baster to fill the feeder with sugar water. Be sure to change the water often, as ants and other insects will get into the tube or jar.

* Recycle a clean plastic soda bottle. For a few dollars, purchase a screw-on feeder base and a hanger that is specifically made for this from a bird supply house or search the Web for “soda bottle feeder.”

PLANT A FEAST OF FLOWERS

Nectar-filled flowers will entice hummingbirds into your yard, but not just any blooms will do. Hummingbirds seek plants with deep, tubular blossoms that point up and are arranged around a stem (think columbine or honeysuckle). Because a hummingbird usually hovers while it eats, its wings whizzing at 80 beats per second, it favors flowers that stand clear of leaves or branches (bee balm, salvias, penstemons, agaves).

Although a hummingbird will feast on flowers of any hue, certain colors capture its attention more than others. Red flowers attract especially well, but those of related shades (red-orange, orange, hot pink) also call to them. Studies have shown that hummingbirds also seek blue flowers, such as salvia and delphinium blossoms, that have the necessary shape and structure. Both native and nonnative plants attract hummingbirds, as long as the blossoms have tubular flowers.

HOW TO MAKE NECTAR

Sugar-water nectar could not be simpler to make: Boil 2 cups of water. Remove from the heat. Add 1/2 cup granulated white sugar. Stir to dissolve. Cool and serve in your nectar feeder. It’s not necessary to color the water with red dye to catch a hummingbird’s attention, especially if you use a red feeder.

Never give hummingbirds honey; it could give them a tongue fungus–a problem for a creature whose tongue’s length (6 inches) is twice that of its body.

GIVE THE BIRDS A BATH

At less than 1/2 ounce in weight, hummingbirds do not need a lot of water to refresh themselves. Devices that spray, spritz, mist, or sprinkle, especially those that send a fine cloud of moisture in one direction and do not oscillate, are ideal for getting hummingbirds to dance in the air and sing as if in a shower. (Yes, sing: Listen, and you may hear them squeaking or twittering with delight!) A common hose nozzle set to the finest spray and propped to aim into the air is very tempting, and the little birds may even zoom in and out of the spray while you water your plants. A commercial mister designed specifically for this purpose is just as inviting.

Traditional birdbaths and many water features are far too deep for hummingbirds (or butterflies), although they may hover and splash their wings at the surface. After a rain you may see these tiny birds rubbing and fluttering against the wet, smooth leaves of your dogwoods, eastern redbuds, maples, spice bushes, tulip trees, and other trees and shrubs.

Annuals

Garden balsam (Impatiens balsamina)

Impatiens (I. walleriana)

Monkey flower (Mimulus spp.)

Scarlet sage (Salvia splendens) (E)

Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus) (G)

Texas sage (S. coccinea)

Perennials

Anise hyssop (Agastache spp.) (B)

Bee balm (Monarda spp.)

Columbine (Aquilegia spp.) (A)

Delphinium (Delphinium spp.) (C)

Foxglove (Digitalis spp.) (F)

Penstemon (Penstemon spp.)

Red-hot poker (Kniphofia spp.) (D)

Salvia (Salvia spp.)

Speedwell (Veronica spp.)

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