Provide Hummingbird Food with Plants & Feeders



By Joe Schneid, Louisville, Kentucky (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Female ruby-throated hummingbird feeds on scarlet monarda. By Joe Schneid, Louisville, Kentucky (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The ruby-throated hummingbird is the only hummingbird that nests in the eastern United States and is the most commonly seen hummingbird here in North Carolina. These tiny and beautiful birds are abundant in a range of habitats across the region. They typically nest in deciduous forests, mixed woodlands and wooded residential areas. (Fun fact: nests are tiny, no more than two inches tall and wide, and made from lichen and spider webs!)

Hummingbirds make a beautiful addition to the garden.  These fast, iridescent little guys and gals are fun to watch, leaving you wanting more in your yard.  There are a lot of changes you can make to your own garden to make it an attractive paradise for hoards of hummingbirds.

Hummingbird Plants

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird (archilochus colubris) in flight with a Hibiscus flower

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird (archilochus colubris) in flight with a Hibiscus flower

Planting a variety of hummingbird attracting flowers throughout your yard is another great way to attract and keep these birds around.  Make sure you have lots – hummingbirds can visit thousands of flowers each day! Plant a variety of flowering plants of different heights – trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials – in different locations to curb their territorial nature.  For best impact be sure to plant selections with a variety of bloom times, creating continuous blooms in every season.  This ensures a constant natural food source. Their favorites seem to be flowers in red or orange and tubular in shape. Some of the best flowers that attract hummingbirds:

  • humming-birds-flying-hovering-725x544Trees & Shrubs – Red Buckeye, Bottlebrush, Wigelia,
  • Annuals – Verbena, Lantana, Calibrachoa, Pentas
  • Perennials – Agastache, Bee Balm, Salvia, Pineapple Sage (They LOVE it, plus it’s a great late season food source)
  • Vines – Trumpet Vine, Honeysuckle, Cross Vine, Carolina Jessamine

For a full list of plants that attract hummingbirds see our article here.

Avoid using pesticides on your plants.  Direct ingestion can cause illness or death in hummingbirds and will also kill the small insects they rely on as a protein source. Yes, hummingbirds eat a variety of small insects, they don’t solely rely on nectar!

Hummingbird Feeders

The number one way to attract and keep hummingbirds in your yard is with a feeder.  Commercial feeders are readily available in a variety of styles.  If you’ve ever seen these little buggers battle over a feeder you know how feisty they can be. Hummingbirds can be very territorial over feeders.  Add many to your yard to keep your hummingbirds happy.

Hummingbird Food

"Ruby Throated Hummingbird” by Kinchan1 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“Ruby Throated Hummingbird” by Kinchan1 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Hummingbird feeders are filled with nectar, a mixture of sugar and water.  The standard hummingbird food recipe is: boil four parts water to one part white sugar, stirring constantly, until the sugar completely dissolves. Or, we also sell easy, ready-to-go bottled hummingbird nectar.  Feeders should be emptied and changed every three to five days, or more often in hot weather, if nectar is cloudy, or feeders are in full sun. Feeders should be scrubbed clean weekly with a bottle brush and hot water only.

Feel free to leave your feeders up year round.  Leaving them out will not alter the hummingbirds migrating schedule.  You might be lucky enough to get a visit from a more unusual hummingbird.

Vagrant Hummingbirds

North Carolina’s ruby-throated hummingbirds usually arrive in late march and begin migrating south in late summer, while birds from further north continue to pass through North Carolina well into October. After this time, other sightings of hummingbirds were formerly considered rare.  Over the last 40 years an increasing amount of sightings have been reported of ‘vagrant hummingbirds’ – ruby-throated hummingbirds that do not migrate south in the winter or other species spotted outside their expected range. If you spot a vagrant hummingbird you can help the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences study by submitting your report here.

Additional Tips on How to Attract Hummingbirds

  • 298_300Try tying strips of bright surveyors flagging to trees and feeders to attract hummingbirds flying by. The bright color will grab their attention and entice them to come down and take a closer look at your garden.
  • Add a water mister.  They are impossible for hummingbirds, and other birds, to resist.
  • Be sure there are enough small perches nearby for your little friends.  If you don’t have any branches close by, consider adding a special hummingbird swing we sell in the garden center!