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Hummingbirds are amazing creatures. They are tiny little packages with bright feathers and wings flapping some 80 times per second, so fast that it creates a buzzing — humming, some would say — sound as they dart between spots of interest. They have the ability to fly in any direction, including backwards, which helps them to use their thin, elongated beaks to probe the deeper reaches of tubular flowers. This mission continues almost nonstop as their rapid breathing, speedy heartbeats, and high body temperatures requires they eat often. They even eat fast, with tongues that lick at a rate of 13 per second.
However, hummingbirds are not fast enough to fly themselves out of trouble. They were once killed for their iridescent feathers, but the bigger threat today — as is the case with bees and other animals — is habitat loss. Hummingbirds are very specialized animals with special needs, so when their food sources disappear, it causes them serious problems. Luckily, we have the power to help them, and they have the power to help us in return.
How to Attract Hummingbirds
Like with many of us, the best way to get hummingbirds to pay you a visit is to offer up some free food. Hungry little hummingbirds will eat half their weight in sugar every day, so that means they need plenty of pollen around. They are known to be particularly attracted to the color red, hence hummingbird feeders being red, but they are not so choosy as to thumb their pointy beaks at pink, orange, or purple flowers. They like herbs, flowering shrubs, dwarf trees, vines, and plants with tubular flowers.
Hummingbird feeders are, of course, the default method for many hummingbird lovers. While it will attract them, there are some precautions to be aware of. The sugar water in them should be a mixture of between a quarter and a third cup of sugar (not honey, it ferments) to one cup of water. The water should not be dyed red, as the dye serves no purpose and can possibly be harmful to the birds. Because hummingbirds are very territorial, it is best to have many small feeders with one feeding port, as opposed to one large feeder with many feeding ports.
Supplying hummingbirds with natural sources of food is likely a healthier option for them. After all, pollen and sugar are not the same thing. So, there are some specific plants for attracting hummingbirds: bee balm, daylilies, lupines, foxgloves, hollyhocks, petunias, flowering quinces, lantana, manzanita, mimosa, morning glory, honeysuckle, sage, yucca, scarlet runner bean, to name but a few. Growing these plants for hummingbirds also attracts butterflies to the garden.
Beyond food, hummingbirds also have specific environmental preferences. Male hummingbirds like to perch above their food sources to protect them, and female and young birds prefer the safety of hedges. The males can use small branches or even clotheslines for perches. The females like a bit of shade and enjoy a mix of perennials, wildflowers, and fruit trees. Both genders appreciate a gentle but continuous mist of water to bath in.
Why We Should Attract Hummingbirds
Hummingbirds are beautiful and worth attracting without any other motive. They are colorful birds and exceedingly entertaining. Unlike most other birds, hummingbirds hover around for extended periods of time, performing great aerobatics. They will go about their daily chores without much concern for humans being around.
Furthermore, hummingbirds are great functional additions to our gardens as well. Like bees and butterflies, they are pollinators. Like other birds, they are also great insect predators, helping to naturally control aphids and hornworms, which are their protein sources. Hummingbirds also spread seeds. And, because they are territorial, they help keep away other birds that might be damaging to the garden.
Hummingbirds are another potential addition to the biodiversity in the garden. This biodiversity helps create and maintain delicate natural balances, keeping pests under control, maintaining healthy plant reproduction levels, and adding to the overall fertility of the garden environment. And these are all good things.
Lead Image Source: gardener41 / Flickr