Attracting and Sustaining Hummingbirds
Updated: Jan 29
With the proper plants (flora) installed in your garden, you shouldn't have any trouble attracting the local wildlife (fauna) you want. If it's hummingbirds you desire, here are some tips that will guarantee their presence year after year. Additionally, if you were hoping to attract and sustain an array of hummingbirds in your garden with nothing but a hummingbird feeder and have been disappointed, this should help you understand why. Hopefully it will prevent you from doing so further.
A Closer Look at Our Feathered Friends
Generally speaking, Hummingbirds live up to 8 years. They can fly at 30 MPH for 500 miles and dive twice as fast. A hummingbird’s wings beat between 50 and 200 flaps per second, depending on the direction of flight and air conditions. The average heart rate is more than 1,200 beats per minute. They've evolved with fewer feathers than any other species of bird and have smaller feet, so their weight is less and they fly more efficiently. Even though they can't walk or hop, their feet can be used to scoot sideways while they're perched. At rest, a hummingbird takes an average of 250 breaths per minute; their breathing pace increases while they're in flight.
Hummingbirds don't suck nectar through their long bills, but lick it with fringed, forked tongues. Capillary action along the fringe of their tongue helps draw nectar up into their throats so they can swallow. A hummingbird can lick 10-15 times per second while feeding. Since nectar production averages between 2-4 mg per flower and they need to consume 50g/day, it takes between 400 and 1000 flowers to support one bird. While it is unlikely your yard can sustain a hummingbird on its own, you can add to their livelihood and guarantee regular visits with the right plant selection. Providing a good variety of different flowers for them to feed from will bring plenty of traffic into your garden for you to enjoy during the season. It's not unusual for them to visit the same flower 2-3 times a day.
Stop Using Feeders
While feeders offer hummingbirds a nectar-like substance (i.e. sugar and water), this is not enough. Sugar water feeders don’t give hummingbirds the nutrients they need and draw them away from the pollen of flowers. The nectar provided by nectar-rich flowers (such as Honeysuckle and Salvia), contain proteins that aren’t available from feeders. The lack of these nectar (pollen) proteins and nutrients can negatively affect the hummingbirds’ immune system. The competitive and antagonistic pattern observed between feeders and flowers, demonstrates that natural pollination systems are being significantly altered by the use of feeders. Supplementing hummingbird diets with synthetic nectar interferes with pollination networks that are already stressed. If you have a hummingbird feeder at home, please don't use it on a permanent basis. Don't make them addicts to cheap food.
Plant a hummingbird garden instead!
In order to sustain the yearly return of hummingbirds to your garden and ensure they are healthy, keep a few tips in mind:
Hummingbirds love tubular flowers.
The colors that attract them most are of blue, pink, orange and red varieties.
Their diets consist of water and sugar nectar, but it is also important for them to have access to blooming flowers high in natural nectar.
They See Red!
You may have noticed in the past that hummingbirds have a penchant for red tubular flowers. The general tendency to frequent red flowers is not because hummingbirds like red flowers, but because bees avoid red flowers. The lack of bees means there's usually better nectar quantity and quality in red flowers. Without competition from the local bee chapter, the nectar is more plentiful making for very happy hummers.
Do They Sleep?
Yes. But where do they sleep is a better question. If you are interested in having a hummingbird nest in your garden, consider planting Arctostaphylos, Ceanothus and/or Sambucus. These are very common nesting plants.
Although this is not a comprehensive list, there are several plant species that grow well in northern California and will help you attract more hummingbirds to your garden:
Beavertail Cacti (yep, they like Cactus)
Mimulus Cardinalis (Scarlet Monkey Flower)
Penstemons (drought tolerant)
Multiflowered Snapdragons (deer resistant)
San Jose California Fuchsia
Fuschua Gartenmeister Bondstadt
Salvia Coccinea (Lady in Red)
These species of hummingbirds have been found in California. Broad-billed hummingbird, Cynanthus latirostris
When Can I Expect Them?
Migrating hummingbirds can arrive as early as January or February. Departure dates are often in October. Anna's Hummingbirds are present year round. California is a large, diverse state. Broad-tail Hummingbirds migrate through the eastern parts and nest in central California. Costa's Hummingbirds breed in southern and western California.
The following are species of concern and have been negatively impacted by the introduction of weeds and destruction of California’s habitat, primarily the coastal sage scrub plant community.
Allen's hummingbird, Selasphorus sasin (SC)
Costa's hummingbird, Calypte costae (SC)
Rufous hummingbird, Selasphorus rufus (SC)