Every year, hummingbirds travel from their winter homes in Central America and Mexico to North America. Hummingbirds are currently making their trip north with an expected arrival to west-central Illinois around April 10 to 20. Knowing when these birds will arrive can help us prepare for their much-awaited arrival.
Plant Flowers for Nectar
To attract hummingbirds to our yard, we can incorporate flowers in our landscapes that will provide hummingbirds with a source of nectar. Tubular flowers are preferred, as hummingbirds have evolved both qualities and abilities that allow them to access a tube-shaped opening; their long beaks being the most obvious, but also their long tongues. Hummingbirds utilize their keen eyesight rather than the sweet smell of nectar to find food available. Hummingbirds hone in on bright reds, pinks, rich lavenders and blue colored flowers. Orange is also good, but they are less attracted to white or yellow blossoms. Plan for continuous blooming throughout the summer to provide season-long feeding.
Hummingbirds also need insects in their diet, so providing plants that attract insects is also a thoughtful addition to the hummingbird garden. Flowers such as yarrow, milkweeds, and plants with clustered flowers often attract ants and other small insects.
Plants that hummingbirds like
- Trumpet vine
- Bee balm
Some other great options are blue iris, foxglove, beards tongue, and liatris. Annuals such as fuchsia and lantana can provide a food source when our perennials haven’t started blooming especially with newly planted gardens.
Plant for Nesting
Hummingbirds will build their nest in the forked branch of a tree, or in the shelter of dense bushes. The nest is a compact cup shape of grasses, plant fibers, spider webs, lined with plant down. The outside is camouflaged with lichens and dead leaves; all materials they can gather from plants in our landscape if we are providing it.
Hummingbird nests are about 1.5 inches in diameter, so roughly the size of a golf ball. If you are fortunate enough to find a hummingbird nest, it can be tempting to watch it closely. Like all nesting birds, female hummingbirds can be shy and skittish and may abandon nests if they do not feel secure. It is always best to keep your distance from a nest and enjoy it from afar rather than risk harming the nest or hatchlings by being too eager to see them.
It is important for hummingbirds to have a safe place to rest and sleep in your yard; this can be trees, shrubs, or even clothesline or swing sets. Hummingbirds will perch to rest or survey their territory. Some spots should be in the open and obvious for territorial birds, while others should be in protected areas, hidden from view of predators and protected from any cooler overnight temperatures.
Hummingbirds obtain a lot of liquid from the nectar and sugar water they feed on, but they still need water to wash the sticky residue off their feathers. A normal birdbath is too large and too deep for hummingbirds, so one option is to add stones to the bath to make it shallower. Drippers or fountains added to birdbaths are another option. With these water features, it is essential to clean nozzles, baths, rocks, etc. regularly.
Provide Nectar Feeders
We can provide other food sources to hummingbirds as nectar feeders. The best mix to use is 1-part sugar to 4 parts water. You have probably seen the premade nectar mixes at the store; some red in color, some clear. It is totally unnecessary to use red dye in nectar; it doesn’t add any nutritional value or other benefits. Regularly change the nectar and clean your feeder to maintain a healthy food source for hummingbirds to come back to.
To attract more hummingbirds, hang multiple nectar feeders around your yard. Not only will you have a better chance at attracting more hummingbirds, but this also prevents a bully hummer from scaring away other birds.
When placing your feeders, locate them close to shelter or perching areas, such as trees or shrubs. Keep the feeder out of the sun to slow the fermentation process, which will help the nectar last longer. Hummingbirds are always fun to watch, so make sure you can see the feeders easily from inside your home and in a place where you can easily access it to change nectar and clean it. You should also keep feeders away from where cats and snakes can reach them, it is suggested at least 4 ft above the ground.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Katie Parker is a Local Foods and Small Farms Educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving Adams, Brown, Hancock, Pike, and Schuyler counties. Katie provides programming with an emphasis on row crop production, soil fertility, composting, vegetable production, and ornamental horticulture.
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