How to Attract Hummingbirds
By: Elizabeth Dickey, Education & Visitor Engagement Director | 05/13/2021
I have the pleasure of attending most of the classes presented by the Idaho Botanical Garden. Those offered this year by Liz Urban, Golden Eagle Audubon Society, and Jackie Jarboe, University of Idaho Master Gardener, provided excellent information regarding the hummingbirds of Idaho and how to attract them. Please continue reading for the highlights of what I learned.
Five species are regularly seen in the Treasure Valley starting in late April, with two staying for an extended amount of time. The others pass through during their journey to higher elevations. The Calliope, Rufous, and occasionally the Broad-tailed hummingbirds migrate through. Black-chinned are the most common here. Over the past few years Anna’s Hummingbirds have been seen at feeders during the winter, and have been documented breeding here too.
If you provide what they are looking for, whether passing through or looking to stay longer, you will be more likely to see them at your home. Food and places to perch are important to these birds. Because their small bodies lose a lot of heat, they need to eat up to 5x of their body weight each day. This would be the equivalent of a human consuming 155,000 calories/day. They drink nectar but cannot live on sugar-water alone. Insects, spiders, and tree sap provide other needed nutrients. To offer these birds a hearty diet, your yard should always have some flowers in bloom April through September. Hummingbirds prefer flowers that have a tubular shape, are nectar rich, and are red, orange, or yellow. Good choices include part-shade adapted plants like Western Columbine (Aquilegia formosa) and Bee Balm (Monarda spp.), and sun-loving plants like Beardtongue (Penstemon spp.), Ornamental Sage (Salvia spp)., Hyssop/Hummingbird Mint (Agastache), Hummingbird Trumpet (Epilobium spp.) and the highly drought-tolerant Texas Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora). Hummingbird feeders filled with a non-colored sugar solution of 4-parts water to 1-part sugar nourish these birds as well. Feeders should be cleaned and new solution added every 2-3 days, more often in very hot weather in order to keep them disease free.
Since they also rely on small insects and spiders for food, your yard should not be bug free! Provide your hummers a smorgasbord by growing plants such as yarrow (Achillea millefolium), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), Goldenrod (Solidago spp.), and moon carrot (Seseli gummiferum), that appeal to small pollinators. When controlling aphids, spray them off with water instead of using a pesticide so not to poison hummingbirds that may eat them.
In addition to food and water, hummingbirds look for good places to perch. They use these resting spots while preening their feathers, watching for intruders coming into their territories, and looking for potential mates or insects. They prefer high perches that offer a good view that are out in the open. Try to provide tall shrubs or trees with thin branches at the top, or a dead tree if it’s in a safely located area. Avoid pruning out every dead branch or new growth in order to provide hummingbirds perch options.
I hope that you will find these ideas useful for increasing the quality of your home hummingbird habitat.
Additional information is available from the United States Department of Agriculture, Maintaining and Improving Habitat for Hummingbirds in Idaho, Montana, and North Dakota