Hummingbirds are truly remarkable and fascinating creatures. A diverse family, hummingbirds include the world's smallest bird, the Bee Hummingbird of Cuba, and some of the strongest migrants. The Rufous Hummingbird, if based upon distance traveled in proportion to body size, undertakes the longest avian migration in the world. To sustain their supercharged metabolisms, hummingbirds must eat once every 10 to 15 minutes and visit between 1,000 and 2,000 flowers per day.
You can attract, feed and nourish hummingbirds in your backyard with a few easy steps. Flowers, feeders, perches, insects, and water are the key ingredients to a healthy yard that will attract these amazing jewels.
Hummingbirds are specialized for nectar-eating, evident by long bills and grooved tongues ideal for probing flowers. Sugary nectar supplies fast energy and makes up 90 percent of a hummingbird's diet. Unfortunately, due to development and climate change, hummingbird-friendly habitat is rapidly disappearing across many hummingbird migration routes. You can create a healthy environment for hummingbirds with these steps:
- Fill your yard with flowering plants, vines, shrubs, and trees. Even a window box or hanging basket can help.
- Grow native plants like trumpet honeysuckle, bee balm, and hummingbird sage, which provide much more nectar than hybrids and exotics.
- Plant red or orange tubular flowers to attract hummingbirds, in addition to other flowers rich in nectar.
- Group similar plants together and choose species with different blooming periods so that there will be a steady supply of flowers nearly year round.
- Leave some sticks and small branches on bushes and trees to enable ready perches for hummingbirds.
- Encourage your neighbors to make their yards hummingbird friendly. An entire corridor of habitat is much more valuable than scattered patches.
Bill Hilton, Jr. of South Carolina, who has studied hummingbirds in the southeastern United States and in Latin America for several decades, suggests the following flowers below as a starting point for your yard. Many of these plants are found continent-wide.
For a more comprehensive list with regional information please click here.
Recommended native nectar flowers
- Trumpet creeper, Campsis radicans
- Beebalm or Oswego tea, Monarda didyma
- Trumpet honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens
- Cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis
- Spotted jewelweed, Impatiens capensis
- Red columbine, Aquilegia canadense
- Canada lily, Lilium canadense
- Indian pink, Spigelia marilandica
- Red buckeye, Aesculus pavia
- Mountain rosebay or Catawba rhododendron, Rhododendron catawbiense
- Pineapple sage, Salvia elegans
- Giant blue sage, Salvia guaranitica
- Cypress vine, Ipomoea quamoclit
- Shrimp plant, Justicia brandegeana
- Mimosa, or silktree, Albizia julibrissin
- Shrub verbena, Lantana camara
- Butterfly bush, Buddleja davidii. also spelled Buddleia
- Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus
- Common foxglove, Digitalis purpurea
- Cigar plant, Cuphea ignea
Planting for nesting hummingbirds
Hummingbirds prefer to nest near a ready supply of nectar and other food, and you can encourage them to nest in your yard by maintaining some shrubbery and small deciduous trees in which they can seek protective cover, especially around the edges of your yard. They build their tiny, expandable nests on tree limbs and other small horizontal surfaces, often constructing them from lichens and spider webs.
Nectar feeders (hummingbird feeders)
Human-supplied nectar feeders can provide an additional source of nectar for hummingbirds in your yard. For guidelines about providing and maintaining hummingbird feeders, please see our Nectar Feeder page:
Make sure you have plenty of safe places for hummingbirds to rest and sleep in your yard. Hummingbirds often 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 and buffered from any cooler overnight temperatures.
Hummingbirds need protein from pollen and insects to maintain their bodies and grow new feathers. Like swifts, hummingbirds are specialized aerial hunters, and can snatch small insects from the air. Hummingbirds also glean insects from leaves and from spider webs. To maintain a healthy ecosystem in your yard:
- Eliminate pesticides. Spiders and insects (arthropods) are an important part of an adult bird's diet, and young hummingbirds still in the nest are almost exclusively fed arthropods.
- Make sure your yard contains insect-pollinated flowers as well as hummingbird-pollinated plants.
- Hang a basket with overripe fruit or banana peels close to a hummingbird feeder to attract tiny fruit flies.
- Research has shown that ecosystems with a high percentage of native plants will produce a higher volume of nectar than exotic plantings, and thus support a greater concentration of insects and spiders available as prey for hummingbirds and other birds.
Hummingbirds like to bathe frequently -- even in the pools of droplets that collect on leaves. Provide your yard with a constant source of water from a drip fountain attachment or a fine misting device. A misting device is an especially attractive water source for hummingbirds.