Hummingbirds are one of the most beloved and anticipated birds to visit the garden. Perhaps it’s their minute size; their colorful, iridescent feathers; the unique way they hover in one spot as they sip nectar; or the lulling hum of their incredibly fast beating wings that has gardeners completely entranced by their visits. Or is it because many of us only get to see them for a few short months as they migrate into our areas each summer? Whatever it is, there is no doubt that hummingbirds have captivated the hearts of millions of gardeners.
Like other pollinators, the future of hummingbirds has been threatened by loss of habitat, environmental changes, and pollutants. However, the efforts of North American gardeners to create safe hummingbird havens and nesting sites have steadied and improved the once plummeting hummingbird populations. While some hummingbirds stay in one region year round, many others are migratory and will travel great distances to their breeding and nesting grounds. This is an epic journey for such small creatures, who need to consume about half their body weight in nectar or sugar each day to survive.
As gardeners or nature lovers, we can help hummingbirds by providing them with a nectar-rich oasis to visit along their journey. In exchange, hummingbirds pollinate flowers that other pollinators cannot. In fact, many plants are adapted specifically for hummingbird pollination. These plants typically have narrow, tubular, pendulous flowers. Their deep nectar can only be reached by the long, thin tongue of hummingbirds. As the hummingbirds feed, sticking their beak into the flowers, pollen from the blooms are transferred to the hummingbird’s face and carried to the next bloom they sip from.
Ideal hummingbird havens should include these and many other brightly colored nectar-rich flowers to attract the migrating birds. While a few blooms and/or a strategically placed hummingbird feeder will certainly entice a few hummingbirds to stop by for drink, a well-planned hummingbird garden will increase the number of hummingbird visitors. Hummingbirds need to feel safe as they feed, rest, breed and nest. In open fields of flowers, they will quickly feed, then flit away. Creating a chemical-free garden with vertical layers and tiers of vines, shrubs, trees, and nectar-rich flowers will provide hummingbirds with a sense of safety and comfort, and an unending supply of life sustaining nectar.
Some common flowers for hummingbird havens include:
• Red-hot poker
• Cardinal flower
Oftentimes, we plant these annuals and perennials for hummingbirds, but forget to include trellises full of vines, or shrubs and trees that can also provide nectar for hummingbirds and, more importantly, shelter and security. Fill trellises with vines such as bougainvillea, morning glory, virgin’s bower, trumpet vine or vining honeysuckle. Add shrubs such as azalea, witch hazel, honeysuckle, rose of sharon, firebush, or quince. These have nectar-rich blooms but also provide safe places for hummingbirds to rest or nest.
Trees for a hummingbird havens may include apple, cherry, hawthorn, flowering crabapple, horse chestnut, lilac, and catalpa. While these trees may have limited bloom times, they provide shelter and nesting sites for hummingbirds even when they’re not in bloom. Trees also provide sturdy, natural spots to hang hummingbird feeders. These feeders can provide a constant source of nectar for hummingbirds, in times where garden blooms have faded and new blooms are just small buds. Hummingbird feeders can also be fit into even the smallest of gardens or placed on porches and balconies, allowing you to help migrating hummingbirds even if you don’t have room for a hummingbird garden.
Looking for a perfect holiday gift for the hummingbird-lover on your list? Check out Nature’s Way for a variety of unique bird feeders, including beautiful hand-blown glass hummingbird feeders which are sure to attract these little flying jewels to the garden.