Have you ever witnessed the tiny wings of an exquisite hummingbird in flight? Or marveled at its incredible acrobatic ability to fly backward or forward, to hover, or to ascend vertically at will?
Consider for a moment that hummingbirds’ wings can rotate 180 degrees, either up, down, forward, or back. And, that their Lilliputian wings beat about 80 times per second during regular flight. Miraculously, this speed increases to a mere 200 times per second when the male hummingbird performs his display dive. When resting, hummingbirds take 250 breaths per minute!
If all of this doesn’t boggle your mind, imagine some of these miniature winged creatures, the Ruby-throated hummingbird in particular, flying 500 miles nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico to over winter. Did I mention that Ruby-throats weigh in at about three grams, and that their eggs are about the size of a large pinto bean?
Is it any wonder that these unique garden acrobats have captivated the attention of both hummingbird gardeners and “watchers” for centuries?
According to statistics, nearly all hummingbirds that nest in North America are found only in the west. The only exception, the Ruby-throat, lives in the eastern half of the continent. However, a few others have sometimes been sighted along the east coast.
What do these resplendent little creatures dine on? How can you best attract them to your backyard garden?
Like butterflies, hummingbirds receive most of their energy requirements from the sweet nectar found in the blossoms of flowers. They also ingest small spiders or soft insects they spy on the leaves of plants, providing them with protein. Another source of nectar often found by hummingbirds is in feeders containing a simple sugar water mixture. A word of caution is in order if you use feeders as a nectar supplement during those times when your garden may not be blooming profusely. Nectar feeders need to be cleaned at least every other day during the hot summer months. Otherwise, the sugar will ferment and could cause deadly salmonella poisoning to hummingbirds.
Would you believe that a single hummer needs the nectar of approximately 1,000 blossoms each and every day to sustain life?
The hummingbird gardener will be delighted to know there are over 150 varieties of flowering plants in North America that attract hummingbirds. It is essential to keep in mind that hummers prefer tubular flowers that allow their long, needle-like bills to fit inside these tubes. Thus, their tongues can easily lap up the sweet nectar found deep inside the flower tubes.
If you are creating your hummingbird garden from scratch, you should consider planting a mix of annuals and perennials the first year. You can then add appropriate shrubs, vines, or trees in subsequent years. Hummingbirds are very adept at sipping nectar from any or all these plant groups. Since perennials take several years to mature, plant an abundant variety of your favorite annuals as fillers the first year. With such a large assortment to choose from, you won’t have a problem choosing those plants that will thrive the best in your particular zone.
An important consideration when designing your hummingbird garden is its shape. Curved, narrow flower beds are best, because hummers can access the blooms from all sides of the plants. Don’t crowd your garden with large trees or shrubs, but do arrange to have several clusters of each in different areas. Hummingbirds need room to accommodate their wings as they whir about the blossoms. Select a variety of levels of flowers, trees, or shrubs, from low to medium to tall in height. Male hummers like to have tall trees to perch on, as they use them to watch for predators while the females are feeding.
Hummingbirds don’t depend upon scent to locate nectar, but are attracted the most often to brightly colored flowers, especially red. This is why hummingbird feeders are primarily red. It has been reported by some bird watchers that they have seen hummers attracted to clotheslines with red garments hanging from them!
As with butterfly gardening, DON’T use pesticides on your plants! They can be deadly to hummingbirds if sprayed directly onto your flowers. Instead, select organic pest control substances to help control unwanted garden pests. There are many of these products available at your favorite garden store to choose from.
A variety of annuals, perennials, and/or bulbs are listed below that are high in nectar, and also have tubular shaped blossoms hummingbirds prefer. You are sure to find some of your favorites among these. Remember too, that these nectar blossoms will also draw many a brightly colored butterfly to your garden as well. What could be a better mix than both “flying flowers” and miniature “shimmering acrobats” in your backyard Garden of Eden?
Favorite Hummingbird Flowers Include:
Beard Tongue (Penstemon); Bee Balm (Monarda); Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae); Browallia; Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa); California Fuchsia (Zauschneria); Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis); Columbia Lily (Lilium columbianum); Columbine (Aquilegia); Coral Bells (Heuchera); Delphinium; Foxglove (Digitalis); Geranium (Pelargonium); Gladiolus; Hollyhock (Alcea rosea); Hosta; Impatiens; Iris; Lilac; Lion’s Tail (Leonotis leonurus); Lobelia laxiflora; Lupine (Lupinus); Ohio Buckeye; Phlox; Red-hot-poker (Kniphofia uvaria); Salvia (Sage); Spider Flower (Cleome hasslerana); Trumpet Honeysuckle; Zinnia.
Happy planning and planting! Get your camera ready for a deluge of hummers AND butterflies to photograph.