University of Vermont Extension
Spring, Summer News
Department of Plant and Soil Science
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension
University of Vermont
fascinated by hummingbirds, as I am, you probably hang out a feeder or two in
the summer to provide them with sugar water. But did you know that hummingbirds
also are attracted to many flowering landscape plants, particularly those that
have brightly colored red and scarlet flowers?
or hummers, as they're often called, have been sighted in 49 states (all except
Hawaii) and 10 Canadian provinces. However, of the dozens of species, only the
ruby-throated hummingbird is found in Vermont. In fact, it's the only species
that lives and nests east of the Rocky Mountains.
hummingbirds winter in southern Mexico and Central America, returning to
Vermont in mid April (south) to early May (north). It is fun to track their
spring North America migration online (www.hummingbirds.net/map.html). To attract them to your yard or garden,
you'll need to meet their requirements for food, shelter, and nesting spots.
hummingbird consumes about half its weight in sugar each day, feeding five to
eight times per hour (up to a minute per feeding). In addition to sipping
nectar from tubular flowers and feeders, this tiny, metallic green bird also feeds
on insects, tree sap, and juice from some fruits.
tend to follow a regular route in search of food (called “traplining”) though
are highly inquisitive. When selecting
flower varieties, keep in mind that hummers are not attracted to fragrance, but
rather color and nectar production. The color red, and to a lesser degree pink,
rose, orange, and purple-- bright colors that contrast with their backgrounds--
are most seen by them. In planning a hummingbird garden, you'll want
to select plants with flowers of those colors, using a diversity of annuals and
perennials for continuous blooms. Keep
in mind that many cultivated hybrids (cultivars) produce much less nectar than
their wild cousins or species.
quince, buddleia, and Catawba rhododendron are shrubs they find
attractive. Fuchsia, cigar flower (Cuphea), lantana, nasturtium, salvia
(especially Pineapple and scarlet sages), spider flower (Cleome), verbena, and snapdragon are annuals for summer bloom. Vines to consider are cypress vine, morning
glory, scarlet runner bean, and the perennial trumpet creeper. Japanese honeysuckle vine is attractive to
them, but is not recommended as it is invasive in many areas.
early summer perennials plant bleeding hearts, iris, columbine, cardinal
flower, lupine, and evening primrose. Summer
flowering perennials include foxglove, hollyhocks (biennial), bee balm, tiger
lily, penstemon, coral bells, hosta, scarlet campion (Lychnis), and phlox. Hummingbirds also like jewelweed, a wildflower
commonly found in the cooler north and blooming later in summer (note that this
can self sow prolifically).
with your local garden center or nursery for other suggestions, as well as for
recommendations for disease-resistant varieties as it's critical that you don't
use pesticides on or near the hummers' food sources. Not only can sipping
nectar from plants that have been sprayed sicken or kill the birds, but it also
kills the insects hummers need for protein.
often build their nests on a downward-sloping, lichen-covered limb near or over water though may
build in any deciduous or coniferous tree that provides adequate protection
such as hawks, Baltimore orioles, and other birds. The nests are only an inch
or so long and are made of plant down, bud scales, and lichens, held together
with saliva or spider silk. Newborns are about the size of a pea but grow
rapidly and will start feeding on nectar in about a month.
spend nearly 80 percent of their time resting, so you also will want to provide
plenty of places to perch. They'll sit on twigs, leaf stems, fences, and even
clotheslines in between searching for food. A favorite place in my yard for hummers is the
very top of an upward branch or small tree, even if the branch is dead. They love to bathe and may be attracted to a
splashing fountain or even droplets of water on leaves of broad-leaved trees.
if you want to attract these delightful little birds to your yard or garden,
wear red! Although there's no scientific data to support this, it seems that
hummingbirds will check out anything red, even you! More on the life of this
fascinating and friendly visitor to our summer gardens, including their sounds,
can be found at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (www.allaboutbirds.org).