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Hummingbirds in the Garden

These minute birds are the smallest of birds, delicately proportioned, with slender bills and sweeping, narrow-tipped wings. Despite their size, they are also the fastest and most energetic birds that will likely visit your garden. Hummingbirds are also fierce in their defense of territory and ethereal in their courtship displays.

They are capable of nearly instantaneous changes in direction and speed. Hummingbirds have the ability to hover in midair with ease. They also have the ability to fly backward allowing them to back out of deep, tubular flowers. They are nectar feeders, that is they feed on the sweet juice flowers produce to attract insects for pollination.

Nectar has a high sugar level which meets the high energy demands the hummingbird has. To gather enough nectar for their requirements they have to visit many flowers quickly. This high energy level can be maintained for very long and it's not unusual to find a humming bird to be perched in a tree and resting quietly for anywhere from 5 — 15 minutes. During these rest periods their energy level to a 6th of what is required when they're flying. At night, when they're not flying, their metabolic rate drops even further to conserve energy. Their heart slows from 1200 to just 50 beats per minute.

Hummingbird nesting

If you're ever lucky enough to come across a hummingbird nest, you'll be surprised at their size and the size of the eggs if they haven't hatched yet.

Hummingbird Nest
Hummingbird nest in a California orange tree. Photo by James Lazear used with permission.

Hummingbird nests are built by the female. They almost never use birdhouses. The nest is typically high off the ground so predators will be less likely to find. It will also most likely be in a sheltered area protected from strong winds. The nest itself can be made up of a variety of locally found materials such as wisps of string, small leaves, dryer lint, small twigs and leaves attached to the outside for camouflage. The entire nest is held together with collected spider webs that act as an elastic binder that will keep its structure even as the nest expands to more than twice its original size as the baby chicks grow.

Flowers hummingbirds like

Typical flowers that appeal to hummingbirds have deep, tubular shapes that can be penetrated by the long hummingbird bills and their protruding tongues. They're particularly attracted to red and reddish orange flower colors. However, nearly any intense color will gain the attention of hummingbirds once they discover them to be a source of nectar.

Common flower names that attract hummingbirds:

Flowering Buckeye Trees

Mosquito Plant

Century Plant


Trumpet Creeper4

Flowering Quince

Desert Willow




Red Yucca

Coral bells

Desert Lavender

Scarlet Gilia




Cardinal Flower




Scarlet Monkey flower

Four O'Clocks

Bee Balm

Flowering Tobacco

Garden Geraniums


Summer Phlox

Flowering Currants



Scarlet Hedge Nettle

Cape Honeysuckle

Hummingbird Feeder

Supplemental sugar-feeding feeders

You might be able to attract more hummingbirds more reliably and in larger numbers by putting out a hummingbird feeder filled with sugar water. Feeders compliment existing flowers and provide a dependable source of energy when natural nectar might become scarce.

The recommended recipe for this nectar substitute is a maximum of one part sugar to four parts water. More concentrated solutions may cause liver damage in the bird. Anything weaker than 1 — 8 solutions is unlikely to satisfy their energy needs. Adding dyes to the mixture is unnecessary, but adding some red ribbon to the feeder may help attract the birds. Replace and clean the feeder on a regular basis (once a week is good, more often during hot weather). If mold appears on the inside, it can can be cleaned using vinegar (avoid using soaps or detergents as they can leave a harmful residue).

Do not use honey, or brown sugar as sweeteners.