Plant Answers  >  Attracting Hummingbirds To Your Landscape

Express-News Weekly ArticleSaturday, April 8, 2006
By Calvin R. Finch, PhD, SAWS Water Resources Director, and Horticulturist
Attracting Hummingbirds To Your Landscape  

            The hummingbirds have returned to the San Antonio area.  In the spring, we usually have two species – the ruby throat and the black chinned hummingbirds.  The black chins stay all summer to nest.  There are two ways to attract hummingbirds to your landscape – provide nectar producing blooming plants and feed the birds with sugar water in special hummingbird feeders.  Blooming plants somewhere in the neighborhood are usually necessary to attract the hummingbirds originally and the feeders bring large numbers in for close observation.


            Right now, there are several plants blooming that attract hummingbirds.  In the flower garden, snapdragons, stocks, and especially larkspurs will provide nectar.  Sweet peas, crossvine, and Texas gold columbines are also attractive to the active little birds.  If you have some lavender lantana that bloomed all winter and still has some blooms, the birds will find it. 


            Later in the month Salvia greggii, society garlic, and dwarf ruellia will be visited.  All three of those sources, like the columbine and lavender lantana have some shade tolerance.  As the summer progresses, the blue salvias, poinciana, esperanza, and the other lantanas provide excellent nectar sources.  Trumpet vine, orchid tree, cypress vine, Turk’s cap, and shrimp plant are also attractive to the hummingbirds.  Firebush is an outstanding hummingbird plant.  Place one in a five gallon container on your patio.  In addition to providing a round globe full of attractive red flowers, the plant will be the most popular nectar source on the patio. Many a hummingbird “dogfight” will be centered on winning dominance over the firebush.  In the autumn, we again are visited by migrating ruby throats, plus we often see rufous hummingbirds.  These red-brown backed dynamos are smaller, but more aggressive than the other two species.  If your yard hosts a rufous hummingbird, it usually ends up with the firebush.  Firebush requires full sun, but if your patio is shady, pentas will fill most of the gap.  Later in the autumn, firespike will also bloom in the shade.  Like firebush and pentas, firespike does well in a container.  Cape honeysuckle looks like a miniature trumpet creeper.  This native of South Africa comes in orange-red and yellow versions, and blooms into the winter in San Antonio, providing nectar until the first freeze. 


            There are many versions of hummingbird feeder that work well.  One of my favorites is the Best A-1 brand manufactured in Poteet, Texas, and sold by H.E.B., whichever feeder you select it needs to be easy to clean and should have some type of provision to discourage bees.  The usual tactic is to have the sugar water far enough from the extraction hole that the long beak of a hummingbird can reach it, but a bee can not.  The Perky Pet brand uses little yellow flowers that snap in place to extend the distance to the sugar water.


            Hang your feeder under the house eave, from a trellis or on a pole where you can easily see it from a comfortable vantage point like the kitchen table or patio chairs.


            The sugar water should be mixed at the ratio of four parts water and one part sugar by volume.  If you mix it in large volumes store the extra in a gallon milk jug in the refrigerator.  We boil ours in the microwave to dissolve the sugar.  Put eight cups of water in a pyrex or other microwave safe container and bring to boil (14-15 minutes).  Stir in sugar until it dissolves and then you can bring to boil again (seven minutes) or put it into the empty milk jug for refrigeration.  We use a few drops of red food coloring.  The food coloring is probably unnecessary, but it is attractive, and there is no bona fide research that shows it harms the birds in any way.


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