Ruby-throated hummingbird photo by Sherry Rosen.
One of my favorite sounds in the garden is the distinctive whir of hummingbird wings. Often before I see one of these tiny birds, I hear the creature.
Usually this occurs when I’m near one of the many tubular flowers I have growing in my yard. Hummers love such flowers, because their long beaks can extract nectar from deep in the blooms where other pollinators fail.
“Watching a hummingbird is enchanting. Their tiny size and incredible speed make them a natural wonder,” says Elaine Cole, owner of Cole’s Wild Bird Products, Inc. Hummingbirds flap their wings an astounding 70 times per second—hence the whirring sound they make. They can move in every direction, including backward.
Perhaps even more intriguing is the fact that hummingbirds are considered New World birds. According to my colleague, The Backyard Birder, Jennifer J. Meyer, these little gems can only be found naturally in the Americas and aren’t from other continents.
Luring hummingbirds to your yard
If you want to attract hummingbirds to your garden—and even get them to land on your hand—Cole notes that you need to provide them with a steady stream of food. Hummers are true “grazers.” They must eat once every 10 to 15 minutes, which is why they have to visit 1,000 to 2,000 flowers each day.
“Provide safe, reliable food sources for hummingbirds, and they’ll come in droves to your garden,” says Cole.
Hummingbirds require a steady source of insects and nectar to feed themselves and their young. You can provide nectar through flowers and a hummingbird feeder. The flowers and other plants in your yard attract the insects.
As mentioned, blooms that attract hummingbirds are tubular. The tiny birds also like brightly colored flowers, such as red, bright pink and yellow.
Encourage your plants to flower as much as possible by fertilizing them regularly and deadheading so they create more blooms.
To ensure that the flowers and other plants in your yard have plenty of insects to sustain the hummingbirds and their young, avoid treating the yard with chemical pesticides. Instead, let nature take its course. The birds in your yard will generally keep the insects under control. Think of an insect invasion as a temporary smorgasbord for the hummers in your garden.
“A hummingbird feeder is one of the most effective ways to consistently entice and encourage hummingbirds to visit your yard,” says Cole. She advises choosing a hummingbird feeder with an elevated perch, which makes it safer and more comfortable for the birds to feed.
Put sugar water in the feeder, and don’t add red food coloring. Check the feeder at least bi-weekly to ensure a steady supply of fresh food. Clean the feeder as needed with one part white vinegar to four parts water.
Hang feeders in the shade. Too much sunshine and warmth can cause fermentation of sugar-based liquids.
“Hummingbirds also adore bathing, so make sure to add a water feature to your yard, such as a drip fountain or mister,” says Cole.
How to get a hummingbird to land on your hand
According to Cole, it’s possible to get a hummingbird to land on your hand. To do so, she advises sitting near a feeder that is visited regularly by hummingbirds.
“Remain still so the birds realize you’re not a threat,” she says. “Repeat this procedure several times a day for a few days, wearing the same clothing. Each day, move a little closer until you’re sitting right next to the feeder.
“Next, hold the feeder or cup your hand to use as a perch underneath the feeding ports. It can take some time, but with consistency and patience, you’ll experience a close-up encounter.”
Julie Bawden-Davis is a garden writer and master gardener, who since 1985 has written for publications such as Organic Gardening, The American Gardener, Wildflower, Better Homes and Gardens and The Los Angeles Times. She is the author of 10 books, including Reader’s Digest Flower Gardening, Fairy Gardening, The Strawberry Story Series, and Indoor Gardening the Organic Way, and is the founder of HealthyHouseplants.com. Her backyard is a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.