How to Attract Hummingbirds to Your Garden
The best tips and tricks to keep these birds coming back.
By Rachel Kupfer
If you blink, you might miss tiny hummingbirds flitting around your desert garden, but there are many ways to keep them around for the long run. With as many as 18 species living in Phoenix throughout the year, crafting the right conditions may earn you some face time with these jewel-toned aviators. Lynn Town, co-owner of Southwest Gardener, and Nancy Biggins, a former zookeeper who oversaw the hummingbird collection at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, offer their tips for creating a hummingbird-friendly yard.
Put out a buffet. Possessing a metabolism that is 100 times that of an elephant, hummingbirds are small but hungry, eating 1.5-3 times their body weight per day. Providing nectar and a variety of flowers encourages them to pay a visit to your garden. Town and Biggins stress that brightly colored—especially red—tubular flowers, are the most attractive color to the birds. When flowers aren’t in bloom, be sure to offer a constant supply of nectar.
Use a special recipe. Make your own nectar from refined sugar and water in a 1-to-4 ratio. Because hummingbirds generally weigh about 0.12 ounces, food coloring and preservatives found in commercial nectars can be especially toxic, as are unrefined sugars, Biggins warns. If you prefer to purchase nectar, Town recommends Sweet Seed, a concentrate infused with flower extract.
Keep it fresh. Change nectar daily, especially during the hottest months, to prevent fermentation, which causes dangerous mold and fungi to form. Small feeders reduce waste, and pipe cleaners are great for keeping feeding ports tidy. Town does not recommend using dish soap, which can leave a residue that can be harmful to hummingbirds, to clean feeders.
Space it out. Hummingbirds in this area can be territorial and don’t like to share. Put visual barriers, such as trees or porch posts, and lots of room between feeders.
Take a load off. With wings that beat an average of 53 times per second, your animated garden guests can use a break. Hummingbird swings let these petite critters perch and keep watch over their favorite feeders.
Put out the welcome mat. When introducing a new feeder, add a flower blossom to the port to invite hungry birds in. Town lists penstemon and fairy duster (Calliandra eriophylla) as hummingbird favorites. You also can tie a red ribbon to the feeder or port, Biggins adds.
Ward off bullies. Woodpeckers are the only species with the same narrow tongue as hummingbirds. Placing a wire cage around your feeder will prevent them, as well as other determined avians, from stealing nectar, Biggins suggests. Small feeder ports will also keep bees away—a sting is deadly to a hummingbird.
Enjoy the show. These beauties will come close if you sit still in the garden, and they may even be enticed to eat out of your hand. “You can hear the air in their wings,” Town says. “They’re like little gems.”