Five tips to attract hummingbirds to our woodland gardens

Going native and eliminating insecticides are key to success

Just as our hummingbirds prepare to make their arduous journey south to Central America and Mexico for the winter, I thought it was a good time to look at ways we can attract more of these favourite little entertainers back to our yards next year.

For those unable to attract hummingbirds, these tips will go a long way to bring success next year.

Depending on where you live, it can take time to get our local hummingbirds to find our yards and put it on their daily rounds for the entire summer.

Here are five ways we can attract and keep hummingbirds coming back:

Have feeders ready in early spring

1) Have your feeders cleaned and ready to go early in the spring and get them out in the garden before not after you see your first hummingbird. It’s a good idea to track the hummingbird migration on line so you can be prepared for the day they fly through your area. Hummingbirds migrate during the day when nectar sources from flowers are available. Flying low, using tail winds to help them move quickly allows hummingbirds to travel as much as 23 miles in a single day. Tracking the fast-moving band can be challenging and to some degree dependant on local circumstances such as food sources and wind direction.

A native Cardinal flower provides the perfect feeding spot for this female hummingbird.

A native Cardinal flower provides the perfect feeding spot for this female hummingbird.

There are many good websites that will help. Facebook groups can prove to be excellent local sources of information, but there are specific websites that make it their business to track the bands on a more global level. is one that does an excellent job tracking not just the Ruby-throated hummingbird popular in both the U.S., and most of Canada, but also the Black-chinned, Rufous, Broad-tailed, Calliope, Anna’s and Allen’s hummingbirds.

Get your feeders out early in areas of your yard that make them easy for the migrating hummingbirds to see. Rather than filling them completely with your homemade food source at 4 parts of water to one part sugar, maybe fill the feeders halfway until you begin seeing them at your feeders. Then you can fill them fully and keep them filled and cleaned regularly all summer. If you are in a colder climate, try putting a hanging basket of brightly-coloured flowers near the feeders to catch their eye. We have had hummingbirds at our front door checking out fake spring flowers on our wreath long before I realized they were back in town.

My Evergreen

Plant both annual and perennial native flowers

2) Ensure you have plenty of annual and perennial flowers in your gardens to provide natural sources of nectar for the hummingbirds and try to have at least some in bloom as early in the spring as possible. Hummingbirds take advantage of everything from flowering shrubs, vines and understory trees to provide them with everything from food, shelter, shade and security. They rely on brightly coloured flowers to find food and are particularly attracted to red tubular flowers like the native Cardinal flower, but any brightly-coloured flower that are tubular will hold nectar. Consider planting native columbines for early spring blooms as well as bee balms, daylilies, lupines foxgloves and hollyhocks. Don’t forget to add lots of annuals that may be available in bloom in early spring if they are greenhouse grown.

Here is a short list of important flowers you should consider for your garden:

Beard tongue (Penstemon), Bee balm (Monarda), Butterfly bush (Buddleia), Catmint (Nepaeta) Clove pink (Dianthus), Columbine (Aquilegia), Corla bells (Heuchera), Daylily (Hemerocallis), Larkspur (Delphinium), Deseert candle (Yucca), Iris (Iris), Flowering tobacco (Nicotiana Alata), Foxglowve (Digitalis), Lily (Lilium), Pentas (Pentas), Petunia (Petunia), Pincushion flower (Scabiosa), Red-hot poker (kniphofia), Scarlet sage (Salvia splenens), Scarlet trumpet honeysuckle Lonicera sempervirens), Summer phlox (Phlox paniculata), Verbena (Verbena), Weigela (Weigela).

Create a shallow, reliable water source

3) Prepare a small water source early in spring to get them accustomed to using it throughout the summer. Although hummingbirds get most of their water from nectar sources both naturally and from our feeders, they do enjoy bathing in either very shallow water or, even better, in a fine mist. A gentle continuous spray from a nozzle or a sprinkler hose will get the job done. There are also commercial misters that are available. In nature, hummingbirds will use water falling from leaves during spring and summer rains to keep their feathers in top condition. A mister or gentle sprinkler spraying on leaves will create a similar situation for the birds. For more, check out my earlier post on providing water for the birds in your garden.

Give hummingbirds a place to rest

4) Provide your Hummingbirds with perches either natural ones in the form of small branches from trees and shrubs or commercially available ones designed specifically for them. Hummingbirds use perches as a base to defend their food sources, hunt insects or just as a resting spot. Males will often use the perches as a spot to vocalize in the spring to attract a mate. These branches are often very thin to accommodate the birds very small feet. If your garden lacks good landing spots, you could use thin wires, like the ones on hanging baskets. For more information on perches, check out my earlier post on hummingbird perches.

Stay away from insecticides

5) Do not use insecticides in your garden. This is probably at least as important as providing the birds with artificial feeders. Nectar provides Hummingbirds with quick energy to sustain their high energy needs, but many people might not realize that Hummingbirds depend on insects to provide them with much-needed protein and various minerals in their diets. They prey on very small flying insects, such as mosquitoes, aphids, mites, gnats, leafhoppers, flying ants and parasitic wasps.

Ultimately though, their favourite food source are spiders, specifically the daddy long legs spiders. Some estimates even have spiders representing between 60 and 80 per cent of their diet. Hummingbirds are known to use their exceptional vision to find prey, and their hovering ability and agility to capture them. Not only to they prey on spiders and other insects that get caught in their webs, Hummingbirds use spider silk that form the web to provide the foundation and glue to make nests in the breeding season.

Hummers catch insects while in flight. If you take the time to really watch your Hummers in the garden, you will notice them dashing into vegetation or flitting back and forth, flying quickly and snatching tiny insects where they swallow them whole.

if your garden is devoid of insects because you or your neighbour regularly spray it with insecticides, don’t expect to be able to maintain a healthy group of hummingbirds. In fact, if you want to encourage hummingbirds, it is important to focus on using as many native plants trees and shrubs as your garden can accommodate. For more on the importance of using natives in the garden, please check out my recent post (here) on the importance of using native plants in our garden.

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Vic MacBournie

Vic MacBournie is a former journalist and author/owner of Ferns & Feathers. He writes about his woodland wildlife garden that he has created over the past 25 years and shares his photography with his readers.

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