Skill Builder: Come Hither, Hummers
Careful planting will entice hummingbirds to hang out at your house.
By Mark Klym
Everybody loves hummingbirds. Whenever I mention them during a presentation, I see the room brighten with smiles on every face. Then I’m usually asked: “What can I do to attract them to my house?”
Like all species, hummingbirds need habitat. A lone feeder in the middle of a yard with no plants around simply is not going to do the trick, regardless of what the person who sold you the feeder said. Food is just one element of the habitat puzzle. Water, shelter and space are also necessary if hummingbirds are going to utilize your yard for more than a quick rest stop on their way through.
Habitat begins with plants. When selecting plants — which will contribute to both the food and shelter needs of the animal — always emphasize native species. A plant you saw hummingbirds using during your Belize vacation may not succeed in Texas. Select appropriate plants that will meet the needs in your garden and that will thrive in your current location.
Hummingbird food plants are often summarized as red, trumpet-shaped flowers. While that is true of some hummingbird plants, it’s not the end of the story. Hummingbirds will feed on any plant that is colorful and offers nectar.
Lantana urticoides (our common Texas lantana) is not necessarily red-flowered, nor does it have a particularly noticeable trumpet-shaped flower, but it is frequented by hummingbirds. Similarly, esparanza (Tacoma stans) is trumpet-shaped, but its other common name — yellow bells — does not indicate a red flower.
Some plants frequented by hummingbirds — huisache (Acacia smallii) or Texas olive (Cordia boissieri), for example — have neither red nor trumpet-shaped flowers. Careful observation, careful reading and talking to other enthusiasts can lead the gardener to a wide variety of plants that can be used successfully to provide food in a hummingbird garden.
Please forget pesticides if you want these birds to truly thrive in your garden. Insects are an important component of the hummingbird diet.
The plants you select for food will provide a good starting point for your shelter, but more plants will only enhance the effect. Think about assembling lasagna when selecting your plants: Choose plants that will offer layers of shelter for the birds at all levels of the natural landscape. Structure is provided by the habit, height and character of the plants. Combinations of wildflowers, brush, short trees, tall trees, vines and grasses — and don’t forget ground cover — serve to enhance the garden’s value to hummingbirds.
Water is critical to hummingbirds. Misters working in concert with your plants – clamped to one plant and moistening another – make a great place for hummingbirds to bathe and drink. They will attend still water, but moving water is much more effective.
Don’t crowd hummingbirds. Give them space. This combination should provide you many hours of hummingbird enjoyment.