You’re likely familiar with the smallest of all birds – the hummingbird. Found only in the Americas, these tiny aerial acrobats are important pollinators AND insect eaters, doing their part as flying pest controllers! They can use our help by providing them with the basics – shelter, water, and food. September 3, 2022 is National Hummingbird Day, and a good time to take a closer look at this extraordinary animal, and how to protect them.
Hummingbirds are one of the most diverse bird families in the world living in landscapes that consistently offer an abundance of flowers. Surprisingly, nectar represents only 20% of their diet. The spiders and insects they catch in midair and feed to their nestlings constitute the remaining 80%. A nesting female Anna’s hummingbird can capture up to 2,000 insects a day, consuming half their body weight in insects and nectar each day!
The ideal garden for hummingbirds is free of chemicals and a little messy. Besides diverse and bountiful flowering plants, it features tall trees for perching and nesting, water for bathing (a misting device is especially attractive), safety from domestic cats and tree trimmers during nesting season, and insects to feed on. Be especially careful about pesticides. Research by scientists at the University of Toronto finds that hummingbirds exposed to systemic neonicotinoid insecticides for even a short period of time can disrupt the high-powered metabolism of this important and charismatic animal. Hummingbirds prefer flowers that have bright colors, particularly red, yellow, and orange. The most important characteristic of hummingbird-pollinated flowers is that they are nectar rich. Hummingbirds will drink from flowers with sugar concentrations of 7 to 60 percent, but their ideal is about 24 percent sugar. (A soft drink is about half that.) If you use a hummingbird feeder, use one-quarter cup granulated sugar, mixed well with one cup of water. It creates the close to ideal 24 percent concentration.
The California Native Plant Society advises attracting and supporting hummingbirds by including nectar-rich plants in the garden, especially native plants that hummingbirds have evolved alongside and that depend on them for pollination. Native plants provide more nectar than non-natives, and studies show that hummingbirds prefer natives.
Here’s 10 Ways to Attract Hummingbirds to Your Garden. Watch this video to see these incredible birds up close, and click here to learn more about these amazing tiny garden jewels.