Although my book gives many ideas on how to attract hummingbirds, I want to give you a brief word of advice on the most impactful way to attract them to your garden. Of course, if you put a feeder up in your yard, at some point you will attract a hummingbird. But to give yourself a greater advantage here is one key thing to remember. Don't place a hummingbird feeder in the location where YOU see it, place multiple feeders in locations where they can see it. When hummingbirds are flying around looking for food, they don't look in every nook and cranny trying to find it. They are opportunistic. They are visual. They see targets and they fly to them. Here's the key - place feeders and flowers in open locations. Place them on all four sides of your home. Make them visible from every direction.
Now think about this - if you walked past your home from all sides, would you spot flowers and feeders? Hummingbirds don't fly to the tight spots looking for hidden treasures. They see targets and they are attracted to them. Once they spot one of your feeders, you should have a connecting feeder in clear sight of that one. Now continue this with all of your feeders. Each one should be connected to another, but not all grouped in one spot. If you have your feeders in one cluster, you'll often times get one dominant male taking over all of them. This applies primarily to the Spring mating season.
If you follow these simple guidelines, I promise you the numbers will increase. When a hummingbird has multiple choices condensed into a small territory, there is little reason for them to move on to another territory.
Here is Ziggy, my dominant male. He has a choice of 10 feeders within his territory. He frequently checks each one of them out, but because they are spread out over a larger area, it has allowed multiple other birds to sneak in for a drink without always been seen.
Adult male Ruby-throat hummingbird. May 26, 2018. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
With a much colder climate, I have to rely on just a few early bloomers to attract the early hummingbirds. The Bluebird Clematis pushes out flowers very early and it's one that attracts the hummers with its masses of light purple flowers. They hang slightly downward which makes it a bit more difficult for the hummingbirds to feed from, but makes for great pictures. A few different hummingbirds would periodically show up to feed from each new flower. They bounced around so quickly that the point and shoot option was out. I had to focus on a flower in the direction they would head and snap the second they'd arrived. After getting so many pictures of hummingbirds feeding downward into a flower, it was great to capture some feeding upward into the blooms.
This was a late summer capture, as the Bluebird Clematis usually pushes out a second bloom later in the season, but far less dramatic.
Juvenile Ruby-throat. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. August 7, 2018.
There are a multitude of flowers out there, both Annuals and Perennials, and when it comes to the discriminating taste of a hummingbird, only the finest will do. With young hummingbirds they may sample every flower, but they soon realize which ones are sweet, which ones contain much nectar, and which ones will never get a return visit.
For my zone 2-3 region, I have planted a ridiculous amount of perennials to see which would make it through our tough climate. Some made it, some didn't. Then I tracked which ones got return visits. Then a list was made of the flowers that proved to be magnets for the hummingbirds. Some flowers attracted only the young, and some attracted all of them, including the adults. I repeated this with the annuals. Which ones flowered the most and continued through the hummingbird season, which ones attracted the hummingbirds continuously, and which ones were just showy without any real results with the hummingbirds. After over a decade of flower testing I discovered that about 10-12 Annuals and Perennials made the list to plant in masses. I do very little sampling anymore, unless I get some good advise from another hummingbirder that's discovered a real jewel of a flower. I know that my region differs greatly from climates across Canada and the United States, so both Annuals and Perennials will differ in many cases. Some flowers are drought tolerant, some hate the heat while some love it, and some love an abundance of water while others not so much. There are enough people around each region to know what produces well, and which ones are golden for the Rubies.
So I'll ask everyone who knows of a proven winner to list it with it's zone #(if a perennial). Also, if you know of an Annual that tops your list, please suggest it. This will be valuable information for all who are getting started in hummingbirding, in all regions of North America. Thank you all in advance for participating, and I'm sure this will help many!
This is a young Ruby-throat hummingbird dancing in the Zinnias(one of my favorite Annuals for young hummingbirds). N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. August 6, 2018.
So many have already seen their first of the year, and so many are still waiting, including myself. Many are within hours of their first sighting and many still 3 weeks away, but when it happens, just a single sighting can inject an overdose of adrenaline into the heart, like nothing else. I know that everyone who's involved in the activity can relate. Continuous false movements around the garden of any kind can stimulate the heart, followed by a let down, until the moment one appears. Months of their absence builds the intensity of the longing for our pets that migrate south, and when they arrive, the contentment is fulfilled as they're finally home.
I just have advice for those still waiting. Don't wait until you see a bird to place out feeders. Be prepared before they arrive. Feeders should go up 7 -10 days before you expect them at your garden. The reason is because many males are passing through to a location far north of you, and if some of your early birds shows up with no food, they may very well move on to a location that has some. Weather plays a big part in the Northern migration, and in some regions first sightings of the year can range up to 6 weeks difference from one year to the next. You have nothing to lose by having feeders up early, and only much to gain. Follow migration maps, and if they are nearing your region, place out feeders 7 - 10 days before you expect them.
Here is my Ziggy from last year. He's had several years already and I don't know if he'll be back, but I know there are other males always willing to take over a territory that's filled with feeders and flowers. The anticipation is building for me! I JUST CAN'T WAIT!
Adult male Ruby-throat hummingbird. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. August 3, 2018.
I stepped outside into the cool morning air, stretched my arms and started to soak up another beautiful morning. I sat down in my comfortable chair and began to view the landscape. The garden was alive with birds. Many splashed in the shallow pond, and others gorged themselves at the feeders.
While many people love the heat of the day, and others love of sunsets, nothing to me is more spectacular than the sun rise of a fresh new day. If you're not a morning person then the sound of a few hundred wound up birds would perhaps drive you nuts, but for those who love the mornings, my garden is one of the most peaceful places on the planet.
Besides the bird feeders placed around our yard, we have a few varieties of wild berries that provide an abundance of food to attract an array of songbirds. We always provide all the necessities for them to keep returning.
Of course, I haven't forgotten about the hummingbirds. One of the very first things I do is locate every feeder and monitor the activity. On the cool mornings you never know how much they'll be moving around in comparison to the other birds, but on one feeder tucked under the trees, one lone hummingbird gripped tightly onto the feeder perch and remained motionless. It never moved for several minutes but it isn't uncommon on crisp mornings. I frequently would glance at that bird during the scan of the yard. Still no movement. It appeared this bird was in a state of torpor. During colder temperatures, hummingbirds go into a mini hibernation state where the heartbeat slows down and therefore doesn't consume as much energy. This allows them to survive an extended amount of time until warmer temperatures arrive. I wanted to be sure so I slowly approached this motionless bird. I started about 30 feet away, and had myself within 10 feet until I woke this bird with a startle. It had little time to prepare for the approaching threat and immediately jumped into flight. With no time to stretch or gather its intentions, it clumsily plummeted into the grass. It sounded like tissue paper in the wind as it struggled in its awkwardness. So I walked up carefully without causing further stress and I reached down and gently grasped this fragile life. It didn't struggle or appear to want to leave, so I just held it gently and admired the beauty of this extraordinary little creation. The eyes remained wide open as it stared back at me. I couldn't possibly imagine what it was thinking. Perhaps it was just as impressed with me as I was with it. It felt like I was holding nothing. It was weightless, and yet numerous little organs and millions of cells were formed into the most precious little thing I've ever held. After admiring it for about a minute, the warmth of my hand must have livened the muscles and organs. It began to move in my hand and was ready for release. I raised my hand slightly and slowly opened it. It lunged to freedom but only to about 20 feet above my head. It perched on a branch and observed its surroundings. This young male Ruby-throat stretched it's wings and legs before taking to flight. I'm certain he won't remember it for long, but it'll be forever locked in my memory!
August 10, 2018. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
I couldn't tell you how many pictures I've shot of hummingbirds feeding or just sitting on a Zinnia. Young hummingbirds find them incredibly attractive and obviously find some value in them to keep returning. For me they are a "MUST HAVE" in a hummingbird garden.
It is NOT too late to start these attractive flowers. Zinnias develop a large pom pom shaped flower at the end of every stem the plant produces. You can get an array of colors that are incredibly attractive to hummingbirds. They appear like they have no nectar, but the hummingbirds, particularly the young, keep returning because they are getting some kind of nutritional value from them. Zinnias are a drought tolerant annual that do well in most climates, from cool to very hot. They are very fast growers, and this is the reason I mention them today. It is NOT too late to start them.
Plant the Zinnia seeds in their containers and cover them with about 1/4" of soil. Water and watch. In about 5-10 days you will see growth. As soon as they germinate, put them out in direct sun, as long as temperatures are above 5C(42F). Bring them in overnight if temps dip below this as well. As long as they get direct sun right after germination there will be no need to climatize them. Don't over water them as they will get brown at the end of the leaves. Plant them in the garden when there is no more risk of frost.
For those well into the season, south of me, don't think you are too late in starting them from seed. If it's not too late in my region, it's definitely not too late in yours.
Juvenile Male Ruby-throat hummingbird. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. July 28, 2018.
I count down the days until the return of Ziggy and the rest of his family and offspring. I look forward to seeing just how many females will return to our neck of the woods for another nesting season. This far north you have to appreciate every single hummingbird day because their are less than 110. From the time the first one appears to the time the last one leaves is no more than 110 days. The cycle of mating, nesting, and raising the young is all completed in a very short time, so you can probably understand the excitement for us that have a very limited season.
I can hardly wait, but I can honestly say that it makes my day with every message or email that I receive from those that just got their first sighting of the year. It's a moment we all look forward to, and it's those times where we can all appreciate the simplest things in life. For those that are new to hummingbirding, I encourage you to spend the time in the garden planting flowers and hanging feeders. Learn what you can about these birds, and do what you can to attract them. It takes gardening to a level out of this world.
I chuckle every time I look at this photo. This lazy young Ruby-throat stretched out without having to use a calorie to get the Delphinium nectar, but what I find extremely cute are the racing spokes splayed out on its legs.
Aug. 7, 2018. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Juvenile Ruby-throat hummingbird.
Birds go through a season of molting where they lose the feathers that have taken a real beating over the breeding season. Those feathers start off brilliant in color and in perfect condition just at the right time for mating. They show off their brilliance in their displays, and frequently fight others for the rights to territories and breeding opportunities. Those seemingly delicate feathers are incredibly durable to withstand rain, sun, fighting and flying. They do, however, start to fade as the season goes on. The tips of the feathers, although tough, start to fray, while many break down and lose the ability to marry together to form the air tight shield that allows them to fly. But beautifully built within their DNA, they shed the tattered feathers and begin new growth in time for the next breeding season.
This is the time we see them arrive. They show up in our gardens, dressed in their best, to put on a show, attract mates, and perform the task they were created to do.
This is Ziggy, the dominant male Ruby-throat hummingbird over the past several seasons. He sits confidently on one of his many perches, while he soaks up some sun and views his garden. Every feather reflects beautiful iridescence, and while he's already put on several thousand miles on these feathers, they are in pristine condition to impress all that notice him.
May 26th, 2018. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
The stillness of the morning awoke with the first spark of sunrise. Silence turned to song, and a chorus of mixed birds squeaking through our open window woke me up much earlier than normal. Within moments that first spark of light turned into glowing rays of sunshine. I quickly dressed and grabbed my arsenal of hummingbird equipment and proceeded to the back door. I slowly opened it to not scare any birds in the vicinity.
It was like the first morning ever created. I inhaled deeply and soaked in that glorious Spring air. The fragrant Aspen Forest was so refreshing and the sparkling dew covered grass enhanced the most spectacular sunrise. Several species of birds were present. They all sang their own song, all so different, and none of them in unison. It was like unorchestrated chaos, but so beautiful. What a transformation from just one month ago. Every male songbird sat atop the tallest trees and put forth its very best effort in song, trying to attract a mate. Just about every one of these birds had traveled hundreds, if not thousands of miles for one sole purpose, mating.
Amidst all the song in the garden was one lone silent bird. He arrived knowing it was his territory, but was nothing like all the other birds. He was small in stature, fierce in attitude, and had no song to impress. As a matter of fact he could easily be overlooked when scanning the forest. His methods of attracting a mate were far different than all the others, but much more impressive. The only similarity he had with other birds was that he had to anxiously wait, just like all the others, for an arriving mate. He would spend a limited amount of time on the tallest perch he could find, and if there was no activity within a couple minutes he would proceed to the next tallest perch. He continued this until he formed a perimeter around our yard. This was his territory, and he was not to be messed with.
As I anxiously await this Spring's visitors, all I can do is reminisce on the past seasons. Here sit's Ziggy, my dominant male Ruby-throat, just waiting for the ladies to return.
N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. May 26, 2018.
For those that have attracted hummingbirds over the years, you know the value of hummingbird feeders. The mature birds key in on them because they are guaranteed to have an ample supply of nectar that mysteriously seems to never run out. The mature birds have had their whole lives to pick and choose between the limitless sources of food that blanket the continent. Their criteria will depend on a few factors - flavor, availability, and quantity. Over time they figure out which flowers are abundant and worthy of a second or even third visit. Because of their need for a large consumption of nectar and their characteristic ADHD, it doesn't take long to solve the mysteries of which flowers are a lifetime keeper. They also learn that after just a single visit, those feeders will top the list.
For young hummingbirds such as this one, color is like a candy land for kids. They are new from the nest, and those bright, brilliant colors that magically appear across the landscape will provide the addictive nectar that will consume the lives of every single hummingbird for the rest of their lives. In the early stages from the nest, every flower will get tested for quality control. Time and practice will eventually eliminate many flowers from the return list, while many flowers will get repeat visits and dominate their attention. Up until the time where young hummingbirds finally figure out the mysteries of the bright red feeders, the flowers will remain most important. That is exactly the reason for planting not just flowers, but top notch flowers that provide sufficient nectar worthy of making the return flight time and again.
For a shortlist of worthy flowers to plant in your hummingbird garden please go to http://www.therubythroat.com/flowers.html
This young Ruby-throat sat on the Clematis vine and stared into the newly oped Bluebird.
N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. August 16, 2018.
Author of Jewel of the North. Please post your comments and questions.