I think by now everyone knows that hummingbirds need flowers to survive, but what features do they look for in them to make them part of their daily routine? Hummingbirds can feed from nearly every flower available to them, however, there are certain criteria that make some flowers better than others. First of all, nectar is a necessity. It's the nectar they're after, so why do they prefer some over others? Flowers differ greatly by the sugar ratio provided, the access to the nectar, and the quantity of nectar in each flower. The sweetness of nectar within the flowers was created to entice many insects and hummingbirds into the flowers, so the pollen would attach itself to these creatures, and then be carried to other flowers to complete the pollination cycle. Although bees are a little less discriminating in their taste of pollen, hummingbirds will sample many flowers, and then separate the good from the bad.
So what are hummingbirds looking for, to make select flowers a top contender? First of all, sweet nectar. The sweetness is what draws them in. The higher concentration of sugar, the better. The ease of access to it is what makes it a real winner. Let me compare two flowers to show you the difference. Petunias and Nasturtiums are very similar in flower size, but there is one distinct difference between the two, ease of access. You would think the access would be the same because of their similar shape, but the difference is more in the texture of the petals that makes them quite different. Petunias are a much softer and flimsier texture, while the nasturtiums are a much more rigid petal. In the image I've selected you can see how deep a hummingbird must go to access the nectar. When a hummingbird inserts its head so far within the flower, the wings start to interact with the petals of the flower. With a rigid flower you don't get a serious vacuum effect as the hummingbird cycles it's wings, whereas a petunia has very soft flimsy petals that get drawn to the wings far too easily. They find it much more difficult to fly and feed at the same time with the petunia. Of course hummingbirds are very opportunistic, and if all they have are petunias, they will feed from them. But if you have a selection of good and bad, they will decipher between them, and choose the good every time. I've talked about nasturtiums a lot in the past, and it's because they have two or three large drops of nectar in every flower. There are not many flowers, other than perhaps honeysuckle that contain such a large dose of sweetness. But because of the size and difficulty of access to the nectar in the nasturtiums, adult hummingbirds, specifically the smaller adult males, will often times avoid them. This is where nasturtiums are just a great flower for the younger birds, that are just enticed greatly by the quantity of nectar in each nasturtium flower. So what makes a flower even better? Something smaller, where they don't have to insert their head so far into the flower, where they can't see around themselves while feeding. Hummingbirds become very aware of their surroundings in a short time after leaving the nest. They've got enemies, including their own with anger issues that always make them susceptible to attacks while feeding. So the best choices are always smaller flowers with lots of nectar, with ease of access. So the question is, which flowers are the best by these criteria? Delphiniums, Salvia, Honeysuckle, Bee Balm, Vermillionaire, Crocosmia, and any others with the same characteristics.
The photo is a young Ruby throat that was greatly enticed by the rich nectar deep within this nasturtium. At this point in its life fear wasn't a factor, but the nectar sure was.
Photo taken N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.