A nature trip to the Americas would not be complete without hummingbirds – those fascinating little nectar lovers, flitting from flower to flower, with wings moving so fast they’re a just a blur to the eye. To get really good views of hummingbirds you need to understand their characteristics and behavior and what attracts them. Julio Cardona has some tips to ensure you see plenty of them, whether you’re living in hummingbird country or just visiting.
With the right food, feeder and garden setup, it’s easy to attract hummingbirds. It doesn’t matter if you are living in Vancouver, San Diego or Lima, or you are on a wildlife tour and staying in hotels and lodges, you shouldn’t have to look hard – it’s possible to bring the birds flocking to you! Just look at how many hummingbirds are found in Peru alone and you’ll know the likelihoods are high.
Hummingbirds are some of the smallest birds in the world and they get most of their energy and nutrition from the sweet nectar of native plants with colorful blooms. So, if the garden you’re watching in is somewhere in the Americas and has plenty of local flowering plants then there’s a good chance there will be hummingbirds to attract in the vicinity.
Photo Credit: Marcelo Hummingbird, Rainforest Expeditions
The first thing to know about attracting hummingbirds is that it’s essential to ensure that you have the right food and feeders for these delicate birds. The second thing to know is that it’s important to have an idea of which tiny visitors to expect where you are and when they will be there. In Central and South America most species are resident, but in North America they migrate at different times of year. Most hummingbirds should appear in early spring in the north and they may hang around until mid to late autumn, depending on your specific location and climate.
Dawn is when the feeders will be busiest, but hummingbirds will visit throughout the day because their high metabolisms mean they need to feed every 10-15 minutes. Late afternoon is the quietest time as the birds wind down for the night.
Using the Color Red to Attract Hummingbirds
When you’re attracting hummingbirds, try to incorporate the color red into your feeders. This bright, lively color signals to the birds there is sweet nectar nearby. Why do hummingbirds see red? It’s due to a dense concentration of cones in the bird’s retina that contain pigments and oil droplets ranging in shades from yellow to bright red. These cones act as filters that heighten the bird’s sensitivity to color between the red and yellow range. The brighter and bolder the red color, the better the chance you’ll have at attracting hummingbirds.
Choosing the Right Feeders
One key element to attracting hummingbirds is to make sure you choose the right feeder. Here are some tips for appropriate ones.
Buying a Feeder
Where can you buy them? In the Americas you can buy hummingbird feeders at many home improvement stores, plant nurseries and garden stores. Look for durable feeders that feature a bright red color or a combination of yellow and red. Hummingbird feeders should be easy to disassemble for quick cleaning. They should be washed daily or at least every other day. Nectar will go moldy in hot weather.
Making a Feeder
Hummingbird feeders don’t have to be large or elaborate. If you’re travelling they won’t take up much space in your suitcase. And if you have a family this is a fun activity to do with the children.
One easy way to construct a feeder is to buy or use an old shallow plastic container with a lid, preferably one that’s red. Make holes in the lid with a hole punch or a screw and screwdriver. Use fine string or picture wire around the feeder to hang it up.
Photo Credit: Julio Cardona – Hummingbird Feeder
Salt and sugar shakers with the right dimensions can also become perfect nectar containers but always make sure you clean out any salty residue before using them. As they are not shallow they will need to be topped up frequently to keep the liquid level high enough for beaks to reach.
Even a recycled plastic bottle hung upside down with a bendy straw pushed through the cap can function as a nectar container that a hummingbird can access. All you need is a bit of imagination and some simple materials to simulate red flowers and you’ll be on your way to creating a hummingbird feeding station.
Hanging up your hummingbird feeders
Once you have your feeder ready, it’s obviously important to hang it where you’ll get the most birds visiting. If you have a balcony or terrace you can hang the feeder from the railings or the edge of the roof. Or position it under a tree, hanging from a bush or on a garden post if you can get a good view of the garden where you are staying.
Make sure the feeder is located in a shady area so the nectar stays cool. If you have more than one feeder, place them far apart from one another since hummingbirds can be quite territorial. Multiple feeders are a smart method for attracting hummingbirds in higher numbers, too.
Protect hummingbirds from cats and other predators by making sure you hang the feeder at least four feet or higher from the ground.
Make Your Nectar
After you choose your feeder and location, it’s time to make some nectar. Here are some guidelines to make the best nectar possible for these tiny, beautiful birds.
Boil water for about two minutes. Hopefully your accommodation provides facilities somewhere for making hot drinks. Otherwise, you will have to beg some boiled water from the kitchen or take some back from the dining room after your meal.
Add one part white sugar (pure cane sugar is best) to four parts water. Mix thoroughly until the sugar is dissolved, then allow to cool completely before you fill your feeder.
Photo Credit: Julio Cardona – Hummingbird Feeder
Don’t use honey or artificial sweeteners – your homemade nectar should only be pure white cane sugar and water. It’s important to note that there are many types of sugar but some organic, turbinado (demerara) or raw sugars contain too much iron, which can be toxic to hummingbirds.
Also, although hummingbirds are attracted to the color red, don’t be tempted to use red food dye in your nectar. This can contain harmful chemicals that may cause dangerous tumors and death.
Attracting Hummingbirds if You are Living in the Americas
While making feeders is a fun activity to attract hummingbirds for the time you are on vacation, planting native plants and flowers is the best way to keep these birds healthy and returning year after year if it is your own garden we’re talking about. Native plants are not only important for hummingbirds for their nectar. Did you know that they actually eat lots of small spiders and other insects as well? Native plants help provide habitats for invertebrates, so can provide food for hummingbirds in multiple ways.
When choosing native flowers and plants for your garden, make sure you select species that will thrive in your zone and do not affect the natural ecosystem. The National Audubon Society website has a great tool to find native plants by zip code in North America. Use organic fertilizers and avoid using pesticides or other chemicals when planting and growing your garden. Keep the selection of native plants diverse to attract various hummingbird species as well as other different types of birds.
Photo Credit: Marvellous Spatuletail , Kolibri Expeditions
You can support hummingbirds by joining a local hummingbird association or supporting one of the state’s or local conservation organizations. These groups are dedicated to the preservation and protection of hummingbirds as well as other birds and animals.
If you are making a permanent hummingbird feeding station, keep your feeders full and never let them run out of nectar. Hummingbirds have an extremely high metabolism and they rely on having plenty of fuel and nutritious resources near them to survive. It might be a good idea to have at least two feeders so when it’s time to clean one, you can hang a fresh and clean feeder to replace it straight away. If you have a birdbath or outdoor fountain, keep the water clean and change it regularly.
Protect the birds from cats and other dangers. Install a motion-detecting light to scare off neighborhood cats and, if possible, install a fence that’s at least six feet tall to deter other predators from coming into your yard.
Recent studies have shown that all the good done by planting native plants and putting up clean bird feeders can be canceled out if steps are not taken to protect birds from windows! Birds cannot detect glass and often see the reflection from trees and the sky. If a bird hits a window, even if it flies away, the chances are it will not survive the encounter with glass.
An inexpensive way to make windows visible is to hang parachute cords, that you can buy at many sports stores, so that they hang down every four inches across the outside of the window. Four inches is about the wingspan of small birds and seeing the strands will usually slow them down enough to avoid hitting the glass. Surprisingly, the strands do not disturb the view from the inside. After a day, you hardly notice them.
Another, but obviously more expensive way to help avoid glass strikes by hummingbirds and all birds in general, is to install bird-friendly glass.
Having Fun When the Hummingbirds Start to Visit
Take pictures. Practice your photography skills by taking pictures of the hummingbirds you see. These fast-moving birds can be tough to photograph, so if you can set up your camera at your accommodation it’s a perfect opportunity to capture some amazing photos with a bit of patience and lots of clicking.
Bird watching. Spend time on your own or with the family relaxing as you observe the hummingbirds enjoying the nectar and interacting with each other. This is a perfect way to enjoy nature and the outdoors without putting in much effort.
Draw and paint them. Schedule a time to sit down and draw the hummingbirds you see. This is also a fun family activity that everyone can participate in.
Get scientific. There are lots of great bird-related community/citizen science web-based projects out there that you can contribute to wherever you are, including:
Photo Credit: Marvellous Spatuletail, Manu Birding Lodge
eBird: This has become the world’s largest community science project dedicated to tracking wildlife distribution and abundance. Every single observation feeds into data and models used in critical bird research and conservation around the world.
Project FeederWatch: A project run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that collects observations made at bird feeders of all types. Since this project runs from November through April, for hummingbirds it’s best suited to places that host them year-round or during the winter.
iNaturalist: This is a global project that tracks observations of all types of wild biodiversity. It relies on users uploading photos or sound files that enable the community to assist with identifications. It’s a great tool for people to learn more about all the wild plants and animals they encounter and how they come together, especially in a garden environment.
One last important note: always follow ethical guidelines when attracting hummingbirds or any other species. Help protect these incredibly tiny and awe-inspiring animals so that future generations can try these activities themselves one day.
Want to See and Attract Hummingbirds on a Wildlife Tour?
Blue Sky Wildlife can put you in touch with local tour operators who offer specific hummingbird tours & holidays. Book direct for the best deals and the most expert guides.
Julio Cardona lives in the US and works as a writer in Content Marketing for the Porch Group. He got into nature as a young adult and now takes part in many wildlife education and conservation projects, including turning his own garden into a hummingbird heaven.
Original Date of Publish: 10 September 2021