The buzz

How to attract hummingbirds to your yard: Native plants are best

A ruby-throated hummingbird at a feeder.
(Photo courtesy of Paul Dacko)

Now that the ruby-throated hummingbirds have arrived in Illinois, you may be wondering how you can attract these tiny beauties to your own yard or garden.

Hummingbirds eat a lot of nectar, either from feeders or plants, according to the Purdue University Extension. And because they have a high metabolism and their wings beat so fast — more than 50 times a second — hummingbirds have to eat their own body weight, about 3 grams, in nectar every day. 

Having hummingbird feeders in your yard is a good way to attract the birds, and making the nectar to fill the feeders is easy enough: Simply boil 1 cup of water, then add 1/4 sugar and mix until fully dissolved. 

If you put out hummingbird feeders, it's a good idea to place them near some trees or shrubs, which gives them something to perch on, said Bob Bryerton, an interpretive naturalist with the Forest Preserve District. This gives them a safe resting spot near the feeders and allows them to watch the feeders.

Keeping hummingbird feeders full may help attract them to your yard, but you can also include plants in your landscape that provide a natural habitat for them. Planting wildflowers is a good way to create a habitat suitable for ruby-throated hummingbirds, the U.S. Forest Service advises.

Native plants are the best choice, not just for the hummingbirds but for other birds and butterflies, Bryerton said.

"The more native plants, the better," he said. "If the bloom times are staggered throughout the season so that there is something blooming all year, that will help as well."

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are particularly attracted to orange and red — that's why nearly all hummingbird feeders are red — and they also like wildflowers that have long, tubular blooms, according to the forest service. 

Bryerton said they really like cardinal flower, which produces red blooms in late summer. They also like columbine, wild bergamot, prairie blazing star, royal catchfly, butterfly weed, phlox and smooth penstemon.

Plants that attract insects also help provide an important food source for the hummingbirds too, because they also eats insects. In fact, insects are the primary source of protein for these birds, and an adult female hummingbird can eat an astounding 2,000 insects a day, according to the Purdue extension.

"Many of our native trees and shrubs host a lot of different insects that benefit the birds and provide good habitat for them," Bryerton said.

He said good trees for hosting insects and attracting hummingbirds include oaks, hickories, maples and cherries, while a good shrub is the New Jersey tea.

Above all else, Bryerton stressed the importance of native plants.

"They more native stuff you have, the better it is not only for hummingbirds, but other native birds and butterflies," he said.



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