Q. I know that you take care of hummingbirds from reading your column for awhile now. With the quarantine that we dealt with last spring I started feeding them too. I must say it was most enjoyable to watch those, what you call “feathered jewels” all summer long. I put out my feeder last weekend but haven’t seen any hummers yet. What, if anything am I doing wrong? Also, would you recommend some plants I could grow to make my space extra attractive for them? – B.W., Albuquerque
A. Historically, in my world I have always set out my hummingbird feeders on April 15th, you know “Tax Day.” It always seemed to take the sting off the day to me.
Well this year, I had a lot of stuff going on and completely forgot the date. I was standing on my patio on Sunday the 18th, which was a gray and gloomy day. It was fairly late in the afternoon and I was feeling as gloomy as the day. As I stood there looking at the space where I usually hang the hummingbird feeder and I had a blur whiz right by my head, stop in mid-air and turn to look at me.
I swear, if hummingbirds had facial expressions this one was actually scolding me!
She, a black-chinned female, was expecting her diner to be open and serving a delicious fare of fresh sugar water. Gobsmacked, I said out loud, “Well I’ll be darned,” gathered my wits and went inside immediately to rustle up some grub for her.
She was well gone by the time I came back out with the filled feeder, so I asked forgiveness and motored on. The next morning, I was sitting at the patio table with my first cup of coffee and her husband (I’m presuming), a male black-chinned, popped by, dipped his beak, tasted the fare once and buzzed away.
So at least he knew the diner was open again. It took a couple of days before I saw her again, but I’m thrilled that they have chosen to come back. I get to watch them daily since, and am grateful that they forgave me.
So, how do you attract them to your feeder? The most important thing I’ll recommend is making sure you’re keeping the sugar water fresh. After all, you might have competing diners in the neighborhood and if your food isn’t fresh, trust me, it’ll be days before your clientele comes back.
If you notice the water having a cloudy look to it, it’s time to freshen it.
It might sound like I’m spoiling the hummers, but if it’s going to get chilly at night, I bring in my feeder well after dusk and rehang it in the morning. No one likes a cold cuppa first thing in the morning.
Since you attracted and fed hummingbirds last year you know the recipe for the nectar. One-part sugar to four-parts water. My feeder holds exactly one cup of water so I stir in ¼ cup of sugar. You get the math.
But in order to convince the hummers to your feeder you might mix the nectar just a wee bit stronger. The next couple of times you change the nectar stir in just a little bit more sugar. After all, who doesn’t like more frosting on their cake?
But don’t go nuts and stir in lots and lots of extra sugar. Just a little tease to get them interested and then go back to the original recipe after they’ve found your feeder. Also remember that a feeder that hangs in an all day in full sun will turn and become yucky far quicker than one that is hung in a semi-shaded spot.
As for plants, hummingbirds are specialized feeders. They want/need trumpet-shaped blooms to feed from. Flat-face flowers just won’t cut it.
Also, they are naturally attracted to the red spectrum of blooms. I have seen them feed from desert willows, especially the pinker-purple colored blooming varieties. I have seen hummers feed on my catalpa’s blooms even though they are bright white, it’s the trumpet shape that is most needed. Most honeysuckle shrubs and vine will also attract them. The trumpet vine is a good offering, but as of late it’s gotten on my list of pesky plants ever since the one next door has decided to grow most successfully into my yard.
I do plant hanging baskets of fuchsia. Most any perennial penstemon has the bloom you’re looking for. Also agastache, especially the coral-red blooming varieties. Hummers like Salvia greggii, since it has both the red-magenta color and the bloom is trumpet-shaped. Then there is a plant, zauschneria, that is actually called the hummingbird flower.
That’s just a few of the plants you could incorporate (know there’s lots more too) into your garden to help diversify the hummer diet and that would make them very happy.
Happy Diggin’ In.
Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109, or to email@example.com.