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Hummingbirds at Home

Hummingbird with nestlings

Anna’s Hummingbird with nestlings. Photo: National Audubon Society (Paul Marto)

About the Writer
This post comes from an article written by Scott Weidensaul, which appeared in the May-June 2013 issue of Audubon Magazine. Reprinted with permission.
Vermont Event
If you live in Vermont, consider attending Hummingbirds at Home, a workshop and film screening of Hummingbirds: Magic in the Air, A PBS Nature film.The event is 5:30 to 7 p.m. June 26 at Gardener’s Supply, 128 Intervale Rd., Burlington, VT. Suggested donation: $5.More information:

For creatures that weigh barely more than a penny, hummingbirds certainly give you your money’s worth — through their metallic colors, feats of aerobatics, and pugnacious, outsized personalities.


Ruby-throated hummingbird. Photo: National Audubon Society (Nancy Albright)

But for all their popularity, there is a lot that science still doesn’t know about the lives of even the most widespread hummingbird species. For example, what proportion of ruby-throats fly directly across the Gulf of Mexico twice a year, a nonstop trip of about 500 miles, instead of detouring around it? And why are many rufous and other western species of hummers expanding their winter range into the east and southeast?

Climate change also poses serious threats. “Scientists are finding disturbing changes to blooming times of flowers and also to arrival times of hummingbirds,” says Gary Langham, Audubon’s chief scientist. “The potential mismatch of nectar sources and hummingbirds means we must monitor this closely and be thoughtful about what we plant in our yards and communities.”

Fortunately, it’s easy to make your yard a hummingbird haven even as you help scientists learn more about these feathered jewels.

Build a Habitat
Hummingbirds are attracted to flowering plants (see the list at the end of this post), but they need more than just nectar. To draw hummers, create a complex, varied backyard with staggered blooms that also includes feeders, perches (dead saplings “planted” in the ground work well), a natural abundance of insects, and places to hide when predators are near. Avoid using toxic garden chemicals—after all, as much as 60 percent of a hummingbird’s diet is actually made up of tiny insects, spiders, and other arthropods, so the birds are providing some natural pest control. The hummingbirds will also appreciate a water mister that creates a fine spray in which they can bathe.


The Pressed Glass Hummingbird Feeder has the nostalgic charm of an old molded-glass soda bottle. Screws on and off for easy filling; seals tightly to the metal base to ensure drip-free feeding ports.

Feed ’em Right
Choose a hummingbird feeder that comes apart completely for regular scrubbing, inside and out, with a bottlebrush and hot water. Use only a mix of four parts water to one part plain white sugar — never use honey, which promotes dangerous fungal growth, molasses, or brown, raw or organic sugar, which contain levels of iron that could be lethal.

Plain white sugar perfectly mimics the chemical composition of natural nectar. It’s not necessary to boil the water, but keep any extra nectar refrigerated, and empty the feeder every few days, more often in hot weather. Never use red dye; nectar is naturally clear, and the coloring could be harmful.

Count Their Blessings
You can do your part by getting involved in a newly launched Audubon citizen science project called Hummingbirds at Home, which aims to provide details about which nectar sources hummers are using nationwide — and will give you a chance to explore these amazing, mysterious aerialists. Langham says, “The Hummingbirds at Home project asks people to help us determine what hummingbirds are feeding on in their communities, so we can better understand how to help.” To learn more, watch the video, below, and visit

Video: Hummingbirds at Home

Hummingbirds at Home, Introductory Video from HabitatSeven on Vimeo.

10 Plants for Hummingbirds

Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans). A sprawling, aggressive vine, it produces large, bell-shaped blossoms with abundant nectar. Plant it where it can climb a fence or a dead snag.

Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens). This vine is a reliable nectar source for rufous and other hummingbirds wintering along the Gulf Coast. But ruby-throats in the Southeast tend to avoid it.

Coral bells (Heuchera hybrids). Long a garden staple, coralbells come in a bewildering number of varieties. The masses of tiny flowers always draw hummingbirds.

Jewelweed/spotted touch-me-not (Impatiens capensis and I. pallida). One of the most important sources of late-summer nectar for migrant ruby-throated hummingbirds.

Scarlet gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata). Comes in shades from white and pink to orangish and purple, but the red form is most attractive to hummers.

Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis). The quintessential hummingbird plant, this widespread native bears intense red blossoms in summer and early fall.

Trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). Unlike the invasive Japanese species, this vine is not aggressive. It has long, tubular flowers (in yellow, orange, and red varieties).

Beebalm (Monarda). Available in a range of cultivars and colors; many native monardas are also appealing to hummingbirds.

Penstemons. The genus Penstemon includes P. barbatus, which blooms in late summer when rufous hummingbirds are migrating.

Scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea). This tender Southern native is a salvia, a genus that ranks among the very best for luring hummingbirds.

—Scott Weidensaul


  1. Lesley
    June 17, 2013    

    I have tried a few hummingbird feeders and have seen a few but mostly I attract ants. Do you have any tricks or a feeder that is best at attracting the birds and not the pests?

    • June 27, 2013    

      Ants can be deterred by putting a generous smear of petroleum jelly around the wire holding the feeder.

  2. June 17, 2013    

    I use a feeder with a glass container with a red bottom with a perch around entire bottom with yellow flowers on it. It hangs from a wire with a S hook from the eaves of the front porch. If the ants are coming down from the hanging wire put petroleum jelly on it, they cannot navigate on that. Seems to be working for my neighbor that has his feeder hanger from a shepherd’s crook in his flower bed. He was having the same problem.

  3. Paul Gonzalez
    June 17, 2013    

    Just started using a hummingbird feeder and would like good info on what I’m doing. Thanks.

  4. Kristen
    June 17, 2013    

    I had all sorts of problems with ants and hornets. Through much trial and error, I have found the “flying saucer” shaped feeders solve both problems…. and they are very easy to clean.

  5. Bev
    March 29, 2014    

    Here in NE Wyoming the hummers usually arrive the first part of May. This March a pair of Magpies built a nest near where the hummers usually nest. Magpies are notorious robbers of eggs from other birds nests. How do I get rid of the magpies and is it bad to try and attract hummers with predators so close?

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