If you have ever watched a hummingbird, it will not surprise you to learn that these tiny birds have the highest metabolic rates of any animals. A hummingbird’s metabolic rate (the rate at which it uses energy) is twelve times higher than a pigeon’s and one hundred times higher than an elephant’s, according to knowledgeable sources. Hummers have to consume their weight in nectar every day to maintain that rate. They are never far from starvation; bad weather that interferes with their ability to forage quickly threatens their lives.
Insects and nectar (the sugary substance found in many flowers) make up the hummingbird’s diet. Insects provide the protein and fat while nectar provides the sugar. Hummers feed numerous times an hour, digesting in between bouts of foraging.
You can attract hummingbirds to your garden by creating the kind of habitat they prefer. Hummers need nectar plants, areas of sun and of shade, a source of water, and nest-building materials (moss, twigs, lichen, leaves, etc.). Bee balm, butterfly weed, fuchsia, columbine, azaleas, butterfly bush, ornamental sages, and lilac are just some of the nectar-rich plants hummers seek. It’s red, lavender, and pink colors that attract hummingbirds, not the fragrance of the flowers. For the wellbeing of the birds it’s important to keep pesticides out of your garden because the birds could get sick from pesticide residues on the flowers and pesticides can kill the small insects hummers need for protein.
You take on a big commitment when you encourage hummingbirds to inhabit your garden. Once you invite hummingbirds to live in your garden they may become dependent on the habitat you created for them. So when nectar flowers are not in bloom you may need to use feeders to supplement the birds’ food. Bright red feeders attract hummingbirds from a distance. Place them about 30 feet apart; keep them clean and filled with a mix of one part sugar to four parts water. Never use honey (which can result in a fungus fatal to the birds) or food coloring.
A good hummingbird feeder is one that attracts hummingbirds and is easy to clean and fill. Since the requirements are fairly minimal, the sky’s the limit on designs. You can certainly buy a feeder, but it might be more fun and creative to make one, or several. Making your own feeder is also a great opportunity to help the planet by using recycled materials and not contributing more than necessary to the waste stream.
Want to learn more about hummingbirds?
The following websites give detailed instructions for making hummingbird feeders:
The World of Hummingbirds features plenty of great hummingbird information.
Here’s a great .pdf file related to kids and hummingbird feeders.
Gardening with Kids also has a wealth of information available as well.
Lynne Lamstein gardens in Maine and Florida and is currently working on a sustainable landscape. She has a degree in ornamental horticulture from Temple University.