{ GARDEN }

HOW TO HOST A HUMMINGBIRD

BY Wendy van Diver
Anna's Hummingbird | SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
Anna's Hummingbird | SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

What isn’t there to love about hummingbirds? Weighing in at less than an ounce, they drum the air with their wings from 20 to 200 times per second, producing the distinct humming sound that inspired their name. Tiny and gregarious, hummingbirds pop into our garden as welcome guests—and we hope they will never leave.

Black-chinned Hummingbird
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Hibiscus
Hibiscus

San Diego is home to five hummingbird (hummer) species, with the most common being the Anna’s Hummingbird, which resides here all year long. Yet, there is nothing common about this bird who brightens our yards with its iridescent green feathers and rose-pink throat. Four additional hummingbird species (Black-chinned, Costa’s, Allen’s, and Rufous) migrate to our region each spring and stay until fall.

In the garden, hummingbirds are perfect guests. They’re so quiet, self-reliant, and entertaining, there is little a host needs to do to make hummers happy. But we’ve found a few ways for you to try.

Pink Autumn Sage
Pink Autumn Sage
Rufous Hummingbird | SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
Rufous Hummingbird | SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

Hummingbirds have one of the highest metabolic rates relative to body size of any animal on earth. They require about half of their body weight in sugar daily. Hummers use their sense of sight, not smell, to find nectar. They are drawn to flowering plants with rich, brilliant colors—particularly red—a color not detected by most insects; long, tapered blooms that accommodate their slender bills; and lots of sweet nectar. When choosing flowers to attract hummingbirds, look for blooms with these characteristics. Top contenders in San Diego include Hibiscus, Hummingbird Sage, Pink Autumn Sage, Salvia, Lantana, Lavender, Rosemary, and Trumpet Vine.

Jacaranda tree
Jacaranda tree
Allen’s Hummingbird
Allen’s Hummingbird

Although nectar provides hummers the quick energy they need to sustain their extremely high metabolic rate, they also require protein in the form of insects. If you’ve ever seen a hummingbird sit high on a twig and then suddenly swoop and hover at what seems to be a random spot in the air, you’ve witnessed “hawking,” the term used for a hummer catching insects in mid-air. Hummingbirds use their exceptionally acute vision to find gnats that are invisible to us. They also glean them and other insects from spider webs and flowers. Spiders, the hummer’s favorite insect food source, compose an estimated 60 to 80 percent of its diet.

Since hummers need to feed almost continuously, it is not overdoing it to provide a hummingbird feeder or two in your garden. The feeder, made of glass or plastic, should be easy to take apart. Avoid feeders with yellow bee guards because—ironically—the color yellow attracts bees. Plan to change the feeder frequently (every week in cooler weather to every few days in summer) to prevent bacteria and mold growth. Each time you change the feeder, scrub every crevice with a bottlebrush and mild vinegar and rinse it thoroughly.

Hummingbirds use soft plant fibers and spider silk to bind their tiny nests and attach them to the branches of sheltered trees and large shrubs. If you want to invite them to nest in your garden, plant hummingbird-friendly trees and shrubs such as Jacaranda, Toyon, and California Fuchsia.

If you discover a nest, steer clear. It is good to know that hummingbirds usually lay two eggs the size of jellybeans, which are not always laid at the same time. Incubation, which does not begin until the second egg has been laid, lasts between 16 and 18 days. It is estimated that a mother hummingbird, who raises her babies alone, leaves the nest up to 200 times a day to gather food. You will want to give the new family space for a few weeks, until the babies depart the nest for good.

Perhaps the only time a hummingbird gets picky is at bath time. Although hummers love to splash about, they prefer shallow moving water. Sprinklers and fountains suit them best, so purchase a floating solar-powered fountain for your bird bath. You’ll discover that hummingbirds love to groom themselves and frequently preen to keep their beautiful feathers fluffy and clean.

DIY NECTAR

The recipe is simple! Combine one-quarter cup of sugar per one cup of water in a saucepan. Bring to a full boil on the stove for two minutes. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature before pouring it into the feeder. Note: Don’t use honey, red food color, or red-colored commercial mixes. Real nectar is clear and the nectar you make should be too!