Hummingbirds are Go
June 18, 2014 8:09 AM   Subscribe

Why won't hummingbirds come to our backyard?

We've tried all the things!

No matter what we do, hummingbirds will not visit our backyard. I'm wondering if it's because of something that's repelling them. For example, I have chives planted near the hummingbird feeder. Do hummingbirds hate chives? We live next to a very busy, loud road. Our backyard is 50 or so feet away from the road and quiet and shielded from the street, but is that a possible reason?

We have homemade nectar, we have store-bought nectar. We have all kinds of red flowers. We saw a hummingbird fly through our backyard about 5 years ago and now my husband is obsessed with trying to lure them. We have tons of bird feeders and so many species of birds in our backyard, it's like an avian paradise. Everyone in the neighborhood has hummingbirds coming to their feeders except us.

We clean the nectar feeders weekly, and replace the nectar weekly as well. Since we're doing everything right (?), now I can't help but think we have something objectionable in our yard that's keeping them away. The chives? A huge black walnut tree? The busy street? Giant banks of day lilies? Too many other birds? Any ideas what it might be, or know of any hummingbird deterrents we aren't aware of? We have no dogs or cats. We live in Pennsylvania, if that matters.
posted by the webmistress to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: When you say your neighbors, are they next door neighbors? Or people slightly further away from the busy street? Do you have other cats that visit your yard?

I would ask your neighbors to see if there is a particular flower your neighborhood hummingbirds are drawn to and plant those, too. I would also get another hummingbird feeder and place it in a different area, probably near the attractant flowers - there might be something about where your feeder is hung that seems off to them - though probably not chives. Is your current feeder in roughly the same flight path that you saw the last hummer? Sometimes birds follow similar routes.
posted by umwhat at 8:47 AM on June 18, 2014

Best answer: Do you spray for insects a lot in your backyard? Hummingbirds eat insects as well as nectar, they basically use nectar as fuel to find insects with. Planting flowers or plants that attract insects can be beneficial, as well as leaving your grass longer and not having a perfectly manicured lawn. I've read that keeping spiders webs up can help too as they sometimes steal bugs from the webs though I have not seen this in action.

Having lots of dense bushes is good as they like safe places to rest. I have butterfly bushes planted throughout my garden as they are indestructible pretty much and are like hummingbird magnets, they can be weeds in some zones so check that out, as a side benefit you get butterflies too. The flowers don't have to be red, they do have to be nectar filled my garden is mostly purple & pink flowers and for the most part the birds ignore the feeders I keep scatter through the gardens and just visit the flowers.
posted by wwax at 8:54 AM on June 18, 2014

Response by poster: Good questions!! I promise not to thread-sit. My next door neighbors have hummingbirds, yeah. They have a dog, too. There are no stray cats or dogs in the neighborhood. Literally every other backyard in the neighborhood has hummingbirds, it's kind of a running joke amongst all of us, with people asking us if we've seen any hummingbirds yet. We don't spray for insects at all but that's definitely something to keep in mind for the future. I think it's a good idea to go out and maybe change up where the feeders are located. I didn't know that the nectar in the flowers is more important than the color, so will plant a few more nectar-y flowers. Thanks!
posted by the webmistress at 9:05 AM on June 18, 2014

Best answer: I've found that my hummingbirds are drawn in by the flowers rather than the feeder. They like agastache -- particularly the orange and red varieties. They also like pineapple sage and red/orange cannas.

Hummingbirds, like most birds, don't have a good sense of smell. I doubt that your chives are keeping them away. They follow a regular route when feeding (this is called trap-lining so maybe your yard has just never made it into their rotation?

If you haven't already, definitely try planting some cannas as they are huge plants with easily-seen flowers.
posted by Ostara at 9:19 AM on June 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Only one data point, but we have big clumps of chives within 5 feet of the hummingbird feeder. They don't seem to mind.
posted by BillMcMurdo at 9:21 AM on June 18, 2014

Best answer: My hummingbirds always seem grumpy. They don't seem to like each other so maybe they don't like all the other birds? My hummingbird feeders are in our front yard (instead in back with the squirrels, bunnies and birds) with no foliage or plants and no other bird feeders. They come every year. Good luck!
posted by beccaj at 10:25 AM on June 18, 2014

Best answer: There are at least 3 stray cats, my own two dogs, and endless other wildlife in my yard. I still get hummingbirds. I only fill the feeders sporadically, and they still come. They come all year.

When we first moved here, I heard hummingbirds in the trees and around the neighborhood but had none in my yard. I stubbornly put feeders out there for weeks and finally I made headlines in the Hummingbird News. It's not stuff in your yard keeping them away, I'm pretty sure.

And once they find you, WOW are they ever bossy.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 10:27 AM on June 18, 2014

Hummingbirds are extremely territorial. I wonder if your neighbor's hummingbirds are scaring any away from your yard.
posted by Specklet at 11:02 AM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We have tons of bird feeders and so many species of birds in our backyard, it's like an avian paradise.

Yeah, seconding beccaj...I think the issue might be all the other birds. Our backyard is a paved over dirt patch full of cats and their excretions (we rent...). Not a single flower to be seen and the only place they can sit down on is a clothes line. Yet, 1 hr within hanging up the feeder, they were there. They even come to check out the little red ribbon on my trash bag *every time* I put out the trash. Only attraction of our back yard: no other birds, and the feeder that I refill like every three weeks...they don't mind humans, though
posted by The Toad at 11:26 AM on June 18, 2014

Best answer: I used to have my hummingbird feeder right next to my other two non-hummingbird feeders and the other birds never deterred them, so I'm not sure that's the problem. I have chives growing on the other side of the deck from my feeder (10 feet, maybe?) so I don't think that's it either.

Hummingbirds are territorial and have been shown to return to the same feeders year after year. It's likely your neighbors hummingbirds keep returning to their feeders, and since there seems to be an abundance of food in the neighborhood, maybe they just haven't had reason to visit yours yet?

Location of the feeder is important. My hummingbirds like to dive in, feed, and retreat quickly to the surrounding trees / bushes, so make sure there's plenty of foliage cover nearby for them. Try to pick a spot that is maybe a little shady and out of the wind too.

Also, make sure you are getting your feeder our early enough. You should get it out ideally a week or so before they start showing up in your area (see migration map here).

Could you try adding a hanging basket of hummingbird-enticing flowers, like petunias, right next to or under your feeder?

The Cornell Bird Lab has some good hummingbird attraction tips - including leaving out banana peels to attract small flies for the birds to eat!
posted by geeky at 12:19 PM on June 18, 2014

Mine are sporadic (at best), but one thing that helped this year was putting out some netting full of old dryer lint. It's too late for you to do that this year - their nest-building time was a few weeks ago, unless you live a lot further north than Michigan - but my red netting fuzz bag was surprisingly popular this year.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 2:40 PM on June 18, 2014

If you're looking for other flower suggestions, we've had good luck with Ipatiens in a hanging basket (not sure what variety - big purple or red flowers, whatever is common at Lowes). This is in Maine, lots of other birds around in our yard.

Thanks for the dryer lint tip - will try that next year!
posted by mikepop at 6:35 AM on June 19, 2014

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