A Hummingbird-Friendly Backyard.
April 5, 2008 8:20 PM   Subscribe

I want my backyard to be hummingbird-friendly.

I have hummingbird-friendly flower seeds ready to plant, I have a feeder and I know how to make the sugar water, but I'm mostly interested in determining the best location for the feeder. I want it to be close enough to our patio so that we can see and enjoy the birds, but not so close that our presence scares them away. We have lots of other bird species, as well as other animals, visiting our backyard, but I've always wanted to attract hummingbirds. I've read various things online, but I'd like to hear from people who have been successful. If you regularly have hummingbirds in your backyard, tell me your tips and tricks.

P.S. I've read this thread (the only other AskMe thread tagged with "hummingbirds") but I'm looking for something a little more hummingbird-specific.
posted by amyms to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: In my experience, hummingbirds aren't very shy. I wouldn't hesitate to hang the feeder near the patio. I have friends who can hold a feeder in their hand and the hummers come up for a snack. My friends have feeders on their deck railing, just a few feet from where they sit.
posted by PatoPata at 8:27 PM on April 5, 2008

Best answer: In our yard, the hummingbirds have become accustomed to both people and dogs. When we sit still, they come to a feeder that is only seven feet from where we sit outside. We also have a feeder hanging one foot outside of a picture window, and the hummers frequent that feeder so long as there isn't a lot of movement inside the house.
posted by found missing at 8:31 PM on April 5, 2008

Best answer: Hummingbirds are fairly unafraid of people in my experience. They come very close when there's a feeder. We had a feeder right next to where we sit and the hummingbirds didn't pay us much attention. They seem very focused on their territorial rights and humans don't threaten that.
posted by anadem at 8:31 PM on April 5, 2008

Best answer: They don't seem shy to me, either--I've had them hovering around me very closely in the back yard, and apparently, they are territorial little beggars once they've found and 'claimed' your feeder. Good luck--they are a treasure!

The only problem with our feeder I found is that the ants and wasps like the nectar as much as the hummers do.
posted by Savannah at 8:31 PM on April 5, 2008

Best answer: Hang it anywhere, really. Those things will find it, and they aren't shy. We have one that attaches to thw kitchen window, and you can see them looking out the glass... we can literally be inches away from them, and they don't care.
posted by bradth27 at 8:31 PM on April 5, 2008

Best answer: They are not shy. I've had hummingbirds come up to me on our back porch, where the feeder is, and hover or sit two feet from me. One day, I was wearing a red t-shirt, and a hummingbird came up to me while I was sitting out back and looked at me like "Are you food? Because you're the same color as food. If you're not food, I'm going to kick your a**." It hovered less than a foot from me for at least two minutes. I don't wear red when I'm sitting out back anymore.
posted by rtha at 8:37 PM on April 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hummingbirds are brave, territorial little things. I had a feeder hung a couple of feet beyond the sliding glass door on my deck and they loved it. Our presence did not seem to bother them at all. They would actually fight over the feeder. When it was empty, they'd hang around until I refilled it.

You may have happier hummingbirds if you'd hang up a couple of feeders - less fighting.

By the way, you can make your own nectar for your feeder. Just mix one part sugar to about 4 parts water, and boil on the stove briefly until the sugar is dissovled. Commercial hummingbird food is usually dyed red, and I can't imagine that the red dye is good for them.

You will also need to change the nectar in the feeder once a week. I found that once they had found my feeder, however, they emptied it before I had to change the nectar.

Never ever use honey or artificial sweeteners in the nectar.

My hummingbirds loved:
Cannas - especially the red and orange varieties. Cannas are tricky in that you have to dig up the tubers after the first hard frost and store them over the winter. But they are so beautiful and so attractive to the hummingbirds, it's worth it. The butterflies didn't really care for them that much, but the hummingbirds loved them.

Pineapple Sage. This plant requires a long growing season before it flowers, so you should buy a plant and not plant from seeds. It blooms late - Sept. in Missouri - but it was a hummingbird magnet.

Trumpet Vine - this can be invasive, but they like this too.

They also like lantanas (there are bushy lantanas and spreading lantanas - the spreading ones get huge - 4' across if they're happy) and petunias. They'd occasionally visit my nicotianas (flowering tobacco) and morning glories, too.

I would say that my cannas and pineapple sage attracted the most hummingbirds. The feeder probably came in third.

They are so much fun to watch - good luck!
posted by Ostara at 8:42 PM on April 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just be sure not to hang the feeder in the direct sunlight, it will cause the nectar to spoil much quicker.
posted by JujuB at 8:43 PM on April 5, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the reassurances that they aren't shy. That's what I needed to hear. We're thinking about hanging the feeder from the side of the garage wall (a detached garage that is diagonal from our patio area but still in close enough proximity to see the birds).
posted by amyms at 8:44 PM on April 5, 2008

Best answer: Yeah, they are not shy. They seem to have a routine that they follow, visiting the feeder at specific times in the morning and evening and not staying very long (although this pattern could have something to do with me, the observer.)
If you do use a sugar water feeder, make sure you change out the sugar water every few days because it can ferment. I haven't yet seen a drunken hummingbird, but I'll bet their little livers can't take much.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 8:45 PM on April 5, 2008

Response by poster: I'm probably not supposed to mark everyone as "best answer" but they've all been very helpful, so thanks :).
posted by amyms at 8:54 PM on April 5, 2008

Hummingbirds also like water. A fine mist (and I mean really fine) is all you need. You might be able to rig one yourself, or a lot of birding specialty shops carry something to add on to your garden hose. There's a neat map of the hummingbird migration. Only one has been reported in Kansas so far.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 9:08 PM on April 5, 2008

They get so involved protecting their territory from other hummies, they hardly notice us large, upright beasts. I sit in a chair no more than two feet from my feeder and watch them hover and land. I can see their teeny, tiny little feet and their wisp of a tongue as it darts in and out of the feeder.

It's great fun to hear the buzz of their wings as they approach from the trees in the yard, or from around the corner of the house. They really get in dive bomber battles with each other as they fight over turf and access to the feeder. Ostara's suggestion of hanging multiple feeders is a good one.

I've gotten so I can follow them from the feeder to where they perch in the trees and shrubbery. On a typical summer day, I can usually spot at least a dozen different hummie birds resting in the foliage 20-50 feet from where I'm sitting.

When they come to the feeder they may hover just a foot from my face checking me out to see if I'm threatening. Once they realize I'm not, they will land on the perch on the feeder. Viewing from that close you can see the individual feathers on their bellies, backs and wings. The colors are magnificent.

Dogz rule ... but hummingbirds blow my mind. Hopefully, yours too.
posted by netbros at 9:19 PM on April 5, 2008

The only reason I haven't pulled out the trumpet vine is because my hummingbirds like it. In general they are strongly attracted to red flowers, and they particularly like the trumpet vine flowers because they can stick their beak right in and get the drop of nectar.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:06 PM on April 6, 2008

I have a Black Knight Butterfly Bush that my hummers love. It's not red, but they like it. I have at least three hummingbird feeders around my house to feed them with less arguments. They don't care if I'm there - I've been rehanging a newly filled feeder during late summer (when they're gearing up for migration) and having the birds chasing each other literally all around me, within inches. I've planted a couple of other plants that are supposed to attract hummers, too, but they're still in a new phase and I can't think of their names right now. I have lots of other birds too, but hummingbirds are one of my favorites. One thing about the sugar water: you really don't have to boil it. It was always thought that it was necessary to get the sugar to dissolve, but it isn't. One part sugar to four parts water; refrigerate whatever is left over, and change when the water looks cloudy or in a few days. Ant guards are cheap, and you can make one yourself. Try a small funnel, large part facing upwards; thread the feeder hanger through it; use plumber's putty around the small part to seal it; and fill it with water. Enjoy your hummers! I won't see my first one until early May.
posted by annieb at 3:18 PM on April 6, 2008

See hummingbirds.net about feeders, what to fill them with and other fascinating info.....
posted by lalochezia at 7:00 PM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hummingbirds are definitely not shy. I live in an apartment building with an open courtyard that has a hummingbird feeder, and a bunch of flowery vines that they love. And right in front of my door in some of those vines is a hummingbird nest.

We had a female hummingbird nesting for a month while her egg hatched and developed. We would walk right under her nest several times a day. Sometimes she would fly about 10 ft away and hover until we went inside (usually when we were slightly intoxicated and rowdy ;), but most of the time she would just sit and watch us pass a foot under her nest.

This week, I saw the mostly-grown baby sitting on the edge of the nest. It was the first time we had seen it not completely inside. I went and grabbed my camera to take a couple of photos. While I was watching it, it actually took off and flew for what I believe was the first time! And then I squealed like a little girl with cuteness overload.

We also walk by the hummingbird feeder frequently. The males will usually stop drinking and hover a foot away from you, as if to say "What the $#% are you doing, interrupting my drinking!" And I think I may be developing a phobia of hummingbirds pecking my eyes out with deft lightning speed.

So hang it close by, they won't be intimidated.
posted by Nerro at 11:44 AM on April 7, 2008

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