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GardenSMART :: Hummingbird Special Needs

Hummingbird Special Needs

By Pennington Wild Bird Club
Photographs courtesy of Pennington Wild Bird Club

As fun as it is to see hummingbirds during migration, it's even more gratifying when they linger to nest in our neighborhood. But they can't live by sugar water alone. To entice them to stay, we need to look at the world through their eyes.

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Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are often attracted to them for sap).

First impressions are always important, and one of the first things hummingbirds look for when considering a place to settle down for a season is who the neighbors are. They're particularly drawn to sapsuckers — those woodpeckers who drill tiny sap wells into trees. When the weather is still too cold for most nectar bearing flowers, those sap wells can provide sugary meals, and in any weather, sap may attract insects to furnish protein for the hummingbirds.

Some neighbors are not desirable from a hummingbird's perspective. Lurking cats can send them in search of safer terrain.

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Female on nest.

Hummingbirds build their nests on fairly substantial branches, horizontal to diagonal. And between feeding, nesting, and taking care of young, hummingbirds need naps and other breaks, perched on twigs. Avoid doing any tree work during the summer when the branches you disturb could bear their nests or their favorite resting perches.

The nest is built right onto the branch, stuck there with spider silk. Leaving cobwebs alone on inconspicuous areas of our houses and garages can help. Lichens are another important building material; leaving rotten branches on trees (if they're not dangerous) and setting a rock or two in a wet, shaded area can help provide this.

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Costa's hummingbird, male.

Because hummingbirds must feed on a great many insects as well as nectar, keep your flower boxes and garden beds safe from insecticides and herbicides. Some hummingbird aficionados set chunks of melon or banana in disposable mesh bags; hummingbirds are attracted to fruit flies.


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