CO-Horts Blog

Monday, April 13, 2015

Natural nectar for hummingbirds

 By Irene Shonle, CSU Extension in Gilpin County

In one of the earliest returns I have ever heard of, broad tailed hummingbirds have already been widely reported along the Front Range. I've been waiting all winter for this, although I will probably still have to wait weeks for them to come up to my elevation.

It is easy for those of us who live in the mountains to attract hummers to our yards, but it’s still possible to do so in the city.  This early migration is one of the prime times to lure them in, but you get another chance starting around the 4th of July (when our species count can increase to four – including Rufous, Calliope, and Black-chinned hummers).

Putting out a feeder is usually the first step.  In these early days, a 1 part white sugar to 3 parts water solution is helpful to help the hummers recover from their long migration, but reduce the sugar concentration to 1:4 by the middle of May. Be sure to never put red dye in the feeder, since it is potentially hazardous to their health. The red on the feeders is plenty enough to attract them. 

Another way to entice the flying jewels is to plant some natural nectar.  This will make your yard overall more attractive to the hummers, not only because there will be visible attractants that will cause them to look twice, even flying at 50', but small insects and spiders might take up residence as well.  Hummers spend a lot of time eating small insects, and they need the protein as much as they need nectar, especially when raising young.

Here are some suggested native species that are attractive to hummingbirds:
·         Most penstemons, but especially Penstemon barbatus and Penstemon eatonii.
·         Scarlet gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata) – a biennial, easy to plant from seed
·         Bee balm (Monarda fistulosa)
·         Columbines (Aquilegia)
·         Paintbrushes (Castilleja)  - these are hemiparasites, and should be sown near other perennials.  They can be hard to establish.
·         Wax currant (Ribes cereum) and Golden currant (Ribes aureum)- both shrubs
·         Bee plant (Cleome serrulata)  - annual
Broad-tailed hummingbirds LOVE Penstemon barbatus

Some non-native species known to attract hummingbirds:
·         Maltese cross (Lychnis coronaria)
·         Coral bells (Heuchera)
·         Agastaches  (Agastache) – these work best at lower elevations, or possibly in warmer microclimates
·         Red-flowered yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)  - only for those at lower elevations
·         Salvias – particularly the red-flowered ones
·         Siberian catmint (Nepeta siberica)
·         California fuchsia (Zauschneria californica)
Broad-tailed hummingbird sipping from Heuchera sanguinea

If you want to plant a container full of annuals to attract hummers, try:
·         Nasturtiums
·         Red annual salvias
·         Geraniums
       Honeybells  (Cerinthe major 'Purpurascens')
If you look hard, you can find the hummer below the honeybells in the upper left. Nasturtium is another favorite. As a bonus, both of these plants are critter resistant (very important in my area!)

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