Tips to attract hummingbirds to your garden – The Washington Post | Hot Mobile Press

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Hummingbirds appear like supernatural creatures from a magical realm that have somehow been transported into the everyday world. The tiny birds, which typically weigh less than a regular marshmallow, can hum through the air at amazing speeds (Anna’s hummingbird has been measured at around 50 mph), fly backwards and turn in a jiffy. No wonder people love to lure them into their gardens. A group of them is appropriately called a spell.

Although there are more than 330 species in the Americas, the ruby-throated hummingbird is generally the only species to make the mid-Atlantic home between spring and early fall before flying across the Gulf of Mexico to Central and South America for the winter.

To see the little winged wonders regularly while they’re in the region, you’ll need to turn your backyard into a hummingbird sanctuary. We spoke to three experts on how to create an enchanting environment that will attract hummingbirds to your garden, including how to feed them and what to plant. Here are their suggestions.

Advance flower. Hummingbirds are attracted to the nectar of various flowers. They work as natural pollinators as they move between flowers, so the more flora the better. Emma Greig, project leader of the FeederWatch project at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, recommends bee balm (Monarda), cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) and fuchsia hanging baskets. John Rowden, Senior Director of Bird-Friendly Communities at the National Audubon Society, suggests trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), eastern red columbine (Columbine canadensis) and some species of spurge, including swamp spurge (Asclepias incarnata) and spurge (A. syriaca).

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Don’t forget trees and shrubs. Hummingbirds like to nest and roost in sheltered, secluded locations that are not too close to the ground, so trees and shrubs are vital. The birds use bits of lichen, plant down and fiber, twigs, and cobwebs to build cup-like nests that they attach to tree branches. These larger plants also attract an abundance of insects, an important source of protein for hummingbirds. “Pagoda dogwood and flowering dogwood are great insect-supportive native plants,” says Rowden. “And oak trees offer a smorgasbord of insects.”

Embrace native plants. “Native flowers often attract native insects, which encourage native birds,” says Greig. Not sure what to plant? Audubon has a native plant database that people can search by zip code to see what hummingbird-friendly plants grow in their area and where to buy them.

No pesticides. “Pesticides are the biggest threat to hummingbirds,” says Sheri L. Williamson, author of A Peterson Field Guide to Hummingbirds of North America. “There have been some recent studies that have found alarming levels of pesticides in the urine and feces of hummingbirds. Pesticides can disrupt the migration instinct and cause the birds to lose weight.” In addition, these toxic substances can kill the insects they depend on for food and spiders, whose webs are an important building material for their nests.

Give the little guys a big sugar boost. Hummingbirds love nectar. In addition to planting lots of flowers, gardeners can make an easy substitute by mixing 4 parts boiling water to 1 part sugar. Allow the sweet solution to cool before adding it to the feeder. “We don’t recommend adding anything else, like food coloring, vitamins, or any other extra goodies that you can buy,” says Greig. “Most are completely unnecessary. there [are] no studies show they are beneficial and they can be harmful.”

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Get a good feeder. There are many feeders on the market, but there are only two important elements to a good one: you must be able to see the area containing the nectar clearly, and the feeder must be easy to disassemble for thorough cleaning. “Check it every two to three days during warm months to make sure the nectar isn’t cloudy,” says Rowden, because that’s likely a sign of bacterial or fungal growth that could be harmful to the birds. “If you see any, it’s time to wash them out.”

Place the feeder near a window. This might sound counterintuitive, but “the closer you place your feeder to the window, the safer it is for birds,” says Williamson. “That way if they’re startled by a bird feeder — maybe they’ll see a hawk flying by — they won’t go as fast when they hit the window, so they won’t hurt themselves as much.”

Help them see the windows. When birds bang against your windows — known as window strikes — they can seriously injure themselves, leave themselves vulnerable to predators, or even die. Consider putting window stickers, stickers, or decals on your windows to alert birds to the presence of the glass. Williamson recommends placing decals two to four inches apart for maximum effectiveness. Or, she says, you can buy an Aopian BirdSaver, aka Zen curtains, which have parallel lines of thin cords stretching vertically across a window.

A bird bath is nice. A bird bath provides hummingbirds with a place to drink and bathe. Just check it once a week or so to make sure the water is clean. “Use rocks that break the surface of the water,” says Rowden. “That way they know how deep the water is and they have something to sit on because hummingbirds have very weak feet.”

A small pond is nicer. If you have the space, money, and inclination, building a small pond on your property will exponentially increase the chances that your yard will be a haunt for hummingbirds. “It becomes a functioning ecosystem,” says Williamson, “that attracts some of the tiny little aquatic larvae insects whose adult forms are very important food for hummingbirds, like gnats and midges.” Don’t worry, they don’t bite and don’t transmit diseases. They provide a richer, more diverse food source for hummingbirds and might even attract breeding hummingbirds.”

Take care of your pets. Cats and dogs are a threat to the birds in your yard, so keep them inside or limit their time outside when someone can keep an eye on them. Don’t think that hummingbirds are exempt from these risks because of their speed or small size. “Hummingbirds hover past plants within easy reach,” says Rowden. “And they’re tasty little treats for pets.”

Martell is a writer from Silver Spring, Md. His website is nevinmartell.com. Keep finding him Twitter and Instagram: @nevinmartell.

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