Attracting Hummingbirds

Perching Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Perching female Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Photo by Donna L. Long.
Attracting hummingbirds is not much different from other birds. I think attracting hummingbirds is less expensive because you make their nectar with water and a bag of sugar. One 4 pound bag of sugar will make gallons of hummingbird nectar. Buying feed for the seed-eating birds requires buying expensive bags of seeds over and over again. What follows are the basics of attracting hummingbirds.
Female Ruby-Throated hummingbird
Female Ruby-Throated hummingbird perched on a branch. Photo: Donna L. Long.

Hummingbird Migration Dates

I spotted this female Ruby-Throat at the Schuylkill Nature Center in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia in late autumn. Longer after you would think these small, delicate birds would have headed to the warmer southern regions.
At first I heard a squeaking noise and then I realized it was a hummingbird. She flew right by me and sat on the thin branches of a tree, not more than fifteen feet from me.
Several days later, another female Ruby-Throat hovered less than six feet from me when I was at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve in New Hope Bucks County in late autumn.

Tiny as these birds are most fly non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico to spend the winter in Mexico and Central America.

Here are both the north and south migration dates for North American Hummingbirds. Hummingbird migration northward starts earlier than you would think. And hummingbirds stay later in the autumn than we think.

This chart covers the eight most common species that breed in North America.

Eastern Northward Southward
Ruby-throated late February to mid-May late July to late October
Western Northward Southward
Allen’s January to March mid-May to September
Anna’s does not migrate; shifts to local areas with more food
Black-chinned mid-March through mid-May mid-July – November
Broad-tailed March to May August to October
Calliope March to May late July to September
Costa’s late January to February September to October
Rufous February to May late June to September
male ruby-throated hummingbird perched on stake
Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) on a tomato stake, defending his territory. Photo: Joe Schneid, Louisville, Kentucky, CC BY 3.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons

Ruby-Throats are the Northeast’s Only Hummer

The Ruby-Throated hummer is the only hummingbird that lives and nests in the Philadelphia area and in eastern North America. The male as a sparkly deep ruby red colored feathers on its throat. The female has plain white feathers.

Another hummingbird the Rufous Hummingbird is a regular rare visitor to Pennsylvania during migration. This hummingbird frequents backyard hummingbird feeders during their migration from August to December. The Rufous doesn’t nest in Philadelphia or Pennsylvania. The Ruby-Throated does nest in the state.

birds annas hummingbird drinking nectar
Anna’s Hummingbird drinking from feeder in San Diego County. Public domain.


When to Put Out the Nectar

Now it a good time to put out hummingbird feeders to attract hummingbirds to your garden. Many of these small birds will be passing through on their migration south to Central America or north to parts of North America.

The hummingbird migration dates vary according region of the country. This information is helpful in knowing when to place your nectar feeders out in your backyard habitat gardens.

If you don’t live in the Philadelphia area, any bird field guide will tell you which species you can expect to find in your neighborhood. For Philly it is a Ruby-Throat most of the time. Some lucky folks may spot a Rufous or other rarity.

We can put our nectar feeders out early enough to attract hummingbirds in the spring. At leave them out late into the fall to help hummingbirds on their trip south.


hummingbirds at feeder
Hummingbirds at feeders. Centpacrr at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA (]

Recipe for Homemade Hummingbird Nectar

Use the hummingbird migration dates to know when to put out to attract hummingbirds.

This nectar recipe mimics the water to sugar ratio of flower nectar, the main food of adult hummingbirds. They do feed their young insects and spiders along with nectar.

The Key: Four parts water to one part refined white sugar.

Four parts means four units of water to one unit of refined white sugar. So, take a coffee cup or a glass or a measuring cup. Fill it with water four times. Then take the same container and fill it once with sugar.

  1. Pour the refined white sugar in the water.
  2. Dissolve the sugar in the water and place it hummingbird feeder.
  3. Change the sugar water frequently as it can spoil quickly in the sunshine.
  4. I would make it fresh every time I change the nectar in the feeder.
female ruby throated at Cardinal flower.
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird sampling Cardinal flower nectar. Photo Donna L. Long.

Plants to Attract Hummingbirds

There are many plants which attract hummingbirds. The birds are very attracted to red, tubular flowers. They also like orange-red and pink. So, if you are at the garden center or choosing a variety from a nursery catalog keep those colors in mind.

You can also plant native flowers that will attract hummingbirds. Make sure you plant flowers that bloom during migration season. Plant flowers that bloom in the spring using the dates in the chart. And don’t forget autumn-blooming flowers.

Plant the flowers in clumps of at least three plants. Three or more plants give enough nectar sources that it’s worth a hummer’s time to visit. It also creates a larger splash of color to catch the attention of hummingbirds searching for food.

Spread out the bloom time of the flowers to provide nectar throughout the seasons the hummers are in your area.

  • Bee Balm (Monarda spp.)
  • Cardinal Flower
  • Columbine (Aquilegia spp.)
  • Creeper, Scarlet (Ipomoea cristulata)
  • Creeper, Trumpet (Campsis radicans)
  • Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.)
  • Lantana (Lantana spp.)
  • Penstemons (Penstemon spp.)
  • Sages, Salvias, spp. (Salvia spp.)

Here is a list of spring hummingbird attracting flowers for Philadelphia and the MId-Atlantic region.

Use the Audubon Native Plant Database to find flowers for your area. After entering your zip code a list of plants is generated. Next you can filter for the type of birds you want to attract.

Perches and Shelter

Trees and shrubs with thin branches and twigs provide perches that the small feet of hummingbirds can grasp. Trees and shrubs with large leaves provide shelter from rainy weather.

Provide Nesting Materials

Hummingbird nests are  made of spider webs, cottony seed material, the wooly surface of some leaves, plant fibers such as thistle down and cattail fluff or soft bird feathers. The outside of the nest maybe camouflaged with lichen, mosses, or other similar materials.

You can collect cattail fluff, moss, lichen, thistle down and make it available for the birds.


b=hummingbirds around a bird bath
Hummingbirds around a birdbath. Photo courtesy Mike’s Birds from Riverside, CA, US, CC BY-SA 2.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons

Provide Water for Drinking and Bathing

Hummers like to bathe. Provide a swallow basin that allows the birds to bathe safely without drowning.


Conclusion: The Key Steps in Attracting Hummingbirds

  1. Learn the hummingbirds species which live in your area and when.
  2. Make hummingbird nectar and put out a feeder.
  3. Plant red, orange-red or pink tubular flowers in group of three or more.
  4. Plant several varieties of plants that bloom during the months the hummingbirds are present in your area. Annual flowers will bloom from spring until frost.
  5. Provide places for hummingbirds to perch.
  6. Provide nesting materials.
  7. Provide a bird bath.

I hope this information is useful. Let me know in the comments below if you have any experiences successes and failures attracting hummingbirds to your garden.



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