Gardening for Hummingbirds

Gardening for Hummingbirds

Gardening for Hummingbirds: Heuchera, hummingbird host. Courtesy and copyright Jim Cane, Photographer
Courtesy & © Jim Cane, Photographer

Gardening for Hummingbirds: Penstemon hummingbird host Courtesy & © Jim Cane, PhotographerPenstemon eatonii
Courtesy & © Jim Cane, Photographer

At long last, summer has returned as have the hummingbirds who zip around my garden, visiting flowers and chasing off intruders. (Kevin Colver: Songbirds of Rocky Mountain Foothills. Broad-tailed Hummingbird) Hummingbirds are a delight in the yard and so we plant flowers specifically to attract and feed them. In general, hummingbirds prefer long tubular flowers especially those that are red, orange or violet. But not all these flowers are created equally.Gardening for Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds visit flowers for their nectar which fuels their flight. Their long tongue reaches well beyond the tip of their needle like bill when they lap up nectar; capillary action then draws the sweet liquid up tiny grooves along the length of the tongue.

Floral nectar evolved to attract potential pollinators. The floral nectary is generally found inside the flower, at the base. When probing for nectar, floral visitors brush by the reproductive structures. Pollen adheres to parts of their body and then at the next flower of the same species, some pollen sticks to the female stigma. This transfer is pollination.

Many nectar-rich flowers grow well in Utah gardens. In the xeric garden, Penstemons are a good choice, as are Red Hot Pokers and Zauschneria, sometimes called Hummingbird Trumpet. In more moist sites, red flowered Heuchera is popular. Some red flowered cacti and Trumpet Creeper are good choices, as are Agastache and many Salvias.

Watch which flowers hummers visit. They will check out many blooms, but the ones they routinely return to are the ones yielding generous nectar. Many flowers produce little or no nectar, including some that look to us like good hummingbird flowers. Also, many horticultural hybrids and doubled flowers produce paltry amounts of nectar.

To encourage hummingbirds to remain in your garden, you can grow trees and shrubs for cover. Nectar is only part of their diet. For protein, they regularly eat insects and spiders small enough for their tiny bill so a garden free of insects is not desirable. They also appreciate a place to perch where they can digest, wait for a tasty insect to fly by and keep an eye out for potential rivals. So grab your trowel and lets feed those hummers.(Kevin Cover: Songbirds of Rocky Mountain Foothills. Broad-tailed Hummingbird)

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.


Images: Courtesy and Copyright Jim Cane, Photographer
Text: Linda Kervin, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Hummingbirds and How to Attract Them, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife,

Hummingbirds 101, The Hummingbird Society,

Coro Arizmendi Arriaga, Maria del, Hummingbirds of
Mexico and North America, In Spanish and English, CONABIO, 2014,

Gardening for Hummingbirds
Gardening for Hummingbirds
Gardening for Hummingbirds

Hummingbird Nests

Male Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Selasphorus platycercus
Copyright © 2010 Michael Fish

Glacier Lilies
Erythronium grandiflorum
Copyright © 2010 Andrea Liberatore

Adult Black-chinned Hummingbird
incubating eggs in nest
Archilochus alexandri
Copyright © 2010 Lyle Bingham
(cell phone through spotting scope)

Young Black-chinned Hummingbird
with beak hanging out of nest
Archilochus alexandri
Copyright © 2010 Lyle Bingham

The hummingbird feeders at Stokes Nature Center are a busy place this time of year. Little bullets of metallic green zoom in and out jockeying for position, while others rest or await their turn in the branches of nearby box elder trees. The birds are a great source of wonder and amusement for staff and guests alike.

June signals the start of nesting season for Utah hummingbirds. At this point in the year, the birds have mainly recovered from their lengthy migration from places as far away as Central America, and are ready to focus on their next set of challenges: establishing a territory, courtship, mating, and rearing young.

Hummingbird nests are a wonder all their own. Tiny and cup-like, they are generally found affixed to small branches near riparian areas. Nests are constructed primarily of plant materials and are lined with plant down such as the fluffy seeds produced by cottonwood trees. Materials used on the exterior of the nest vary from species to species. Black-chinned hummingbirds use leaves and flowers, while Broad-tailed hummingbirds are partial to decorating with lichens or shredded bark. Regardless of the exterior appearance, hummingbird nests have one important material in common – spider webs. Hummingbirds collect the webs and use them to plaster the outside of the nest, which serves two important purposes: acting as a glue that holds nest materials together while at the same time providing some flexibility that allows the nest to stretch and grow with the developing young.

Nests are occasionally constructed on the foundation of last year’s home, and two eggs around half-an-inch in length are laid and incubated by the female for about 16 days before hatching. Young will fledge and join their mother at your feeder about 20 days later. If nesting is successful, the family migrates south in the fall and will return to the same general area next May.

Finding food in early spring, however, is becoming more of a challenge each year to hummingbirds in the American West. A recent study published in the journal Ecology shows that hummingbird migrations and spring flower blooms are becoming out of sync. Broad-tailed hummingbirds in particular rely upon the nectar of petite, yellow glacier lilies – one of the first flowers to bloom in spring. Scientists have found that due to global temperature increases glacier lilies are blooming about 17 days earlier than they did in the 1970’s. The birds, however, haven’t altered their migration timing and so often arrive to find the flowers already in full swing. If this trend continues, scientists predict that within the next 20 years, the birds could miss the glacier lily bloom entirely. Hope lies in the hummingbirds’ ability to adapt– either by migrating farther north to places where lilies bloom later, or shifting their own migration time to match the changing bloom dates.

Photos of glacier lilies, Utah hummingbirds, and their nests, can be found on our website, Thank you to the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting the research and development of this Wild About Utah topic.

For the Stokes Nature Center and Wild About Utah, this is Andrea Liberatore.

Images: Courtesy & Copyright 2010 Mike Fish
            Courtesy & Copyright 2010 Andrea Liberatore
            Courtesy & Copyright 2010 Lyle Bingham
Text:     Andrea Liberatore, Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon.

Additional Reading:

Harrison, H. H. (1979) Peterson Field Guides: Western Birds’ Nests. Houghton Mifflin Co: Boston

Ehrlich, P.R., Dobkin, D.S., Wheye, E. (1988) The Birder’s Handbook: a field guide to the natural history of north American birds – The Essential Companion to Your Identification Guide. Simon & Schuster/Fireside Books: New York.

National Science Foundation press release, 05-30-2012, Where Have All the Hummingbirds Gone? Retrieved online at:

Live Webcam of black chinned hummingbird nest:

Nature News, Evolution News and Views, David Klinghoffer, The Genius of Birds: Watch a Hummingbird’s Tongue in Action – See more at:

Coro Arizmendi Arriaga, Maria del, Hummingbirds of
Mexico and North America, In Spanish and English, CONABIO, 2014,

Hummingbirds in Utah

Hummingbird feeding from Corrine Thul’s Hand
Courtesy & Copyright © 2009 Corrine Thul

Holly: Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

Depending on where you are in Utah, fall is just around the corner. Or it may already be here. That means it’s time for many of our Utah birds to migrate south to warmer temperatures and more abundant food sources. Here in Logan Canyon, we’re getting ready to bid farewell to our charismatic little friends, the hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds are a New World phenomenon, living only in the western hemisphere. They are primarily tropical. Of the 330 species we know about, 95% live south of the US-Mexico border. Ecuador has 163 species–more than any other country. Colombia is next with 136 including a new species discovered just 5 years ago. Hummingbirds are known by a number of different names in Spanish including the generic term colibrí, picaflores meaning flower pickers ; and the more poetic term, joyas voladores or “flying jewels.”

In spite of its great size, only 16 different hummingbirds regularly found on the North American continent. Interestingly, –except for the Ruby-throated Hummingbird—all of these species breed west of the Mississippi River.

In Utah—roughly comparable to the size of Ecuador—5 species are regular visitors. Broad-tailed hummingbird and the black-chinned hummingbird are the most common and most widespread. They both overwinter in Mexico.

The calliope hummingbird is also seen in Utah. It is the smallest breeding bird in North America weighing about as much as a penny! The calliope is also the smallest long distant migrant bird in the world traveling up to 5600 miles in a single year. The rufous hummingbird is another long distance migrant seen in Utah, traveling from as far north as Alaska all the way down to central Mexico .

There is some controversy over whether or not you should continue to feed hummingbirds in fall. Some say you should quit feeding by late August or the hummingbirds won’t migrate. This is not true– in fact many hummingbirds begin migrating when their natural food sources are still intact. According to Audubon Society website, in the fall, you should keep your feeders up for two weeks after you see the last bird using it. The tiny birds need to double their body mass before migration, and a bit of extra nectar can only help.

Thanks to the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting the research and development of this Wild About Utah topic.
And thanks to Corrine Thul for supporting both hummingbird conservation and educational programming in Logan Canyon.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.


Image: Courtesy and Copyright 2009 Corrine Thul

Text: Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center

Sources & Additional Reading:

Hummingbirds/Nectar Feeders, National Audubon Society, (accessed September 2, 2009)

Johnsgard, Paul A. 1997.  The Hummingbirds of North America.  Washington DC:  Smithsonian Institution Press.

Klesius, Michael.  2007.  Flight of Fancy.  National Geographic. Vol. 211.  pp. 114-129.

Utah woman has a way with hummingbirds, Daily Herald, July 19, 2009,

Nature News, Evolution News and Views, David Klinghoffer, The Genius of Birds: Watch a Hummingbird’s Tongue in Action – See more at:

Coro Arizmendi Arriaga, Maria del, Hummingbirds of
Mexico and North America, In Spanish and English, CONABIO, 2014,

Coro Arizmendi Arriaga, Maria del, Hummingbirds of
Mexico and North America, In Spanish and English, CONABIO, 2014,