Texas Hummingbird Roundup: Hummingbird Garden Tips
Historically, hummingbirds are mountain species. Many natural historians believe hummingbirds originated in the mountains of equatorial America and dispersed north and south. Today, the greatest hummingbird diversity can be found in the mountains of equatorial America, a region characterized by thick forested areas with heavy shelter. This should tell us something about the shelter needed by these birds in the most effective hummingbird gardens.
Mature trees with a thick canopy are important nesting and escape features the birds will use in your garden. Shrubs, bushes and perennials not only provide food if the flower is one they will use but will also provide perching sites and, in some cases, escape features the bird will use.
If you are starting with the typical new suburban landscape in a subdivision, you will have to establish a good number of both tall and short trees as well as some under story if the birds are going to find the shelter they need in your garden. Almost any good native tree will do. Try to find a plant native to your area of the state. Trees take a while to grow so patience will be important.
If you are starting with native ground that has not been cleared, you have a little bit of an advantage. Before building, survey your property carefully and select the trees that you will save as shelter for not only hummingbirds, but for wildlife in general in your garden.
Feeding hummingbirds is a hobby enjoyed by thousands in Texas every year, but the best hummingbird feeders are those the birds would naturally use in their native environments. The biggest source of energy for these birds has always been nectar from plants – essentially a sugar water syrup with a very few trace elements. Planting hummingbird friendly plants around your garden is one sure way to attract these birds to your back yard. Try to select plants native to your region. For assistance in this, see Texas Wildscapes or Hummingbirds of Texas.
Typical hummingbird-friendly plants are going to have flowers that are:
- Trumpet shaped
- Long necked
- Good nectar producers
- Bright colored, usually red
- Long blooming
While some non-native plants may do well in your garden, we would urge you to consider the impact these plants may have on our native Texas landscape and our native plants.
The nectar needs of these birds can be supplemented by a clean, well maintained hummingbird feeder. The best feeders are going to be:
- Easily assembled and disassembled for cleaning
- Free of sharp corners or other small areas where mould and bacteria can collect
Feeders with a perch often offer the best opportunities for these birds to accumulate needed fat reserves before and during migration. Feeders without perches allow the birds to show off some of their unique flying abilities including hovering, flying backwards and maneuvering side to side.
Feeders should be cleaned at least every six days in the cooler periods and as frequently as every day during extreme heat. Any time the temperature is consistently above 80 degrees during the day, feeders should be changed every other day. This prevents spoilage of the syrup. To clean the feeders:
- Discard old food
- Rinse the feeders well with a good strong stream of water
- Refill with simple sugar syrup (see below)
It does not hurt to wash the feeder with soap and water, or even occasionally with a mild bleach solution, but if you do so please be sure to rinse the feeder well, and to allow it to completely dry before refilling it.
New syrup is easily made by mixing 4 parts water with 1 part of plain table sugar. Boiling the water before mixing the ingredients will slow spoilage. Boiling the water with the sugar in it results in a mix whose sugar concentration is unknown but is probably stronger than the 20% sugar solution above. No substitutes should be used for plain table sugar. Red food color is not needed.
Honey should never be used in place of sugar. Honey poses several bacterial and fungal threats to birds including botulism, candiasis, and others. When using sucrose, some of these threats still exist, but to a much less critical potential than when honey is used.
Hummingbirds also feed heavily on insects, securing their protein and most of their vitamin and mineral demands from this source. To provide a garden rich in the needs of these birds, avoid the use of insecticides anywhere near your hummingbird garden.
Despite the fact that their principle food is primarily water based, hummingbirds do require water for refreshment, bathing and drinking as part of their habitat. This should not be surprising. Most of our food is primarily water based and yet we require water as a habitat feature.
The best water for hummingbirds is moving water. Misters are a primary tool among hummingbird enthusiasts. These are a device that emits a fine mist of water when attached to a garden hose. Placing a mister so that the mist falls against the foliage of a tree or plant will create a situation where hummingbirds have multiple opportunities to use the feature – flying through the mist, possibly drinking as they go, bathing in the leaves of the tree, drinking from the leaves, or even perching in the tree to cool off in the spray.
Another good source of hummingbird water is a dripper – simply a hose with a tight valve that allows a very slow, rhythmic drip into a reservoir of water. These are often attached to bird baths. Hummingbirds may drink from either the drip or the reservoir and will occasionally bathe in the reservoir.
Birdbaths often require modification to make them shallow enough for hummingbirds. Still water should be emptied daily to prevent mosquitoes.