Little bird, big personality
How, and why, to attract hummingbirds to your backyard
Ron is the DWR's conservation outreach manager in the Northeastern Region. From wrestling bighorn sheep to banding ospreys, he loves the chance to be part of wildlife projects around the state. In his free time he enjoys traveling and wildlife photography.
I’D IMAGINE employees in most offices don’t spend much time discussing hummingbirds, but I can’t really understand why. In my office, people call and even drop in to talk about hummingbirds.
Why? Because they are fascinating. Hummingbirds are small, colorful, fast, full of attitude and they readily come to you. Well, they come to the “attractor,” or feeder, you’ve placed close to your window for your viewing pleasure.
Hummingbirds are only native to the Americas, and three species are common summer visitors to Utah: the black-chinned, the broad-tailed and the rufus.
They’re also unlike any of Utah’s other birds. These tiny birds range from 2¾ to 4 inches tall and have some of the highest metabolisms in the world, with heart rates around 1,250 beats per minute. At night, their hearts slow to between 50 and 180 beats per minute, which enables them to tolerate some below-freezing temperatures.
Hummingbirds have the unusual ability to hover, or stay in one place in the air. They can also move directly up, down or sideways and rotate in flight.
Not only do they catch spiders for food (they actually get most of their nutrition from insects and spiders), hummingbirds use spider webs to build nests. The silky strands provide a strong, elastic construction material, which not only insulates hummingbird chicks, but also stretches as the chicks grow.
North American hummingbirds are also long distance fliers. Many migrate to and from Mexico, and some rufus hummingbirds fly about 3,900 miles one way from southern Mexico to the southern coast of Alaska. These birds even take long hauls across water, such as the Gulf of Mexico, during their migrations
Hummingbirds schedule their spring migration to take advantage of the blooming flowers. Most reach Utah and the northern states in May or June and stay through August. Males usually arrive before the females so they can set up territories, which they defend from birds, predators and other hummingbirds.
The black-chinned and broad-tailed hummingbirds nest in Utah, but the rufus hummingbird only migrates through on its southbound flight. The earliest of the rufus hummingbirds usually reach Utah around the first of July.
Now that Utah’s tiny visitors are starting to arrive, how can you make sure that you get to watch them? Hummingbirds are easily attracted to nectar feeders. Choose a bright-colored feeder that is easy to clean regularly, and fill it with a mixture of four parts boiling water to one part white cane sugar. The feeder, not the liquid inside, should be colored.
Don’t use food coloring, honey, brown or beet sugar, artificial flavorings, sweeteners or any other additives in your nectar. Most of these cause mold and bacteria to grow, which can kill hummingbirds. Researchers have also found that some vitamin and “nutritional” additives can build up in a hummingbird’s body, causing more harm than good.
Place the feeder somewhere that’s easy to spot, preferably in the afternoon shade. Remember to put it where house cats, hummingbirds’ main predator, will have a tough time sneaking up on the birds.
Planting tube-shaped flowers, hanging multiple feeders and adding perches will improve the attractiveness of your home or office for hummingbirds. Setting up multiple feeding sites will also spread the hummingbirds out so that one bird can’t dominate a viewing area by scaring other birds away.
Expect the birds to have some screaming matches, chases and be aggressive since they will instinctively try to protect their newfound food source.
Hummingbird watching, like other wildlife-related activities, can provide countless hours of enjoyment. These tiny visitors are easy to attract, and are already on their way to Utah!