A well-planned hummingbird garden will fulfill a bird’s basic needs (food, water, shelter, space) and in turn, provide you with hours of enjoyment, entertainment, and connection with nature!
Along with being super cute and fascinating to watch, hummingbirds are remarkable avian pollinators. Their ability to hover and move rapidly from flower to flower along with their long, slender bills for extracting nectar makes these tiny birds extremely efficient in their craft. As hummingbirds feed, pollen gets transferred from the flower’s male reproductive organs to the stigma, promoting cross-pollination.
Local Hummingbirds in the Pacific Northwest
There are eight different kinds of hummingbirds that live in Oregon, but there are two species that we see in the Portland metropolitan area: Anna’s and Rufous. The Anna’s hummingbird is a year-round resident all along the west coast and inland to southwest Arizona. It is one of the earliest breeding birds, often laying its eggs as early as December and as late as June (a hummingbird egg is about half the size of a jellybean). It is larger and greener than the Rufous; the male has a bright, iridescent red forehead and throat. Rufous hummingbirds migrate to Mexico in winter and return to our area each summer around June.
Male Anna’s Hummingbird
Male Rufous Hummingbird
Female Anna’s Hummingbird
Female Rufous Hummingbird
Food Sources for Hummingbirds
It’s best to avoid using pesticides and herbicides—these can eliminate insects which are a major food source for these small birds, and hummingbirds are extremely sensitive to chemicals!
Flowers & Nectar
It is critical to have something flowering during all times of the year to support a large, healthy hummingbird population. Hummingbirds are captivated by red, orange, purple, and white flowers. They prefer tubular, funnel-shaped, or cup-shaped flowers for easier access to nectar—perch support is a bonus.
In addition to nectar, insects account for a great deal of hummingbird diets during winter, early spring, and blooming lulls. Insects are also important during the nesting season. Most of a nestling’s diet consists of insects, which provide vital protein and fat critical for growth. Eventually, nectar brought by the mother becomes the bulk of a young hummingbird diet. Lastly, insects help sustain the Rufous during its long migration back to Mexico, filling in gaps between nectar stops.
The average hummingbird consumes half its weight in sugar each day! Feeders can help sustain them through the year.
- Use 1 part white sugar with 4 parts water. Never use honey or artificial sweeteners in your feeder—only use white sugar. Food coloring is also unnecessary!
- Bring water to a boil and stir sugar until dissolved; let cool and add to feeder.
- Store extra in refrigerator 1–2 weeks.
- Change and clean your feeder at least once per week.
- Keep nectar from freezing in winter by wrapping feeder with holiday lights, taping a hand-warmer to side, or bringing it in at night.
Providing Water for Hummingbirds
Water features such as shallow bird baths, fountains, ponds, streams, and sprinklers help support hummingbirds. Since they don’t have knees, these birds can’t walk or crouch down into deep bird baths, nor can they swim. They prefer to wet their feathers by flying through falling water or gentle sprays, and often dart through wet shrubs for a quick “shower”.
Shelter & Habitat for Hummingbirds
Evergreen, coniferous plants including thickets, hedges, and dense shrubs provide critical habitat for hummingbird nesting, while tall, deciduous trees and shrubs offer places to perch for safety and rest. Tomato cages are a favorite perching spot as well.
Selecting Plants to Attract Hummingbirds
A successful hummingbird garden has layering and diversity. A well-layered garden with various types of plants is not only aesthetically pleasing, it’s also more attractive and accessible to hummingbirds! Despite being precise flyers, these tiny birds still need space to maneuver through foliage. It’s also best to use native plants in your garden whenever possible.
*indicates PNW-native plants
Shrubs for Hummingbirds
Azalea*, Butterfly Bush, Camellia sasanqua, Ceanothus*, Flowering Quince, Hardy Fuchsia, Hibiscus, Lilac, Oregon Grape* (Berberis/Mahonia), Pieris japonica, Red-Flowering Currant* (flowers and berries), Spiraea*, Weigela
Vines for Hummingbirds
Scarlet Runner Bean (annual), Morning Glory (annual), Trumpet Vine, Jasmine, Honeysuckle*
Perennials for Hummingbirds
Abutilon (Flowering Maple), Agastache, Bee Balm, Bleeding Heart*, Cape Fuchsia, Catmint, Columbine*, Coral Bells*, Hosta, Hardy Fuchsia, Lavender, Lobelia, Oregano, Penstemon*, Pulmonaria, Salvia (Hot Lips, Black & Blue)
Annuals & Tender Perennials for Hummingbirds
Calendula, Cerinthe, Cuphea, Fuchsia, Lantana, Nicotiana, Zinnias, and so much more!
This list is just a starting point and includes many of our favorite plants to support hummingbirds in your garden or landscape!