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Attracting hummingbirds – it’s time

Rufous Hummingbird As I stated on this blog about two years ago, I get excited when August rolls around because it represents the unofficial start of fall hummingbird season in Nebraska.  If you have never put out a hummingbird feeder or if you have become frustrated when you did because you never saw a hummingbird, the time is right to give it a try or to try again.  Understanding a few details about Nebraska’s hummingbirds and feeders is important to be successful.  Below, I provide a quick run down of the basics that will help you get started so that you can enjoy hummingbirds in your yard this late summer and early fall and in future years.

  • When: Knowing when hummingbirds occur in your area is one of the key points to understand.  For most of us in Nebraska, now until early October is the best time of year to attract hummingbirds to our yards as these birds leisurely drift south during fall migration.  Hummingbird fall migration generally peaks around 1 September.    Hummingbirds can and do occur in parts of Nebraska during other periods of the year.  Spring migration occurs from mid-April through May, but hummingbirds move through fairly quickly, so any visits will likely be brief.  A few lucky folks that live in far eastern Nebraska near mature woodland may be able to attract Ruby-throated Hummingbirds all summer long, in addition to migration periods.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Male hummingbirds typically move through Nebraska quickly during the early part of fall migration. Most of the hummingbirds we observe by late August will be females or immatures, like this Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

  • What species:  Nebraska has four hummingbird species that occur regularly (annually or nearly so) in the state.  Ruby-throated Hummingbirds occur in eastern and central Nebraska during migration and breed in eastern Nebraska during summer in mature woodlands along major rivers.  Rufous, Broad-tailed and Calliope hummingbirds are western species that occur regularly in far western Nebraska only during fall migration.  Rare out-of-range hummingbirds can and do show up in Nebraska.  Last year, for example, there were documented records of Black-chinned and Costa’s hummingbirds.  We are increasingly observing Rufous Hummingbirds in eastern Nebraska in fall.  Point being, even though there are general patterns of occurrence, hummingbirds do not always follow them, so be ready for surprises.
Nebraska hummingbird ranges

The ranges of Nebraska’s hummingbirds. All maps are generalizations, so hummingbirds can and do occur outside of areas depicted here.

Now that you know the basics about hummingbirds that occur in Nebraska, the next step is to “set the table” so  they will visit your yard.  Specifically this means purchasing, setting-up, and maintaining a hummingbird feeder.  Basic points about feeders and nectar are provided below.

  • Saucer vs. inverted feeders:  There are two basic types of hummingbird feeders, inverted and saucer.  Each have advantages and disadvantages.  I use both types, but I am increasingly favoring saucer feeders because, by design, they do not leak.
  • Ant moats:  Purchasing an ant moat is a good idea to keep ants from reaching and plundering the nectar.  Ant moats are just that, they are typically plastic devices that attach above the hummingbird feeder.  They have a reservoir that you fill with water.  Ants will not cross the moat, so they are unable to access the nectar.
hummingbird feeders

An inexpensive inverted hummingbird feeder (left) and a saucer feeder (right). This particular saucer feeder also has an ant moat. Hummingbirds will readily use both types of feeders.

  • Nectar:  Pre-made nectar mixes with red dye are not necessary and should be avoided.  Making nectar is inexpensive, simple, and easy.  Boil water, add sugar so that you have a mixture that is 4 parts water, 1 part sugar.  Stir the sugar so it is dissolved.  Store in the fridge so it remains relatively fresh.
  • Clean feeders:  Clean feeders every 2-4 days.  It doesn’t take long for biology to occur when you have sugar water sitting outside in summer.
  • Placement:  Place hummingbird feeders out of the line of sight of one another if you have more than one.  Hummingbirds can be territorial and will “guard” feeders, chasing other hummingbirds away.  If one hummingbird can see two feeders, it will guard both and chase newcomers away.
  • Plants:  The incorporation of plants into your landscape will help attract hummingbirds.  This means plants that will be in bloom when hummingbirds are moving through your area (August through early October for most of us).  My favorite plants for hummingbirds will perhaps be the subject of another blog post.
Plants for hummingbirds

Adding flowers to your yard will also help attract hummingbirds. It is not required that you go overboard, as in this photo. Salvias, agastaches and butterfly bushes are good selections that bloom in late summer and early fall when hummingbirds are migrating through Nebraska.

If you’d rather watch, you can check out this little video I created a couple years ago.  Once again, apologies for the cheesy production.

Enjoy hummingbirds this late summer and fall.  As always, if you observe a hummingbird that you can identify, feel free to send me a photo (almost essential hummingbirds) at joel.jorgensen@nebraska.gov

Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

Good humming-birding! Nongame Bird Blog

About Joel Jorgensen

Joel Jorgensen is a Nebraska native and he has been interested in birds just about as long as he has been breathing. He has been NGPC’s Nongame Bird Program Manager for eight years and he works on a array of monitoring, research, regulatory and conservation issues. Nongame birds are the 400 or so species that are not hunted and include the Whooping Crane, Least Tern, Piping Plover, Bald Eagle, and Peregrine Falcon. When not working, he enjoys birding.

8 comments

  1. First year putting out hummingbird feeders and they found it within a week. Nice to see them as we have MANY flowers of various kinds in our backyard and around our backyard pond.

  2. thanks for the reminder to get my feeder back out. I should not use red food coloring in the water, correct?

    • Hi Doug:

      Thanks for the comment. You are correct, food coloring should be avoided. It will not help attract hummingbirds plus the chemicals can be detrimental to hummingbirds’ kidneys. Thanks for reading the Nongame Bird Blog and happy humming-birding!

      -Joel Jorgensen

  3. Great timely post. I’m looking forward to a future ‘best plants for hummers’ post. I had to cut down and kill a trumpet vine (Campsis) that was too close to the house and starting to rip shutters off of the house. But I still feel a little guilty about the nectar loss to hummingbirds, and have been planting other things to replace it.

    • Thanks, Teresa!!!!!!

      Cutting something down is merely an opportunity to plant something in its place. And remember, Bobolinks are indeed neat birds!! Thanks for reading the Nongame Bird Blog!

      -Joel Jorgensen

  4. Thank you for posting this great information on hummers, we’ve had them the past few years, but moved and are north facing so we don’t have many colorful plants in our space, but do have some plants of color nearby, so maybe we will try again this year!

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