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Feeding Hummingbirds


I love hummingbirds.  I haven’t done much to attract them to my yard in Maryland, because I have a shaded lot and most of the recommended plants prefer sun.  For selection, the rule of thumb (or humm) is: nectar-producing, tubular flowers like salvias, cardinal flower, beebalm, or the native honeysuckle vines are attractive to hummers, and red is best if you can get it. (See our hummingbird garden handout from our website at behnkes.com.)


Feeding The Hummingbirds Correctly

My neighbor has great success with a hummingbird feeder so I put one up as well and to poach a few from her.  The feeder went out last summer and I was careful to change the solution once a week even though it never seemed to go down much, and I washed the feeder with warm, soapy water in between fillings.  I even mounted it on a red shepherd’s hook because “everyone knows” they are attracted to red.

Nothing. Once in a while a hummingbird would take a look, and then leave.  I discovered late in the season that there was this little plastic cap thing on the feeder that said “remove.”  This blocked the nectar solution from leaving the reservoir to the feeding tubes, so I was attracting the birds to a dry feeder.  No wonder they looked annoyed.

Feeding Hummingbirds on Montserrat

A couple of years ago my brother, my wife and I bought a home on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, a fixer-upper to renovate.  We have a large flowering tree called a Malabar Plum or Plum Rose, that has big, pink powder puff flowers.  (I’ve not seen them for sale as a houseplant.)  This tree attracts hummers and banana birds, bees, and at dusk, Jamaican fruit bats which are very cool in a creepy sort of way.  The hummingbirds also like bougainvillea, which is in bloom most of the year, and the yellow poui tree which blooms for just a few days in spring right after a rainfall.  I’ve also found that if it’s a warm, sunny day, and I am watering large-leafed plants in the garden, hummingbirds land on the wet leaves and roll around and use them as a birdbath.

plum-rosePlum Rose on Montserrat

I’ve tested several different hummingbird feeders on Montserrat and have found a terrific feeder.  The problem I had with the first three that I tried was the wind: it’s usually breezy on the island: sometimes quite windy. Even outside of hurricane season. As the feeder swayed in the wind, the nectar leaked out, which in turn attracted ants, which in turn, are inclined to bite.  This was a real problem, as the feeder could empty out in a couple of hours plus I don’t like getting bitten.

Recommened Hummingbird Feeder

If you have had trouble with leaking hummingbird feeders, I recommend Dr. JB’s Clean Feeder, which Behnke uses to carry, and you can still purchase on Amazon.   It seems to be pretty much spill-proof even in strong breezes, and the hummingbirds visit it regularly.  So I now have several hummingbird plants, the perfect hummingbird feeder, and three species of cool hummingbirds that are adept at feeding on the back side of the feeder nearly every time I get the camera out.  I just have to fly a couple of thousand miles to get there.

by Larry Hurley, Behnke horticulturist

Larry Hurley, perennials specialist for Behnke Nurseries (now retired), started with Behnke’s in1984. Larry enjoys travel, food and photography. He and his wife Carolyn have visited Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Brazil, South Korea and much of Europe. Their home is on a shady lot where a lot of perennials have met their Maker over the years.

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