By Jessica Sullivan
GAINESVILLE — One of my favorite pollinators are hummingbirds. They are easy to attract. All you need are the right nectar plants. Hummingbirds have regular feeding routes, and will come around just long enough to sip some nectar at each plant, and then they are on to the next nectar stop. “My” hummingbirds stop through a few times a day, and I usually spot them only because I hear the buzz of their wings as they zoom by, and sometimes their tiny, high-pitched chirps when they talk to each other.
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird overwinters in Mexico or South America, and migrates here in spring (start looking for them in February). Some of them stay in South Florida year-round. These spunky little birds are most abundant here during their breeding season in June-July. They usually make their nests on top of tree branches at least 10 feet off of the ground. They weave nests together with spider webs; this allows the nest to stretch as the babies grow! Nests are lined with silky plant fibers inside, and covered with lichens on the outside, providing excellent camouflage.
To bring hummingbirds to your yard, you’ll need to plant flowers they like. Hummingbirds are attracted to trumpet-shaped flowers, especially red ones. They also eat small insects like aphids and mosquitoes. Some of my favorite hummingbird plants are: cross vine (Bignonia capreolata), native firebush (Hamelia patens var. patens), native scarlet salvia (Salvia coccinea), and coralbean (Erythrina herbacea).
I don’t recommend using hummingbird feeders, because sugar water doesn’t provide the beneficial nutrients the birds need, and can quickly grow toxic bacteria in Florida’s heat.
Male hummingbirds are territorial, and will chase each other off from food sources, so it’s ideal to have nectar plants in different places around the landscape to allow multiple hummingbirds to feed at the same time. Good bird habitats should also have fresh water. Place a shallow birdbath in the shade and keep birds healthy by changing water daily.
By adding only a few extra plants in your landscape, you can attract one of Florida’s most entertaining and beautiful birds. For information about attracting pollinators and other wildlife to your farm or landscape, contact your local extension office.