Attracting Anna’s Hummingbirds

Sonoma County hummingbird

By Lisa Hug

All of us have had the experience of watching hummingbirds at feeders and been mesmerized by their beauty and antics.  The most common hummingbird of our area is the Anna’s Hummingbird.  The male Anna’s Hummingbird can be recognized by its amazing iridescent hot magenta throat and head.  The female is less colorful but no less charming. The Anna’s Hummingbird was named after the duchess of Rivoli, Anna de Belle Masséna in 1829.

Hummingbird nests are difficult to spot.

Surprisingly, these little jewels nest in the cold, wet winter months rather than the warmer spring months that most birds utilize.  Only the female builds the nest – a tiny cup made from downy cat-tail or willow fibers and similar materials. It is adorned with lichens, mosses and sometimes pieces of bark for camouflage. It is held together with flexible spider webs and insect cocoon fibers.  The nest is built just large enough to hold two or three tiny eggs (about an inch in inner diameter).  But, as the nestlings grow, the nest can expand and become large enough to hold 3 nestlings nearly the size of the adult.

These nests are often camouflaged in the bushes and difficult to see.  When pruning, be aware of the behavior of hummingbirds around you.  If one seems unusually agitated nearby, look deeper inside the bush you are about to prune.  Search for a swelling on a branch – about 2 inches high and equally wide. This might be the object of its discontent – its nest.   Once found, you can watch this nest as the eggs hatch and nestlings mature over about a six-week period.  It’s a magical experience.  And, speaking of pruning, it is also a good idea to leave a few exposed branches in your pruned shrubs for the male to perch upon and guard his territory.

Hummingbirds primarily drink nectar for food and will supplement their diet with insects for protein.  They can sometimes be seen plucking insects out of spider webs. Their favorite flower in nature is the gooseberry Ribes speciosum, which flourishes in the chaparral –covered hills of California.

There are a number of plants that you can grow in your garden to attract Anna’s Hummingbirds.  Try planting red-hot-poker (Tritoma), lantana, fuchsias, red-flowering currant, columbines, coral bells, penstamen and salvias.  Some useful trees are black locust, flowering crabapple, and hawthorn.

Anna’s Hummingbirds are also attracted to water.  They will hover around a bird bath and will sometimes play in the moving water in fountains.

If you do not have the space for a garden, you can still attract hummingbirds with a feeder and an artificial nectar solution.  Mix one part sugar with four parts water and boil for at least 30 seconds.  Cover and let the solution cool before filling the feeder and hanging it outdoors.

It is extremely important to keep feeders clean and the nectar fresh.  The solution should be changed every few days in cool weather, and every day in extremely hot weather.  Always rinse the feeder with hot tap water and vinegar, when you change the solution.  Inspect the feeder for any black mold growth around feeding holes and scrub these areas with a little brush.

We are so lucky to have these beautiful birds in our area year-round.  Be sure to enjoy and protect these feisty, animated visitors to your garden.

Share with your friends!