Hummingbird Haven: Pint-sized birds represent potential profits

March 26, 2008
Written by Andrew Hind and Maria Da Silva
march-april-2008People are fascinated by hummingbirds. They love looking up at the sound of a high-pitched buzzing to see one of these pint-sized marvels zooming in to drink from a feeder, and are enthralled by the antics of males – doing figure-eights and loop-de-loops – as they attempt to impress potential mates. It seems that people can’t help but love their beauty and
hyperactive antics.

Our almost universal love affair with hummingbirds represents potential profits for garden centres. People want to attract these aerobatic birds to their yards and staff at garden centres need to know how to sell the vision. The payoff for the time educating yourself and your employees could be hundreds of dollars for even a single small garden given over to hummingbirds.

Most attempts to attract hummingbirds begin with commercial feeders. It’s a good start, but it’s not nearly enough. To successfully attract them to a yard, you need to create a hummingbird haven. That doesn’t necessarily mean the entire garden has to be made over to these little birds, but it does mean it should provide an environment
favourable to their habits.

Hummingbirds have a high metabolism and need to feed constantly to fuel their fast little bodies. Even with feeders available, they still rely on flowers for the majority of their food. That’s where a garden dedicated to their specific needs comes in.

“Hummingbirds, as well as butterflies and bees, feed on the nectar of various flowers and flowering shrubs, preferring brightly coloured tubular-shaped blooms, such as fuchsias and trumpet vines,” says Maria Nicolussi, a registered horticulturalist and landscape design consultant. Nicolussi is co-owner of Blue Willow Garden and Landscape Center, famous for its butterfly conservatory, one of only a handful in existence in Ontario. “Red plants are the most likely to attract hummingbirds, but bright orange and purple seem to work as well. It’s all about colour with hummingbirds – the brighter the flower, the more likely it is to be noticed.”

hummingbird2   hummingbird3
Hummingbird feeders help fuel the tiny birds.   Shrubs like rhododendron in bright red draw in hummingbirds.
hummingbird4   hummingbird5
Gardens near a deck or patio allow for a great place to watch the birds.  
A birdbath is the perfect spot for hummingbirds to drink and bathe.


It’s interesting to note that because of their unique feeding habits, hummingbirds actually help pollinate gardens. While drinking nectar, their heads get dusted with flower pollen, which they then transfer to other plants, allowing the plants to bloom. As a result, in addition to any pleasure they might bring, attracting hummingbirds to your yard makes practical sense. People hoping to entice hummingbirds to stay within their yard all season should have a sizable garden to keep them fed, consisting of a variety of nectar-producing flowers that bloom at different times throughout the year. Otherwise, hummingbirds may have to venture farther afield in search of sustenance.

There is a range of plants you can have in your garden that are sure to attract hummingbirds. Appropriate shrubs also include rhododendron, spirea, and weigela, while honeysuckle vines are also surefire magnets for hummingbirds. In addition to the aforementioned fuchsia and trumpet vines, other perennials to try include asters, bee balm, cardinal flowers, ‘Casablanca’ lilies, columbine, coneflowers, delphiniums, lupines, obedient plants, penstemon, and phlox. Finally, some annuals, notably salvia, nicotiana, and verbena, also prove captivating to pollinators.

Creating a welcoming habitat for hummingbirds involves more than merely selecting the right plants. It’s also about design. “Hummingbirds like freshwater for bathing and drinking, so you should have a birdbath in the garden,” advises Maria Nicolussi. “And to attract them, as well as feed them between bloom cycles of your flowers, you should have a variety of hummingbird feeders as well.”

When designing a hummingbird garden, large clusters of hummingbird-friendly flowers of the same colour should be planted together. Concentrating colour in this manner will make it easier for hummingbirds to identify a meal, much like the neon signs that attract us to fast-food restaurants. A common layout for a small, hummingbird patch could centre around a pair of butterfly bushes. In front and between the two shrubs would be a mass of coneflowers, serving as intermediary height plants. Finally, spread among both the coneflowers and butterfly bushes would be patches of columbine, asters, lobelia, or salvia. Vertical interest can be provided by fuchsia baskets hanging from shepherd’s crooks.

Because hummingbirds are able to fly up to 60 miles per hour, in flight they appear as nothing more than a burst of colour buzzing past. It seems the only time these birds sit still is when they’re feeding. Therefore, in order to fully appreciate them, hummingbird gardens should be located alongside a porch, deck, or patio – someplace where you can sit and admire them as they feed.

The must-have hummingbird elements all add up: shrubs and flowers, hanging baskets, birdfeeders, birdbaths, a shepherd’s crook or two, soils and fertilizers and perhaps even a bench from which to watch these pint-sized marvels. Combined, these all amount to a lot of money.

It’s easy to see how just a small, specially designed hummingbird garden can result in big profits for a garden centre.

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