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Desert Gardening

Attracting Hummingbirds in Arizona


hummingbird's fast-moving wings and rapid heartbeat are fueled by a steady supply of calories from pollen and insects. Their tiny size also gives them an advantage in accessing the interior areas of bushy plants that larger birds can't reach. 

Their small size and voracious appetite make hummingbirds a fantastic resource for gardeners. Not only are they helping you create a productive garden through pollination, they are also providing free and natural pest control. 

Insect populations securely hidden away from larger species of birds are not safe from the tiny, probing beak of a hungry hummingbird. 

Arizona Hummingbird Species

Arizona is home to about 16 different species of hummingbirds, which equates to a diverse range for Arizonians to enjoy. Some are permanent residents, while the rest are migratory species sharing their time between south-eastern Arizona and Central and South America. 

You can see hummingbirds at any time throughout the year, but many of them are passing through on their way to breeding grounds. 

Hummingbirds are tiny, incredibly active little creatures, who spend most of their days hovering around blooming flowers in their never-ending search for sustenance. 

The most common species is Anna's hummingbird, which is a permanent resident and a regular site in Phoenix and Tucson. 

The black-chinned hummingbird population is most dense in southeast Arizona. They migrate to Phoenix to breed during summer but prefer to spend their winters in Mexico. You will see them arrive in Arizona from late spring as early as March and move on during fall. 

You will also see white-eared hummingbirds touring the state, mostly around the Madrean Sky Islands in the southeast of Arizona during summer. 

Broad-billed hummingbirds will start arriving in numbers around late March to early April and leave during September and October. They are a regular site during spring and summer around the Santa Cruz River area, mostly around riparian woodlands and mesquite washes. 

Lucifer hummingbirds are a rarer site, but you can spot them during March and early April when they start arriving for the breeding season. In early fall, they will migrate to western Mexico for the winter. Look for them near Portal, Arizona, Ash and Cave Creek Canyons, Mule, Santa Rita Mountains, and Chiricahua. 

An even rarer sight is the Allen's hummingbird, which you might see during the spring and fall migration in the south-eastern Arizona areas like Miller Canyon, Madera Canyon, and Patagonia. 

Why Arizona Hosts a Diverse Variety of Hummingbirds

Arizona has unique environmental and ecological factors which combine to create suitable habitats for a wide variety of hummingbird species. The wild areas of Arizona provide ample supplies of nesting materials and food along their usual migratory routes. 

We cannot ignore the human influence, which also plays a major role in attracting hummingbirds to suburban areas around Arizona. Bird feeders and pollen producing flower gardens produce a veritable smorgasbord of food for these tiny but voracious feeders. 

The busiest times for hummingbirds are around August, as the birds descend on southeast Arizona during the peak of migration season. 

The Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Madre of Mexico, Chihuahua, and the Mojave and Sonoran deserts create an ecosystem and topology that is suited to the feeding and migratory habits of the many hummingbird varieties. 

Best Plants to Attract Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are attracted to areas where they are likely to find plenty of sustenance. Their fast metabolisms require an endless supply of calories, so heavy pollinators are the most likely varieties to attract hummingbirds to your Arizona garden. 

Hummingbirds are native to Arizona, so some of the best plants to attract them to your garden are Arizona natives. For example, chuparosa (hummingbird bush) is an excellent plant to add to your garden if you want hummingbirds to nest during breeding season. 

A hummingbird will consume nearly its entire body weight in sugar every day. Such a high demand for calories means the little birds need to visit more than 100 flowers a day to get their fill. A variety of tiny insects also make up a decent portion of the hummingbird's diet.  

They don't waste their time with just any flowers though and will stick to the ones they know have nectar with at least a 25% sugar content. As you can see, if you want hummingbirds to be a regular sight around your garden, you need to have specific plant varieties they love, and lots of them. 

Tube-like flowers are a favorite food source for hummingbirds, with darker varieties like reds, oranges, dark pinks, and fuchsia most likely to attract them. 

Autumn sage is an easy-care plant that hummingbirds love. Pentas are an annual tubular plant and butterflies love them too.

Here are a few more plants you can add to your garden to attract hummingbirds. 

  • Baja Ruellia - Evergreen shrub that produces a dense covering of deep blue to purple tubular flowers.
  • Lantana - Heat tolerant with dense clusters of orange, bright red, and yellow flowers that bloom from spring to fall.
  • Orange Cape Honeysuckles - A dense, woody, evergreen shrub producing clusters of small orange and red trumpet shaped flowers. 
  • Mexican Honeysuckle - An evergreen with lush foliage that produces clusters of orange tubular flowers. 
  • Agastache - A herbaceous perennial producing flowery spikes of licorice scented foliage.
  • Firecracker Bush - A semi-evergreen perennial with long, drooping, rush-like stems supporting small tubular, scarlet-colored flowers resembling small firecrackers. Mexican Flame Vine - Dark green foliage punctuated with bursts of bright orange and red flowers. Grows well on trellises. 
  • Red Bird of Paradise - A favorite bushy shrub with long stems ending in clusters of bright red flowers. 
  • Elf Aloe - An evergreen succulent that loves the heat and blooms with orange tubular flowers the hummingbirds love.

Practice Dead Heading

You can extend and enhance the blooming period of your plants with a practice known as deadheading. 

It's a straightforward process that involves keeping an eye on your plants and regularly removing wilted blossoms and seed heads to encourage fresh growth. 

Creating a Hummingbird Haven

A variety of brightly colored flowering plants isn't the only way to attract hummingbirds to your garden. Here are a few more tips and tricks to get these little beauties to stop by your backyard. 

Add a Hummingbird Feeder

If you lack the room to grow lots of different hummingbird attracting flowers, you can supplement their diet with a hummingbird feeder. A hummingbird feed will get best results when simulate the 25% sugar / nectar ratio by mixing 1 cup of sugar with 4 cups of water. 

You will often hear a tip that tells you to dye your hummingbird mixture red, but this isn't necessary and may actually be harmful. 

Keep your hummingbird feeders clean by emptying and washing it at least once a week during winter. The sugary mix on warm days can be a haven for bacteria, so it will require more regular cleaning during spring and summer. 

Hummingbirds can get quite territorial and protective over a feeder which can cause fights if you have only one. Avoid confrontations by ensuring there are a few hummingbird feeders spread around your yard. 

Stop Using Pesticides and Encourage Insects

Hummingbirds supplement their high sugar diet with protein rich insects. If you use insecticides around your garden, then the little hummers will have less reason to frequently traffic your backyard. 

Leave old spiderwebs intact. Hummingbirds will use old spiderwebs to create their nests and glue everything together. 

A few of the insects that hummingbirds prey on include:

  • Ants
  • Aphids
  • Beetles
  • Gnats
  • Spider
  • Wasps
  • Mites
  • Weevils

The long, thin bills of a hummingbird prevent it from devouring larger insects, so their diet is limited to tiny varieties they can swallow whole. 

Allow your grass to grow a little longer than usual to foster a habitat suitable for gnats and other small, flying insects. 

Fruit trees and berry bushes are also a haven for small insects. When you harvest the fruit, be sure to leave a few behind and the insect population will provide a convenient meal for any hummingbirds in the area. 

Hang a plate with cut fruit in a convenient location. A smorgasbord of cut bananas, oranges, and melons will attract a swarm of hungry insects the hummingbirds are sure to appreciate. 

Some Arizona gardeners attract a buffet of insects by creating a 'fruit slurry.' This sickly-sweet concoction is created with fruit syrup from a can, hummingbird nectar from the recipe above, brownie batter, cake or pancake mix, or anything else you can find that's sweet, sticky, and gooey. 

Find a suitable tree branch and coat it with the fruit slurry. Pretty soon your tree branch will be swarming with insects which the hummingbirds will not be able to ignore. 

Enjoy Your Little Hummingbird Friends

Hummingbirds are fascinating creatures and having them visit your garden regularly is a spectacle worth watching. Create hummingbird havens in areas where you can quietly view your little friends going about their business without disturbing them. Encourage even more visits with strategies to attract the insects they love to feed on and supplement their diet with a few well-placed hummingbird feeders. The extra work you do in attracting hummingbirds will pay for itself in the benefits they provide through insect control and pollination for a more productive garden.