Weighing in at just two to twenty grams, the hummingbird is the smallest bird in the world. Their name comes from the sound their wings make, a low humming noise that comes from the sound of rapidly beating wings. These birds may be small, but they’re also incredibly fast and are able to fly at an impressive forty-five miles per hour. Because they have a very fast metabolism, they require more nutrients than other species of birds. But how do hummingbirds find feeders and how are they able to return to the same yards year after year? Do hummingbirds have a long memory? Let’s learn more.

The Hummingbird’s Extremely Fast Metabolism

This species of bird has incredible vision and is able to remember the best places to find food. These birds are known to look for bright colors, which is a great indicator of a high-sugar source of food. Their diet mainly consists of small insects and nectar. They’re able to pick insects from the leaves of plants and trees, using a method that’s known as gleaning. This bird also uses a skill called hawking, which it uses to catch small insects out of the air.

The bird will rely on both taste and vision when it’s searching for food and is typically attracted by bright colors such as pinks, yellows, and reds. Flowers that possess the most nectar are usually very bright in color, especially orange and red flowers. Both of these colors will work to attract this species, even when the bird is flying over at top speed. For most of these birds, the best flowers to feed on are tubular and long and point or hang downward. This allows the bird to hover as they eat so they can easily gain access to the nectar. As I mentioned earlier, they have excellent vision, so they’re able to see insects and flowers that most people and other animals would not even notice. But their memory is also excellent, allowing them to identify locations where they’ve eaten in the past using landmarks.

Feeding

These birds are considered very solitary creatures since there is plenty of competition for food. The flowers of choice contain around twenty-six percent of sugar, which is about twice the amount of sugar you’ll find in soda. This nectar is also much thinner in consistency, which will make it very easy for the bird to suck down the nectar.

The unique shape of their beak will allow them to reach deep down into tubular-shaped flowers. Yet, they use a very long tongue to lap up the nectar. Even their tongues move very fast, allowing them to lick up to thirteen times in one second.

How to Appeal to Hummingbirds

Female Anna's
A female Anna’s hummingbird drinks from a feeder

There are seventeen species of hummingbirds in the United States and over three hundred species of hummingbirds total. Most of these birds will migrate, with a season that lasts from spring through summer. Learning how to attract this species to your yard is simple enough. Not only should you purchase the best hummingbird feeders and hang them in locations that will keep them safe from predators such as cats, but you should also buy the types of plants they prefer, which will also give them a nice place to hunt insects and rest.

I recommend purchasing the following plants:

  • Columbine
  • Petunia
  • Impatiens
  • Honeysuckle
  • Coralbells
  • Trumpet vine
  • Trumpet creeper
  • Cardinal flower
  • Bee balm

If you decide to hang a nectar feeder, make sure you whip up your own nectar solution from a trusted recipe, or you can purchase nectar that’s safe for these birds. While it’s true that they are very attracted to the color red, avoid adding any red food dye to the nectar. You can always opt for purchasing a red feeder instead. Avoid using sugar substitutes and make sure you stay on top of feeder maintenance, cleaning out and refilling the feeders one to two times a week. If the solution smells fermented or becomes cloudy, this means that it’s spoiled and should be dumped out and replaced.

Claiming Territory

These birds don’t normally travel in a flock, however, they do tend to congregate in large numbers in areas where food is abundant. This type of gathering is often more common before the peak migration period when these birds gain weight in fat stores that they’ll rely on for their migration fuel. It’s totally possible to have dozens of hummingbirds feeding at one time, at a reliable, established feeding station.

However, when a large number of these birds gather in one area, they tend to become aggressive and territorial. The dominant hummingbirds may even scare other birds away and prevent them from feeding. Hummingbird stations that are designed correctly will be able to accommodate dozens of these birds and will work to reduce fighting and aggression, allowing all birds to feed freely.

Setting Up Your Yard to Make Feeders Easier to Find

Hummingbird

In order to attract more birds to your yard, you can try using a variety of tactics, especially if your goal is to have a large flock visit before migration.

To start, buy multiple feeders. This will provide more space for the birds to feed. These feeders can also be combined in groups in order to attract a bird’s attention. Make several feeding stations that have multiple feeders. While it’s true that a bird may defend a single feeder, if there are multiple feeders per station, it will be less likely to feel the need to defend all of them. This will allow more birds to safely feed in your yard, without the fear of fighting and aggression.

You should also purchase larger feeders. This type of bird feeder is available in a variety of styles, shapes, and sizes. Using larger models that come equipped with bigger reservoirs and more feeding ports will allow more birds to eat at once, while also cutting down on how often you have to refill the feeders. Some feeders should be positioned for hovering birds, while others should come equipped with perches.

Not all birds will prefer the same style of feeder. If you’re an observant birder, take note of the types of feeders your visitors seem to prefer and empty out more often. This way, you can get rid of the unpopular feeders in favor of the types that are more attractive to the birds. This will cause an increase in the number of visitors you get each day.

If the feeders are not placed correctly, then they will not attract birds, regardless of how many you have in your yard. A feeder should be positioned in a way that allows it to catch some light, which will cause the red nectar to catch reflections, which will alert curious birds and cause them to come investigate. The feeder should also be positioned  in a safe area, which will also make them more appealing. When the feeder is positioned to catch the light, it will make the feeder significantly easier for the bird to find.

Safety

Unfortunately, the nectar is very attractive to wasps and bees and these large stinging insects can be dangerous to the birds. If your feeders are covered with insects, this will cause the birds to stay away. The praying mantis is a predator of the hummingbird and will perch on and around the feeders in the hopes of hunting and catching a bird. Ensuring that your feeders are insect-free will make them more attractive to hungry birds.

The feeders should be kept clean and fresh to make the nectar more attractive. A bird will stay away if the feeder is full of mold, debris, is clogged, or if the nectar tastes sour. Keeping the outside of each of your feeders clean and sparkling will make it easier for a bird to locate one.

Other Feeder Tips

If you’ve followed the tips I’ve included here and you’re still not receiving any or very many visitors, then you may need to try other techniques that will make it easier for a bird to locate the feeders and make your yard look more appealing.

Try the following tips:

  • Add more colorful flowers in your yard, surrounding your feeders. This will make them easier to spot.
  • Avoid using any type of insecticide that will kill the types of insects hummingbirds eat.
  • Paint lawn furniture or add gazing balls to make your yard highly visible and attractive to these birds.
  • Make sure your yard offers perches and shelter for the birds so they can stay nearby.

To learn more, click here to read my article on the best time to put out hummingbird feeders.

Final Thoughts

So, how do hummingbirds find feeders? These birds have excellent vision and tend to locate feeders based on the color of the feeder and the color of the nectar. These birds are attracted to bright colors, because these colors indicate a higher sugar content. By adding more color to your yard using red and orange and positioning your feeders correctly, you can easily catch the eye of a passing hummingbird and encourage them and other local birds to continue to visit your yard, season after season.