Hummingbirds as pollinators

Hummingbirds are great pollinators, indeed often a major source of pollination for a variety of flowers, shrubs and trees. In fact according to the Forest Service, “In the continental United States, hummingbirds are key in wildflower pollination.” In other countries and in Hawaii other species of birds are important pollinators.

Jill wrote a great article on National Pollinator’s Week just below and I want to follow-up with a focus on hummingbirds as pollinators.

As shown in these photos hummingbirds really ‘get into’ their work by putting their bills deep inside of tubular shaped flowers like the agastache (often known as Beard-Tongue) plant shown. Of course the hummer is after the nectar in the flower but as it sips away it also gets the pollen in the flower on it and then when it goes to other flowers it transfers the pollen. This video clip shows a hummer in action as it moves from one agastache flower to the next, sipping nectar and transferring pollen.

Attracting hummingbirds to your yard usually requires more than just putting out a hummingbird feeder as they come to these to supplement the nectar they get from flowering plants. They need good habitat that provides not only some shade and shelter but the possibility of nesting. And they need tiny insects such as spiders that are important sources of protein they need and that they feed to their babies.

Good native plants that provide nectar for hummers include trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), scarlet beebalm (Monarda didyma), lemon beebalm (Monarda citriodora), wild bergamont (Monarda fisulosa), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), and trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans), columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) as well as native salvias (but be aware most commercial growers use non-native salvia).

Other plantings for hummers include trees and shrubs with an emphasis on creating layers of plantings. As Jill noted, it is important to avoid pesticides whenever possible. Not only can pesticides directly harm hummers but they kill the small spiders and other insects that hummers need to satisfy their protein needs.

Did you know that even if hummers only migrate through your area you can be a big help to them by providing migratory stop-over habitat? This is very important especially these days when large parts of the country are in drought conditions with limited native plants to provide the nectar that hummers need for their journey. So help out a hummer by providing not only a hummingbird feeder but native nectar plants and a good habitat for them to find shelter and insects for protein.

Are you a hummer helper?

    • says

      Bees can overwhelm hummingbird feeders, a problem I have also faced. Cornell Lab of Orthithology recommends:
      “You can buy a hummingbird feeder with bee guards, made of plastic mesh, that keeps bees and wasps away from the feeding port. An even better defense is to buy a saucer-shaped feeder, from which the birds feed through ports in the top. This type is inherently bee- and wasp-proof because the syrup level is usually too low for insects to reach, but easily in range of the shortest hummingbird tongues.

      If the insects persist, try moving the feeder. They may never find it in its new location, whereas the hummingbirds will quickly find it again. If that doesn’t work, take the feeder down for a day or two, until you stop seeing bees and wasps looking for it. The hummingbirds will look for it, too, but they won’t give up nearly as soon as the insects will.”

      I’ve tried moving the feeder around my yard. When the bees refound it I just moved it again. I am planning to switch to a saucer type feeder.

  1. Eve says

    Do the organic pest killers harm hummers? What about Neem? Is it safe to use on plants that hummers might feed from? Sometimes you have to use something to kill pests before they kill the plant.

    • says

      In general organic insecticides do not present problems as serious as the non-organic. That said, it a product kills insects it may kill all insects that it comes in contact with including the small spiders, etc that hummingbirds need to eat. So there is a risk that there won’t be insect protein to meet their needs plus the possibility that they eat insects exposed to insecticide that might result in secondary poisoning. So it is still very important to be careful in using even organic pesticides.

      Neem oil is one of the less risky pesticides. Per EPA “Only insects that feed directly on treated plant foliage or roots will be directly exposed to Cold Pressed Neem Oil at levels that will be pesticidal.” That reduces it’s impact on non-target insects and it breaks down rapidly so doesn’t linger. EPA states, “There are no concerns for any non-target organisms when 100% Cold Pressed Neem oil is applied in accordance with EPA-approved label use directions.”–just be sure to follow label use directions. And do remember that caterpillars eat plants so can be poisoned by Neem–and caterpillars turn into butterflies so consider handpicking caterpillars when possible.

  2. says

    Well that would explain I rarely see hummers. I increased my numbers of feeders but no luck.. I have some flowers that they may like but none are blooming at the moment… I’ll look at my local garden center for some more of the ones you suggest.

    • says

      Hi Jeff, Indeed you have a better chance to draw hummers if you have nectar flowers and habitat to meet their needs. Sometimes those are available in adjacent areas. I put more info on this article. You can also purchase either hanging baskets or other already blooming pots of red or orange tubular flowers to draw the hummers until the flowers in your yard bloom

  3. Janet says

    Question: Do hummingbirds eat at night? Our feeder use to have a couple of hummingbirds come during the day. Now nothing shows up in the day, but during the night the feeder is drained dry. I measured the juice, 6 oz., and it was all gone this morning. We have looked out during the evening and before we go to bed and have seen nothing. If it is not a hummingbird what do you think would be draining the feeder?

    • says

      Janet- there are a lot of nocturnal moth pollinators that will use hummingbird feeders. Most of these moths are in the family Sphingidae, and are commonly called hawk moths, sphinx moths, or hummingbird moths. If you live in the Southwest, you could also have bats drinking from your feeders!

    • Elaine says

      A couple of years ago I discovered that a raccoon was drinking from my hummingbird feeder. I discovered it too was empty a few mornings. It was located just outside my back door hanging from my deck. I became curious as to why this was happening, and was alerted one evening by a sound that made me check. When I turned the light on my deck I discovered a large raccoon sitting on the rail eating from one of the bird feeders. It became clear it too was the culprit drinking from the hummingbird feeder. I simply placed it on my clothesline every evening and sent it out so it couldn’t reach it. Awhile after that incident I noticed two baby raccoons outside my window. Evidently the mother while pregnant was eating from my feeders.

  4. says

    I live in WV and have also been having this problem of drained feeders in the morning. Occasionally I see a bird in the day, but it seems that is getting fewer with every day. Yesterday I filled the feeder, and went to bed at 12:00. I got up at 1:55, and the feeder was empty. I called the Dept. of agriculture here in my county, and they said that bats don’t drink out of hummingbird feeders. And I don’t know how a flying squirrel would get it out because there is no damage to my feeder. And besides, my husband says we don’t have flying squirrels around here. The man I talked to was as frazzled about this as I am. This has only been happening for about the last 3 to 4 weeks. Anyone got any ideas?

    • says

      Hi Janet-as Athena stated above, there are “a lot of nocturnal moth pollinators that will use hummingbird feeders. Most of these moths are in the family Sphingidae, and are commonly called hawk moths, sphinx moths, or hummingbird moths.” These nocturnal moths are important pollinators of our plants and some are very cool looking.

      Since you don’t live in the southwest, there aren’t the type of bat species that do drink from hummingbird feeders and your local Dept of Ag folks are not likely aware of species outside of their area. My money is on the nocturnal hawk pollinators.

  5. says

    Thanks for your comments. But why have I not seen these things before around here? Are these moths in my area all the time? It just seems strange that nothing like this has ever happened here since 1992 and now something drains these feeders in a period of 2 hours, which is what just happened night before last. How many of these things would it take to drain a 2 cup feeder in 2 hours? This just seems so strange to me. I wish I could afford to buy a critter cam to put out there to see what happens after I go to bed.

  6. Jean Smith says

    We have raccoons and bears that drain our hummingbird feeders dry at night. We’ve seen them in the act, so now I take the feeders in every evening before dark. Once they find them, changing the location doesn’t help.

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