It started with a bluebird house that we received as a gift. Because of this simple wooden birdhouse mounted on a pole, I learned where bluebirds prefer their houses to be located (in an open sunny space with a clear flight path, away from trees or other obstacles) and I began paying more attention to the birds in our yard.
Then we also received a hummingbird feeder as a gift. I read where to place the feeder and mounted it about 5 feet off the ground on a tall red post. I made sure to use the proper nectar recipe (one part sugar to four parts water). I cleaned the feeder and replaced the nectar weekly. Our bluebird house was very popular but we only spotted two hummingbirds at our feeder the whole season.
After that first summer, I learned the importance of having a water source, preferably with some movement, so last spring, we added a birdbath and a small, floating solar-powered fountain/gurgler. But last summer we only saw one hummingbird all year.
Undeterred, I read more. I learned we didn’t have enough hummingbird-friendly flowers. Color, shape, species and placement all play a role in whether hummingbirds will find flowers attractive so I relocated some of our plants, added new species and have started others by seed for planting outdoors this spring. Last summer, I discovered ants in our hummingbird feeder so this year, I’ll try to keep them away by hanging the feeder from fishing line, which apparently ants can’t navigate.
While I was initially only interested in hummingbirds because they’re beautiful and fun to watch, I learned they are also important pollinators. Of course, I knew about the decrease in numbers of other pollinators like bees and monarch butterflies, and when my hummingbird research overlapped with information about these other pollinators, I decided to try to help them all.
Having a true pollinator-friendly yard means checking many boxes, starting with having a large variety of plants including many natives that bloom in succession through the whole growing season. It’s best to have a mix of trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials and herbs chosen from lists of pollinator-friendly varieties.
Be sure to also include some plants that serve as caterpillar hosts, including yarrow and parsley. Milkweed is the only source of food for monarchs so it makes sense that both milkweed and monarchs are in great decline. Of the many species of milkweed, I discovered one called showy milkweed that is attractive to monarchs and hummingbirds so I’m adding plenty to my yard this year.
You’ll also need nesting sites like brush, wood piles, grass clumps, bare dirt or nesting structures you can purchase. Don’t forget your water source, and consider placing a few sticks in there to provide spots for pollinators to land. Beware of invasive plant species. While some are pollinator friendly, they may also crowd out the native species you’ve planted. Many native bees nest underground so it’s best to avoid heavy layers of mulch.
And of course, limit or eliminate your use of pesticides and herbicides. With a slight shift of perspective, you’ll see the beauty in a lawn full of dandelions, which also provide an important source of nectar and pollen for pollinators. I describe our yard as a critter-friendly mix of 10 million kinds of weeds plus some actual grass mixed in.
I’m adding a couple more birdhouses to our yard this spring. I know they won’t attract hummingbirds but all species are welcome. My fingers are crossed that my other efforts to attract hummingbirds will pay off this year. Otherwise, I’ll just keep trying.