Since the floral needs of hummingbirds are so specialized, if the hummingbird gardener offers the right flowers, you are almost guaranteed a hummingbird will visit your garden to seek out your nectar source(s). Hummingbirds and the flowers they pollinate evolved together. So examining the specific characteristics and needs of the hummingbird will help pinpoint the perfect hummingbird flowers.
The long, slender, tubular, pointed bill of the hummingbird is usually straight or curved downward. Each species has a different bill length, shape and coloration. But each is designed for reaching deep down into narrow, tubular floral openings to reach the floral nectary. And the hummingbird tongue extends beyond the length of the bill. Attached to the bird’s tongue is a pair of bony coils called the hyoid apparatus which enables the hummingbird to extend their tongues at great lengths and to pull it back. The hummingbird tongue is deeply split at the tip; and when the bird feeds, the tip is folded into a tube. Nectar is neither sucked up nor pumped up by the tongue. Instead, the nectar is held in the tubular portion of the tongue and swallowed upon the return of the tongue to the bird’s mouth. Even insects found inside flowers can be extracted by the tongue and saliva. Certain species have specialized fringes of tiny bristles at the edges of the tongue tip for collecting insects from flowers.
Hummingbirds feed on approximately 1,500 flowers daily, requiring that they have easy-access to nectar sources. Hummingbirds tend to have a preference for flowers growing on the exterior of plants, particularly hanging, pendant flowers, as well as flowers that are arranged around the stem with tubes pointing outward or upward. These flowers are more accessible to the hummingbird. Since hummingbirds seldom perch to feed, their wings are continuously in motion, and exterior, hanging, pendant flowers ensure that the hovering, feeding hummingbird will not strike its wings while feeding and maneuvering amongst the flowers. Bees and butterflies require a landing platform for a perch to feed on flower nectar. Hummingbird flowers are designed without landing platforms. Often the petals of hummingbird flowers curve backward or downward or the stamens and stigmas protrude ensuring that only hummingbirds have access to the flowers’ nectar.
Hummingbirds have the highest metabolism of all warm-blooded creatures except the shrew. Hummingbird bodies function at extremely high speeds, and their high energy consumption means they need to eat approximately every 10 minutes during the day. Hummingbirds seek out food sources that are heavy nectar producers. Not all nectar- producing flowers are equal at providing nectar. Flowers with clusters of small blossoms offer droplets of nectar. Flowers that offer a larger quantity of nectar can be recognized by their tubular shapes and the stamens extending well past the floral tube’s opening.
Eye for Color
The color red is the strongest hummingbird magnet. Red grabs the eye of the hummingbird. Since red is complementary to green, the red flowers stand out from green foliage, getting the flowers noticed even from a distance. Hummingbirds are most attracted to big splashes of their favorite color, not just to single flowers. But the hummingbird gardener should not restrict their choices to only red flowers. The hummingbird will certainly visit their favorite colors first, but other colors of flowers also offer nectar to hummingbirds. Once the hummingbird finds the nectar, color does not matter.