Planting 1

Helping Hummingbirds - Conservation Action Series

A series about what we can do individually and locally to help hummingbirds

Planting 1 – Trees and shrubs provide a wealth of resources

Rufous Hummingbird by David M. BellSpring is nearly here. The Rufous Hummingbirds will be arriving on the south coast in a few weeks. They will need food and water, shelter, and breeding resources. Our gardens, patios and wild spaces can provide just what they need to help them thrive. 

If you love attracting wildlife to your garden, think about how hummingbirds and other birds will use the area. A range of heights is always important. Perhaps you have room for a tree or a large flowering shrub, especially if you are considering shrinking your lawn this year. 

You may be thinking about planting trees for fruit or shade. Your hummingbirds will certainly appreciate these efforts. Fruit lovers will be delighted to know that the Anna’s Hummingbirds enjoy the more open nesting opportunities of deciduous trees, while conifer enthusiasts will be making Rufous Hummingbirds feel welcome. 

Your trees can provide perches, shade, and shelter. They offer places to nest and find nesting materials. They also provide food. Some trees, like the Arbutus (Arbutus menziesii) on southern Vancouver Island, have a massive floral display each spring, delivering a bounty of nectar at the height of Rufous Hummingbird breeding. Look out for regularly spaced holes on tree trunks. These holes tell the tale that sapsuckers have been drilling through the bark for tree sap. You may spot hummingbirds enjoying a feed at sap wells in the early morning and evening. 

Is your hummingbird flitting up or down the bark of the tree? Bark harbours a vast array of insect life. Insects are a vital food. They are needed for bodily functions and provide the nutrients required for growing nestlings. Spider’s webs found in the nooks and crannies of bark make excellent tethering for nest construction. Mosses and lichen from trees will camouflage nests from predators.

Shrubs, like trees, are more likely to survive extreme weather than herbaceous flowers. To offer a continuous food supply, choose overlapping and long-flowering varieties of shrub. Perhaps a long-flowering hardy fuchsia is perfect for your patio. What kinds of late/early flowering shrubs grow in your area? Some can also improve food supply in difficult months. For example, certain Oregon grape hybrids (Mahonia x Media) even bloom during winter on the coast. Our winter-resident Anna’s like to be well fed.

When choosing plants, ask your local nursery for advice about blooming time, light, soil and water needs, as well as how big a particular plant will grow. Avoid pesticide-treated plants (or seeds). Pesticides that flow in nectar and sap contaminate and often kill the insects that are so vital for hummingbird success. 

We can help nectar- and insect-eating birds like hummingbirds by ensuring that they have a safe and resource-rich environment. Share these ideas with your friends and neighbours, as together all our gardens can provide a large and varied habitat for these birds.

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