Do Hummingbirds Like Hibiscus? What’s So Special About Hibiscus?
Hibiscus flowers are among the most popular choices for gardeners looking to attract hummingbirds. However, the question that remains is: do hummingbirds like hibiscus?
The bright, tubular blooms seem perfectly designed to appeal to these tiny, delicate birds. But is it true that hummingbirds actively prefer hibiscus above other flower types? Or is it simply certain traits of hibiscus that make them enticing?
This article will examine the unique characteristics of hummingbirds, their relationship with nectar, and why varieties of hibiscus make an ideal match. We will show you the 10 best varieties of hibiscus that these hummers love!
Hummingbirds – A Quick Overview of the Tiny Aerial Marvels
Hummingbirds are in a category all their own when it comes to birds. They possess specialized adaptations that allow them to hover and fly with great agility. Understand more about these energetic creatures:
Hummingbirds are the smallest birds in the world. The Bee Hummingbird of Cuba holds the record at just 2 inches long and 2 grams in weight – the size of a bumblebee. In North America, the smallest species is the Calliope Hummingbird reaching about 3 inches long. Most hummingbirds range from 2-6 inches in total length. Their diminutive size aids their flight capabilities.
High Speed Wings
The wings of hummingbirds are in a class of their own. They flap at incredibly high speeds to enable hummingbirds to fly like no other bird. Some key facts about their wings:
- Wingbeat frequency of up to 80 times per second (other birds average 5-20 times per second)
- This allows flight speeds exceeding 30 mph
- They can hover in place by rapidly beating wings front to back
- Wings rotate in a full circle so they can fly backwards
- Their heartrate reaches as high as 1,260 beats per minute during flight
This wing structure and speed enables unique flight behaviors including sustaining hover position, rapid acceleration, and precision maneuvering.
Hummingbirds have excellent eyesight adapted to finding flowers and food. Here are some of their visual capabilities:
- They see into the ultraviolet spectrum which helps detect flowers
- Their eyes contain more rod cells than cone cells, so they have enhanced motion detection
- Binocular vision provides depth perception crucial for precision hover feeding
- Their retinas contain more neurons per surface area than other birds
Long Slender Beaks
The most recognizable feature of hummingbirds is their long, slender beak used to drink nectar. Facts about their specialized beaks:
- Length is adapted to each species’ preferred flower type
- Very flexible allowing access to different shaped blooms
- Tongues extend to lick up nectar – up to 13 licks per second
- Grooved shape allows nectar to move through capillary action
- Bill tips open slightly to lap up nectar
Hummingbirds are famously territorial, especially when defending favorite nectar sources. Some examples of their aggressive displays:
- Diving and chasing other birds away from feeders or flowers
- Making loud vocalizations and chirping
- Performing display flights and aerial maneuvers
- Establishing feeding territories and not allowing other birds to feed
This behavior ensures each hummingbird has sufficient food access, though it can be intimidating!
One of the most incredible feats of hummingbirds is their migration Each year many species make incredibly long migrations, covering thousands of miles. For example:
- Ruby-throated Hummingbird migrates across the Gulf of Mexico, a 500 mile nonstop journey.
- Rufous Hummingbird migrates 2,000 miles up and down the Pacific Coast.
- Some hummingbirds cross through deserts, mountains, and other harsh terrain during migration.
Flying these huge distances requires massive amounts of energy, obtained primarily from nectar. Migrating hummingbirds time their travels precisely with bloom seasons across North America.
The Vital Role of Nectar in Hummingbird’s Life
Hummingbirds have one of the highest metabolic rates of any animal, which requires them to consume up to twice their body weight in nectar daily. This makes nectar an absolutely essential part of their diet. Here’s more on how hummingbirds rely on nectar:
Nectar as Primary Food Source
Up to 60% of a hummingbird’s diet consists of nectar from flowering plants. The remaining portion comes from small insects and spiders which provide protein, plus tree sap for added carbohydrates. But the energy in nectar powers their extreme lifestyle.
Massive Nectar Consumption
To power their heartbeat and wing muscles, hummingbirds eat as much as they weigh or more in nectar each day. Some examples:
- A 3 gram hummingbird may eat 6 grams of nectar per day
- A single feeding session may involve consuming hundreds of flower blossoms.
- In a day they may visit 1,000 or more flowers.
- Up to 13 feeding sessions occur daily.
Specialized Physical Adaptations
From their beak to their tongue, hummingbirds’ bodies display specialized adaptations making them expert nectar consumers:
- Slender beaks access nectar while avoiding pollen
- Grooved tongues lap up nectar via capillary action
- Tongue tips open to collect more nectar per lick
- Saliva quickly metabolizes sugar content
Preferred Nectar Concentration
Given their reliance on nectar, hummingbirds selectively seek out flowers producing their favored concentration:
- Research shows they prefer nectar in the 20%-25% sugar range, similar to many natural flowers.
- Higher concentrations up to 40% sugar may be consumed but can limit intake.
- They reject overly diluted nectar with less than 5% concentration.
Aggressive Feeding Strategy
Hummingbirds do not share food resources willingly. Some examples of aggressive feeding behavior:
- Establishing exclusive feeding territories around ideal nectar sources
- Chasing, diving, and vocalizing to scare off intruders
- Monitoring flowers and feeders for encroaching birds
- Feeding in quick bursts before moving rapidly to next calorie source
- Controlling favorite food supplies is crucial to avoid starvation
Migration Fueled By Nectar
A major reason hummingbirds rely so heavily on nectar is to provide enough energy for migration. They time travels precisely with flower bloom seasons:
- Certain flower species provide major stopover feeding stations.
- Some migrants travel astonishing distances without alternate food.
- Access to nectar sources along migration routes is an absolute necessity.
What Makes Hibiscus Flowers So Irresistible to Hummingbirds?
With their reliance on nectar, hummingbirds seek out flowers that meet their feeding needs. Blooms of hibiscus seem especially adept at attracting them. So what’s behind the appeal? Consider these key traits:
Bright, Vivid Colors
Hibiscus come in a range of colors from vibrant reds to bold oranges and pinks. These warm, saturated shades seem to be favorites of hummingbirds and serve as advertisements to attract them from afar.
Hibiscus produce flowers 3-6 inches across – larger than many other hummingbird-visited flowers. Their substantial size makes it easy for hummingbirds to spot them.
With a trumpet-like shape, hibiscus flowers have a hollow central cavity containing nectar perfectly suited to hummingbird beaks and tongues.
Hibiscus flowers reward hummingbirds with relatively large amounts of nectar compared to other species. More nectar means more reward for visiting.
Continuous Bloom Season
Many hibiscus flower continuously from summer through fall, providing an ongoing nectar supply. Deadheading spent blooms encourages new buds.
Native to tropical regions, hibiscus are well suited to the warm climates hummingbirds prefer year-round or migrate through seasonally.
Hibiscus leaves and flowers tend to be pest-resistant, resulting in excellent foliage for hummingbirds to perch and rest on.
Versatile Plant Sizes
Hibiscus can be grown as shrubs or tree forms, providing nectar at different height levels to accommodate various hummingbird species.
In addition to physical features, hibiscus seem to have an exotic, tropical allure that draws hummingbirds even before blooms open. Once they discover a hibiscus plant, they remember the location.
How Do Hibiscus Flowers Rate Against Other Hummingbird Favorites?
Hummingbirds have been observed frequently visiting certain flower types such as hibiscus. But ornithologists have found they will feed from a diverse range of blossoms, not fixating on particular species. The key factors are nectar quality, quantity, and accessibility. How does hibiscus compare? Here’s what statistics say:
Lab Experiments on Preference
Controlled studies have tested whether hummingbirds prefer certain flower species over others. The results for hibiscus:
- When presented equal choices, hummingbirds did not favor hibiscus nectar over other flower types.
- They chose freely among nectar sources, influenced mainly by sugar content.
- However, strong color preferences influenced flower visitation rates.
Nectar Sugar Concentration
Hummingbirds primarily seek out nectar with optimal sugar concentrations in the 20-25% range. How does hibiscus nectar measure up?
- Analysis shows typical hibiscus nectar averages 15%-23% sugar content.
- This places it within an acceptable range for hummingbird preferences.
- It does not contain uniquely high sugar levels to make it more attractive.
Other High Production Flowers
Hibiscus faces strong competition from other champion nectar producers that also attract hummingbirds:
- Trumpet Creeper – Produces large, abundant red blooms on vines.
- Fuchsia – Prolific dangling red and purple flowers pollinated by hummingbirds.
- Salvia – Includes red, tubular Pineapple Sage and Scarlet Sage.
- Morning Glory – Red flower varieties on fast growing vines.
- Lilies – Vivid orange and red upright flowers appeal to hummingbirds.
Overall Verdict: Hibiscus Holds Its Own
In terms of head-to-head comparisons, hibiscus does not lead the pack as a hummingbird favorite. But it remains strongly competitive based on nectar volume, color, and flower structure. When combined with other plants, it adds diversity sure to entice hummingbirds.
The 10 Best Hibiscus Plants for Hummingbirds
Here are 10 top hibiscus varieties for attracting hummingbirds with unique descriptions. These are irresistible to hummers:
- Scarlet Hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus) – This tropical shrub has brilliant scarlet red 6-inch blooms that hummingbirds can’t resist. It flowers nearly year-round in frost-free climates.
- Texas Star Hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus ‘Texas Star’) – Producing enormous, striking red blooms up to 8 inches wide, this variety thrives in heat and reblooms vigorously.
- Flare Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Flare’) – Distinctive 5-inch red flowers have ruffled, fluted petals that add flair and draw hummingbird interest. Prolific summer to fall bloomer.
- Brilliant Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Brilliant’) – Dazzling 6-inch red blossoms with a bright yellow and black center provide a perfect target for hummingbirds. Flowers repeatedly.
- Pink Cotton Candy Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Pink Cotton Candy’) – This fast-growing hibiscus charms hummingbirds with its 4-inch pink blooms resembling puffs of cotton candy.
- Sundance Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Sundance’) – Unique tangerine-orange 4-inch flowers with striking deep red eyes keep hummingbirds coming back. One of the most prolific hibiscus bloomers.
- Morning Light Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Morning Light’) – Enormous, exotic looking 6-inch peach and orange blossoms have dark red veining. A vigorous, fast growing variety.
- Gold Medal Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Gold Medal’) – This hibiscus wins top honors for its abundant, long-lasting golden yellow 4-5 inch blooms that entice hummingbirds.
- Sunny Carolina Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Sunny Carolina’) – Compact bush smothered in sunny medium yellow blooms makes a perfect addition near paths or patios to allow easy hummingbird watching.
- Lady Baltimore Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Lady Baltimore’) – Showy 8-inch pink flowers with deeply ruffled petals and bold red veining are sure to impress both you and visiting hummingbirds.
Here’s a pro tip:
Focus on hibiscus with the brightest warm colors, largest blossoms, and fastest reblooming capabilities for maximum hummingbird appeal.
7 Tips for Using Hibiscus to Attract More Hummingbirds
If you hope to draw hummingbirds to your garden, incorporating hibiscus is one of the most effective strategies. Use these tips for best results:
1. Select the Most Bird-Friendly Varieties
Seek out hibiscus species and cultivars in warm, vivid shades of red, orange, pink or yellow. Avoid cooler tones like white or purple.
2. Look for Abundant Nectar Producers
Choose vigorous types like Hibiscus rosa-sinensis known for heavy nectar output. Avoid hibiscus grown mainly for foliage.
3. Plant in Groups
Hummingbirds are more active where they can move quickly from plant to plant. Arrange 3-5 hibiscus together in a bed rather than singly.
4. Provide Water
Set up a mister, dripper or bird bath to provide water which helps hummingbirds metabolize nectar.
5. Avoid Pesticides
Hummingbirds are sensitive to chemicals. Use natural gardening methods to prevent pests on hibiscus.
6. Deadhead Blooms
Pinch off spent flowers to maintain continuous bloom through the season. Deadheading stimulates new flower buds.
7. Combine With Companion Plants
Partner hibiscus with other hummingbird favorites like trumpet vine, lilies and salvias. This diversifies nectar options.
Optimizing conditions will transform your garden into an irresistible hummingbird hotspot.
Do Hummingbirds Like Hibiscus – Final Thoughts
While hummingbirds feed from a wide variety of flowers, hibiscus seems especially adept at attracting these nimble flyers. With their tubular blossoms brimming with nectar and occurring in vivid colors, hibiscus flowers are a visual target that appeals directly to hummingbird feeding preferences and behavior.
By incorporating hardy hibiscus varieties into gardens, it is possible to design an ideal habitat with reliable food sources that will entice hummingbirds to take up residence and return year after year.
The symbiotic relationship between hummingbirds and their favored nectar plants delivers outstanding rewards to the patient gardener willing to learn and adapt to the needs of these captivating creatures.
Few sights in nature are as delightful as a ruby-throated hummingbird hovering daintily to sip nectar from brilliant crimson hibiscus blooms.
Frequently Asked Questions About Hummingbirds and Hibiscus
Here are answers to some of the most common questions about attracting hummingbirds using hibiscus:
What is the best color of hibiscus flowers for hummingbirds?
Red and orange hibiscus varieties are preferred by hummingbirds since they can see the bright colors from far away. Yellow and pink are also good choices. Avoid white or purple.
What time of year will hummingbirds visit hibiscus?
In warmer climates, hummingbirds will feed on hibiscus most actively from spring through fall when plants are blooming strongly. Migration impacts their presence.
How close together should I plant hibiscus for hummingbirds?
Space hibiscus plants 5-10 feet apart so hummingbirds can fly freely between them. Group 3-5 plants together in a bed rather than solitary bushes.
Do hummingbirds use hibiscus bushes for nesting?
Hummingbirds may rest briefly in hibiscus foliage but they do not nest in the shrubs. Females build tiny, cup-shaped nests high up in trees using soft materials.
Should I hand feed hummingbirds diluted hibiscus nectar?
This is unnecessary since hibiscus flowers provide nectar naturally. Let hummingbirds feed directly from the trumpet-shaped blossoms.
How long will hummingbirds feed from each hibiscus flower?
Hummingbirds feed rapidly, staying just 5-10 seconds at each hibiscus bloom before moving quickly to the next flower.
Will one hibiscus plant be enough to attract hummingbirds?
Hummingbirds prefer multiple hibiscus or other flowers clustered together, so start with at least 3-5 plants. Add more over time to provide abundant nectar.
The symbiotic relationship between hummingbirds and nectar-producing flowers like hibiscus is a sight to behold. By landscaping intentionally with hummingbird appeal in mind, you can create an ‘urban Eden’ for these aerial jewels.
The time invested in learning hummingbird behavior and plant preferences will be rewarded with many blissful hours observing them feed, flutter and fly around your outdoor sanctuary.