Yes, hummingbirds will drink sugar water if you offer it to them, but what they really need is insects, nectar and shelter, which can only be found in natural habitats. We can provide what they need in our yards.
Our local ruby-throated hummingbirds build their nests on the branches of trees and shrubs, 10-40 feet above the ground. The nests are tiny - be very careful to look for them if you are trimming your shrubs! They are made out of plant materials such as the fluff from thistles, held together by spider webs and decorated with lichens.
The majority of calories as well as the protein in a hummingbird's diet come from insects and spiders. Most insects can only eat the plants with which they evolved, which means that a yard full of turf grass (which is from Europe) and ornamental plants from other parts of the world will do next to nothing to support life. To provide the caterpillars and other insects that hummingbirds and other songbirds need, you must provide native plants in substantial numbers. You need not worry about attracting too many insects - in fact, other than the sight of butterflies flitting around and the sound of cicadas, crickets and katydids singing, you are unlikely to even notice them. A yard that has a good diversity of native plants will support a balanced ecosystem, one in which the populations of any given insect are controlled by their predators. For help getting started as you turn your yard into a sanctuary, see our Quick Start Guide.
Red is not the only flower color that appeals to hummingbirds, but planting these red flowers is a very reliable way to attract them to your yard.
Beebalm (Monarda didyma) Sun or part sun, moist or wet
Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) Sun or shade, moist or wet
Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) Sun or part sun, moist
Eastern Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) Sun or shade, moist or wet
Another notably reliable and readily available plant for attracting hummingbirds is Summer Phlox (Phlox paniculata) with it's magenta and pink flowers. In Northern Virginia, there are at least 33 species of garden-worthy perennials, trees and shrubs that provide nectar for hummingbirds. You can search for them in our plant finder app.
Plan for a succession of blooms to keep them interested in your yard from April to September when they leave for Central America.
Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)
Beebalm (Monarda didyma)
Eastern Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)