Corrections & Clarifications: The ruby throated hummingbird is rarely seen in Arizona. A previous version of this article was incorrect about its prevalence in the state.
Arizona is a hummingbird hotspot. People travel far and wide to see these tiny lustrous birds.
There are at least a dozen species of hummingbirds in Arizona, the greatest variety of any state. You can see them year-round but April through October are the months with the greatest concentration, especially in southeastern Arizona.
But there’s no need to travel away from metro Phoenix to spot these colorful and high-energy birds.
You can create food sources for them by adding feeders and native plants to your backyard or any outdoor space.
Here are facts about hummingbirds in Arizona.
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How many types of hummingbirds are in Arizona?
Of Arizona's at least 12 hummingbird species, some are seasonal, some are rare visitors and others are permanent residents.
According to the Arizona Bird Committee, Anna's hummingbirds can be seen in Arizona all year. Broad-billed, black-chinned, Costa’s, broad-tailed and rufous hummingbirds are seasonal, migrating between the U.S. and Mexico. The ruby throated hummingbird is rarely seen.
Visit https://www.desertmuseum.org for information on where and when to see the various types.
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What is the season for hummingbirds in Arizona?
According to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, hummingbirds migrate based on the flowering seasons of plants that are their food sources.
Arizona's diverse topography attracts hummingbirds that stay year round, like the Anna’s hummingbird frequently seen in Phoenix and Tucson. Most of the species found in Arizona, however, are migratory visitors, stopping on their way north or south depending on the season.
“Arizona is so perfectly positioned at the crux of where two great mountain ranges meet, the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Madre of Mexico,” said Sheri Williamson, founder and director of the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory.
“And we also have two great deserts meeting here. We have influence from the Chihuahua to the east, the Sonoran Desert to the west and, to a lesser extent, the Great Basin in the Mojave Desert.
“So we are at this major geographic crossroads and the mountains especially, but also our river courses are highways for migrating birds."
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How can I track hummingbirds in Arizona?
According to Cathy Wise, community science manager for Audubon Southwest, the best way to track hummingbirds is by going using eBird, a tracking service from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
This free online resource collects observations from people all over the world. You can submit information and photos of the birds you see at https://ebird.org/home.
Wise also recommends checking eBird before you make a trip to look for hummingbirds.
“You can check when that target bird has been cited. That just gives you a little bit more success when you get down there,” Wise said.
Why hummingbirds need native plants
Wise said there's a good showing of Anna’s, Costa’s and black-chinned hummingbirds in metro Phoenix this year. That's because many people have planted native plants, she said.
Costa’s hummingbirds typically don't come into town if there are enough resources in the wild. They can mostly be spotted in desert washes. But you can increase your chances of attracting them.
“Whenever I talk about hummingbirds, I always like to say, you know, these little guys are just so amazing,” Wise said. “And the one thing that we can do for them or the two things we can do for them are plant native plants, so they have a continual supply of nectar resources, and provide water, especially in the drought.”
Are you not seeing many hummingbirds despite having native plants? Wise said this isn’t a bad thing.
“Your neighbors probably have hummingbird feeders up and it's good,” Wise said. “It means you have competition. And they may have something you don't. They may have shade or they may have cover, but it doesn't necessarily mean that you're doing something wrong.”
What do hummingbirds eat?
Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for hummingbirds. This diet helps them sustain their fast-moving lifestyle. Most of their essential nutrients are acquired from the nectar of flowers and from sugar solutions that humans offer in feeders.
Hummingbirds also get protein from small insects that they catch hovering mid-air. They also feed these insects to their newborns.
“As long as they have plentiful access to natural nectar and feed and/or feeder solutions, they can meet their water needs, usually without having to drink water,” Williamson said.
What plants attract hummingbirds?
According to https://sciencing.com, hummingbirds are attracted to flowers with a tube-like or trumpet shape. These flowers generally have hues of red, orange, dark pink or fuchsia.
A garden that is inviting to hummingbirds should have plants native to Arizona. These include desert honeysuckle, autumn sage, desert willow and hummingbird's trumpet. Visit https://tucsonaudubon.org to see more hummingbird plants for your garden.
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How to make hummingbird food
Many people attract hummingbirds by putting out feeders. The Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory recommends these tips:
Hummingbirds will take sugar water from almost any container, so pick one that you can easily refill. Choose a feeder with features that deter large birds, bees and ants. Feeders that are bright orange or red are most visible.
Fill your feeder with a solution of one part white sugar to three to five parts water.
When temperatures rise above 100 degrees, use one part sugar to five parts water. This proportion will help ensure a hummingbird gets sufficient water in the hotter months.
Use only white granulated sugar. Other sweeteners, such as honey or brown sugar, could contain contaminants or pathogens that could harm or kill hummingbirds.
What are hummingbird nests made of?
Wise calls a hummingbird nest a "great engineering design." Hummingbirds use spider webs to bind leaves and other soft materials into a snug nest. As their babies grow, the nest stretches.
Wise advises against trimming plants when they're in bloom, especially during the monsoon.
“If you have hummingbirds in the yard, if you see them on a daily basis, they can nest almost year round and they will take advantage of the monsoons — sometimes they'll nest again.
Don't worry that your yard may look a little shaggy.
“The wilder the better,” Wise said. ”For the hummingbirds, they want to hide their nest and people tend to want it to look a little neater. So if people have kind of a wild looking bush, just pay attention and, you know, make sure that nobody's using that for nesting.”
Does climate change affect hummingbirds?
Hummingbirds are known for their adaptability to various climates. However, like all wildlife, the species has been severely affected by continuing extreme weather events.
“The wildlife mostly rolls with the punches," said Williamson, author of "A Field Guide to Hummingbirds of North America." “(But) the punches are coming faster and more furious than they used to. We are breaking heat records every year.
“It makes it that much harder for them to survive. And we definitely have seen a loss of population for some species. We're not seeing nearly as many hummingbirds as we usually do ordinarily in a very dry spring and early summer period.
"When there's not a lot of natural food available for them, we would see many more of them at our feeders and gardens than we normally would. But all over southern and central Arizona, we're hearing reports from folks saying, ‘Where are my hummingbirds?’"
Williamson said that seeing a smaller than expected number of hummingbirds could be a good thing, as it could indicate that there are vast quantities of plants blooming in the wild and the birds don’t need to seek food in populated areas.
Ways to help hummingbirds
Hang a feeder or put lots of flowers in your yard or on your balcony.
Avoid using pesticides in your garden. These can be fatal to hummingbirds.
Birds often run into windows or sliding glass doors. Help prevent collisions by hanging ribbons or strings or putting decals on the glass.
Make sure your bird bath is high off the ground. This will prevent pets or predators from harming hummingbirds.
Know the number of the nearest animal rescue organization in case of emergency. The Arizona Game and Fish Department has a list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators at https://azgfd.maps.arcgis.com.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Hummingbirds in Arizona: What do they eat, how to attract them