Red hues and tubular shapes are a perfect combination, which explains why red firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii, USDA Hardiness Zones 4–9) and pink pineleaf penstemon (P. pinifolius, Zones 4–10) are hummingbird magnets.
Photo/Illustration: Charles Mann
For a bird that weighs about as much as a penny, the tiny hummingbird sure creates a lot of buzz. We all want them. And if we already have them, we want more. Putting up nectar feeders is the quick and easy way to get hummingbirds. It works so well, it’s almost like cheating—no hummer can resist checking out that red plastic beacon. Blame it on evolution. Hummingbirds are hardwired to investigate the color red.
While fragrance is the prime bait for pollinators like butterflies and other insects, birds don’t have good sniffers, so flowers that depend on them must advertise with color. For hummingbirds, red rules the roost. Because these flyers have to eat a lot to keep those wings buzzing at an average of 75 beats a second, nature makes it easy on them by packaging their nectar in shades of red. Homing in on this vibrant color saves these high-energy birds time and conserves calories.