Thursday, July 10, 2008

Montessori Summer Activities: Growing a Hummingbird and Butterfly Habitat

NAMC montessori summer activities hummingbird butterfly garden

Children and adults alike are fascinated by hummingbirds. Creating a backyard or outdoor environment habitat that attracts both hummingbirds and butterflies is the perfect Montessori outdoor experience! It combines Practical Life (gardening, art, photography), botany (plant identification), and zoology (animal observation and identification, habits and habitats).

Here are a few fascinating facts about hummingbirds that you and your students/children may not know, as well as tips on growing a garden that will attract both hummingbirds and butterflies.

Montessori Summer Activities: Growing a Hummingbird and Butterfly Habitat

  • Hummingbirds are the smallest of all birds, measuring between 2.5-8 inches (6-20 cm).
  • There are 330 to 352 species of hummingbirds in the New World, most of which are found in the tropics. There are no hummingbirds in the Eastern Hemisphere.
  • There are 112 species of hummingbirds in all of North America.
  • The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only hummingbird that breeds east of the Mississippi River.
  • This tiny flyer weighs about as much as a U.S. penny (approximately .1 ounce) yet manages to complete a non-stop flight over the Gulf of Mexico during migration – a distance of some 500+ miles!
  • The Portuguese name for "hummingbird" literally translated means "flower-kisser."
  • Hummingbirds beat their wings at a rate of 40-80 per second and fly 30 miles per hour.
  • Hummingbirds are the only species of birds that can truly fly backward and upside down.
  • The heart rate for a hummingbird is between 500 and 1260 beats per minute during the day and drops to below 50 during the night.
  • While hummingbirds enjoy nectar from feeders and flowers, a large part of their diet is also made up of insects.
  • The best place to see many species of hummingbirds is in Southeastern Arizona.

Hummingbirds feed by sight on regularly-followed routes, called traplining — they have virtually no sense of smell. They are attracted to highly visible or nectar producing flowers, rather than those with a strong fragrance. Planting an attractive garden will peak their inquisitive nature, and quickly lead them to investigate any possible new source of food. I would also encourage you to cultivate plants to attract butterflies, as they are slower and much easier to approach for a close-up view. (Below, I’ve included a chart which lists plants that attract hummingbirds and butterflies).

It’s interesting to note that cultivated hybrids often make much less nectar than wild strains, so it may be prudent to talk with your local gardening center for advice on native plants. Native plants also require less water, fertilizer and pesticides. The use of pesticides is highly discouraged as they eliminate the small insects hummingbirds rely upon for protein. Additionally, hummingbirds (hummers) also directly ingest pesticides sprayed onto flowers, which could sicken or kill the birds.

Hummingbird experts suggest keeping these three principles in mind when planting your garden:

    • 1. Place plants in several locations.
    • 2. Plant clusters of the same species together.
    • 3. Plant flowers with different blooming times to provide nectar throughout the seasons.

NAMC montessori summer activities hummingbird butterfly garden

When your habitat is established, encourage children to act as zoologists

Note arrival and departure of hummingbirds in your garden. What plants are they most attracted to? Are there any nests? Teach them how to use a field guide to identify the birds and butterflies that live in your garden. Encourage them to create their own field guide, drawing and photographing the creatures that make it their home. (Remember, when approaching butterflies, try not to cast your shadow on them so they don’t frighten and fly away.)

Did you know it is thought that, in a given year, not a square meter of the U.S. or southern Canada goes unchecked by hummers in their relentless quest for food? Gardening for hummingbirds and butterflies is easy and rewarding. You and your children will spend many happy and relaxing days surrounded by the beauty of nature and her creatures.

Here is a helpful list of plants that attract either butterflies, hummingbirds, or both:
B = Butterflies       H = Hummingbirds

  • Abelia, glossy B H
  • Ajuga H
  • Althea (Hollyhock) B H
  • Astilbe H
  • Azaleas (poisonous to humans) B H
  • Beebalm B H
  • Begonia H
  • Blue Queen Salvia B H
  • Bottlebrush H
  • Butterfly bush B
  • Butterfly weed B
  • Canna H
  • Cape honeysuckle H
  • Cardinal flower H
  • Century Plant H
  • Cherry laurel (wild peach) B
  • Cornflower B
  • Cosmos B
  • Dahlia H
  • Daylily B
  • Delphinium H
  • Dianthus B
  • Elaeagnus H
  • Eucalyptus H
  • Firebush H
  • Flame acanthus B H
  • Flowering quince H
  • Four O’clocks B H
  • Foxglove H
  • Fuchsia H
  • Gaura lindheimeri (whirling butterflies) H
  • Geranium H
  • Globe Amaranth B
  • Hackberry B
  • Heliotrope B
  • Hibiscus H
  • Honeysuckle B H
  • Impatiens B H
  • Indian paintbrush H
  • Mealy blue sage B H
  • Mexican sage bush H
  • Mexican petunia B
  • Milkweed B
  • Monkeyflower H
  • Nasturtium B H
  • Nicotiana B H
  • Parsley B
  • Passion Vine B H
  • Penstemon B H
  • Petunia B H
  • Purple coneflower (echinacea) B
  • Queen Anne’s Lace B
  • Salvia BH
  • Scabiosa B
  • Scarlet Sage B H
  • Sedum B H
  • Shrimp plant H
  • Snapdragons B
  • Standing Cypress H
  • Sweet Alyssum B
  • Tithonia B
  • Trumpetcreeper H
  • Turk’s cap H
  • Viburnum B
  • Yarrow B
  • Yucca H

Michelle Irinyi — NAMC Tutor & Graduate

As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Thursday, July 10, 2008.


  1. You want your flower garden to consist of many levels of vegetation. The area should have some tall trees, some medium-height trees, some flowers, some grassy areas, as well as some shrubs. These different levels will provide the hummingbirds a variety of choices of where to feed or where to perch to rest or roost.

    You want to plant lots of flowers including those that are known to attract hummingbirds as well as others. You should select a variety of flowers that will bloom at different times, because there will always be something flowering. The flowers will serve two very important purposes: they will provide a source of nectar for the hummingbirds, and they will also attract insects on which the birds will feed.

    It is also important for your flower garden to have a source of water available for the hummingbirds. One way to do this is by having a birdbath available. The birdbath should have a very shallow water depth to allow the birds to stand in the water if they choose to do so. Adding some small flat rocks to the birdbath will create different water depths within the birdbath.

  2. Zoe, thank you for you insight and valuable suggestions. You must have a very beautiful garden full of little hummies!

  3. This is a great article. Kids love gardening, and watching bugs and birds as well. I think this list of plants will help us to attract lots of humming birds and butterflies.


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