Monday, September 15, 2008

Feeding Hummingbirds

When I first looked around to see which birds were naturally spending time in our yard, I was dazzled by hummingbirds.

Tiny, but tenacious, hummingbirds were the first avian neighbors with which I
established a relationship. I’ve used all kinds of hummingbird feeders.

  • glass bottles with plastic bases
  • decorative glass with a rubber stopper
  • flat saucer type
  • decorative glass bottles
  • glass mini vials

Which works the best?

The flat saucer-type feeders are best for meeting the SES –Simple, Easy, Sturdy – requirements. They are Simple – there are few parts. They are Easy – cleaning doesn’t require bottle brushes and many can go into the dishwasher. They are Sturdy – quality models are made of durable plastic that stands up to UV and heavy use. This one has been outside everyday for three years.

The model I like has a perch all the way around and a water well at the center that deters ants. Because the nectar is in the bottom of the saucer, these feeders seldom drip, even in a strong wind.

The simplest versions are red in color so they attract hummingbird attention. You DO NOT need to put red coloring into hummingbird nectar. The birds are attracted to the feeder, not the liquid inside. Red coloring can be unhealthy for hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds are smart. Their brains have evolved to store information regarding hundreds of food locations. They know which flowers are open at which times of the day. They know when they last visited a flower and how long it will take that flower to regenerate more nectar. If you have reliable, fresh food to offer, migrating hummers will remember your location from year to year.

One of the primary issues with hummingbird nectar is keeping feeders clean and nectar fresh. Even if the feeder is not empty, it should be cleaned and refilled with new nectar every five days. Especially in warm climates, sugary nectar can ferment and mold in a few days. You wouldn’t want to pick up a can of soda that had been sitting open for a week and take a drink, neither does that beautiful hummingbird.

Some locations are fortunate to have so many hummingbirds that a large feeder can be drained of food in a day, but that isn’t the case for most of us. Smaller feeders allow you to keep your nectar fresh without feeling like you are wasting a lot.

Glass bottles with plastic bases
Some people swear by the classic glass bottle feeder with a red, plastic flower base. I had one for years. While they are great for attracting hummingbirds, they have lots of parts which can fail. They are difficult to keep clean. In a wind, they often drip attracting ants and, despite the “bee guards,” it is hard to keep bees from being attracted.

Decorative glass with a rubber stopper
Those pretty glass bottles with rubber stoppers can be difficult to clean and are hard to maintain a good seal. If nectar drips, it will attract insects.

Glass mini vials
I have used these single vial feeders successfully with reluctant juvenile hummers that needed to learn to use a feeder for food. The small quantity of food in the vial however allows it to heat up faster and therefore to go bad faster. Glass vials can also be too long for hummingbirds to reach the food, once it is half way gone. They are time consuming to clean and need to be refilled frequently.

Decorative glass feeders

Some hummingbird feeders are stunning works of art. I’m not saying you shouldn’t indulge yourself in one of these beauties, but I would discourage it until you have established your yard as a hummingbird site. Do I have one? Yes.

Do the hummingbirds come to it? Yes, but not as ma
ny as come to the SES feeder.

Is it harder to clean? Yes, and even though I am very careful I have broken parts of it and had to replace them. I readily admit that I bought this feeder for me. It is beautiful in the yard.

To be successful feeding hummers:

  • Make your first feeder: Simple - Easy - Sturdy
  • Start with a feeder that has color red on, at least, the area where the hummingbird is supposed to drink the nectar.
  • Position the feeder in an open, visable area
  • Keep nectar fresh - Change food every 5 days or less
  • Keep the feeder clean

Nectar Recipe:
(1 part sugar to 4 parts water)

1/4 cup white cane sugar
1 cup

NO coloring, keep it clear and pure. NO sugar substitutes.

YES, you can make a larger batch and keep it in the refrigerator. Store in glass containers, not plastic.

Now is the time to attract hummingbirds migrating south. Put out that Feeder.

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