Recently, I shared a couple of videos of cool hummingbird feeders on my webpage. I noticed there was a good deal of interest and questions that came up as we all like to see these little gems up close as they are so fascinating. Everyone has their preferences, but there are somethings that don’t change when it comes to our little feathered friends and what to put out, to bring them into our worl. Hummingbirds have an amazingly fast metabolism and must feed constantly to supply their little bodies with nutrients. This is why they love the quick and ready feeders but they do require more than just sugar water. We all love the buzz of a hummingbird in our gardens and I hope the next part of this story benefits not just you but the little birds that we all love so much.
Hummingbirds are the smallest birds on earth with the fastest metabolisms. They can fly in any direction, including backwards in an instant and can hover with precise control even in high winds. Hummingbirds can only be found in the Western Hemisphere but summer as far north as Alaska and travel in some cases 2000 miles back to Central America. They are found in a wide variety of habitats, from deciduous forest to scrub dessert to saltmarsh. Many hummingbirds have a favorite group of flowers that they come back to year after year and will make the 2000 mile journey back to the very spot where they spent the previous year. There are other of the species that will spend their entire lives on the same island, like the Bee Hummingbird, who lives and breeds on the island of Cuba and nowhere else in the world. Hummingbirds have such a high metabolism that they must eat more than twice their body weight in food a day and hibernate at night so as not to starve. These little powerhouses have all sorts of interesting qualities, but they need the energy to make it all happen.
All hummingbirds are nectar feeders but are mostly dependent on protein in their diet from soft bodied insects. The analogy that I like to us is that “hummingbirds feed the turbo with nectar so they can fill the tank with insects.” The amount of food that one bird has to consume is massive during a day and if we put it into perspective, humans would have to eat 200 to 300 pounds of food a day to meet the same need. Because of the tremendous caloric burn, even at night, hummingbirds need to go into a form of hibernation called torpor so as not to starve to death. In the morning when the temperature warms up enough, the bird’s heart starts beating normally and off he goes to find the next fill up. The birds and the flowers have come to rely on each other, one to pollinate the next generation of plant and the other to supply the reward the bird for that work. In some cases, the bill of the hummingbird has adapted to the length and size of the flower so as to be able to reach the calorie rich liquid found at the base. Once such bird is the Long-billed Hermit, found in Central America. This bird’s impressive beak is curved and lengthened so that he can feed on flowers other hummingbirds can’t which keeps the other birds from coming in and stealing his dinner. In North America, all of the birds here have a very similar bill and all feeders will work equally well.
Hummingbird feeders have been mentioned several times in history dating back to Audubon’s time where he mentions in his writings about birds being kept in captivity. The earliest commercial feeder was introduced after some fancy glass blowing at MIT by a gentleman named Lawrence Webster who had heard of glass bottle feeders. He wanted to make the perfect hummingbird feeder for his wife so set out to have one made. The picture is a replica of what his feeder would have looked like with the filling opening on the side and two feeder ports. You can still buy the replica on some sites still today.
Feeders can come in amazing shapes and sizes. Some of these feeders are better suited to please the humans that hung them than the birds that feed from them. There are a couple of important concepts when choosing the perfect hummingbird feeder. The first and most important should ease of cleaning. Hummingbird feeders need to be cleaned on a very regular basis. For this reason the inverted bottle feeder is not as good as the basin type feeder. Have a look below at the choices I have made for my yard. The second concept is to let your hummingbird to have a resting perch. This helps the little guys and gals rest up while getting the shot of energy they need instead of using that energy to hover in front of the port. If you have a large amount of hummingbirds in your area, you may want to go with the long tube feeder which can also be found below. Have a look at one of the videos where the feeder is loaded hummers.
I know as a kid we always had the same feeder, it had four flowers that slid off and an hour glass inverted bottle. We got fancy once and put the yellow screens on the flower ports. In that feed always went either the hummingbird nectar or sugar water, but it had to have the red food coloring. It wasn’t until very recently that I found out that maybe the food coloring wasn’t good for hummers and that all a hummingbird needs is sugar and water. It seems too simple, but it is exactly what flowers produce, sugar water. It is much easier to have the sugar dissolve if it is boiled first, but not necessary. Also, do not leave the water in the feeder for more than a couple days as it may end up hurting the little beasties you are trying to feed.
One thing about hummingbird feeders that I learned in my research as well as having a feeder is that they will get contaminated with mold very quickly if they are not cleaned on a regular basis. “What would one consider a regular basis when cleaning a hummingbird feeder?” I am so glad you asked. 3 days maximum for the timing for a healthy scrub but two is best. Any longer and you could put your little friends in harm’s way and possibly give them a disease that will leave their tongue swollen and unable to eat. This will also depend on the amount of direct sunlight your feeder sees as sunlight will promote growth of the molds. There is very little you can do to keep contaminates out as hummingbirds pick up the spores while feeding at flowers. As long as you keep care to make sure the feeder is clean and filled with fresh sugar water you will have happy healthy birds at your feeder.
Ants and Wasps are the bane of any hummingbird feeder owner. Ants can be annoying to the birds and most people don’t want to attract ants closer to the house, but wasps can be downright nasty when it comes to feeder etiquette. There are a couple of things that you can do to keep these pests away from the feeder. The fix for ants is to keep them from reaching the nectar ports and you can do this by buying a feeder with a water moat. This will deter the ants from crossing to the nectar. Ants can also be thwarted by the placement of your feeder and inaccessibility. Wasps are a little more difficult as they can access from any direction. The trick with wasps is to purchase a feeder that only allows for the hummingbirds to feed in a deeper well which is hard to access for the wasps. Another big tip is to cut out yellow on your feeder as wasps are attracted to the color. Never use any pesticide sprays around your hummingbird feeder as the smallest amount could hurt the little birds.
One thing we know is that hummingbirds are voracious eaters and beautiful visitors to our yards. The two things combined make a perfect match for having a hummingbird feeder hung in your yard. Feeders do not complete the food package for hummingbirds, but they do give the little birds a lift to be able to get the protein they need to power their little engine with a big output. and It is as simple as mixing some sugar water together to keep them healthy and coming back for more. Don’t be shy and send me a message on Facebook or here on the site as I always look forward to hearing from you. I hope this helps in bringing the gems of the garden a little closer to you.