Tsk. I have a new pet peeve. It’s people who don’t maintain their hummingbird feeders. I know I can’t save the world OR hummingbirds, but I have to try.
Unless you have a large charm of hummingbirds that drain your feeder every couple days, that’s how often you have to clean and refill it. In the winter you can get away with once a week, but when it’s warm, I have to clean mine every two, three days tops. If you want to dedicate yourself to those little creatures, you have to be diligent. And having a feeder that’s easy to clean helps. Hanging them in a shaded spot slows down spoilage. Protect from rain, too.
I went through my fair share of cheap h-bird feeders and those upside down bottle types with the spout were the worst. The air inside the feeder would expand as it warmed, pushing the nectar out, creating a larger air pocket which would then continue warming and expanding. Results–an empty feeder, a puddle of nectar on your patio, and the eventual intrusion of ants. Not to mention disappointed hummingbirds. And bees quickly learn to to foil the "bee guard" and their presence can discourage h-birds. And they are impossible to clean properly.
My feeder of choice today is the HummZinger. They’re flying saucer shaped, so they won’t drip (pretty, too!), and they even have a perch so the hummers can take a load off while they sip. I would recommend at least a 12 oz-er, and filling it half way. That way you won’t be wasting nectar that they won’t drink before it starts spoiling. Eventually, you’ll be drawing crowds, then you can fill them fuller. HOWEVER, hummingbirds are some of the fiercest-for-their-size birds I’ve ever witnessed, and one will claim a feeder as its own and duke it out with other hummingbirds who DARE to encroach. So that means you have to install more feeders, because you aren’t going to be able to teach them to play nice and share.
The recipe for hummingbird juice is one cup cane sugar to four cups water (boil water, add sugar, stir, cool–for temps higher than 95F, you can use five parts water, because the birds will drink more frequently). For some reason, you shouldn’t use beet sugar. And no honey! Other kinds of sugar like brown, tubinado, or raw contain iron that can be deadly. You don’t need to use food coloring if you’re using the right feeder. And you are not doing the critters any favors by concocting your own nutrient-filled recipe.
From the Cool Facts Department – If hummingbirds were as big as humans, they would have to eat 300 lbs of nectar a day.
I found out only a couple years ago that hummingbirds don’t survive on sugar water alone. The sugar powers the machine that then goes after bugs. So, if you want to do them some favors, raise fruit flies on old banana peels and place them near the feeder. I happened to be watching my hummingbirds recently and saw one distracted from the feeder. S/he came near the window–I thought just to say ‘hi’, but then I saw a gnat. S/he hovered over to it, and then all of a sudden, no gnat. It was SO quick! So cool! Except for the part about the little gnat who was happily flying around doing his own grocery shopping and never knew what hit ‘im. Sorry, Gnat. Circle of life, knowwhuttumsayin’?
I make about a quart of nectar at a time. And I have one feeder. I found that after a couple weeks of storage in the refrigerator, the juice spoiled anyway. It didn’t look bad until I held it up to the light (in a clear jar) and I could see little swirly things growing. If your time is at a premium and you want to cook up big batches, pour the leftover nectar into ice cube trays. Once frozen, put the cubes in a heavy-duty plastic bag. Not only does it keep indefinitely in the freezer, but after I clean my feeder, I just pop in the frozen cubes and don’t have to worry about the juice sloshing around the sides. If you slosh and get juice in the seam between the lid and the base, it takes some extra effort/time to get it unglued next time you clean it. Do your tidying at night when the h-birds are in bed, so the cubes have time to melt before breakfast.
Cleaning Your Feeder– The ‘net says you shouldn’t use soap. As a firm believer in soap, I just couldn’t get past that, what with all the hummingbird spit in there. But, I do make sure I rinse it very well and then slosh some white vinegar in it for extra measure. I’ve put my HummZingers in the dishwasher, too, but that takes too much time.
I looked around for info about the possibilty of slackers poisoning local populations by not maintaining their feeders. The only site I found that addressed that said the hummingbirds wouldn’t use the feeder if it was dirty. Well, I saw some h-birds sipping at a huge feeder someone had placed at a gravesite. It was a GORgeous, very fancy feeder, tubular shaped, probably held at least a half gallon, and there was a gigantic blob of gray sludge floating at the top. Ewww. I don’t know how long the hummingbirds had been drinking that stuff, or if it eventually made them sick, but that was the worst I’d ever seen. There ought to be a law.
Just so ya know, hummingbirds can get themselves in a pickle when they are attracted to red emergency release handles for automatic garage doors. Their instinct is to fly up, so they enter your garage and because they can’t find their way out, are in danger of starving. If an h-bird is in your garage, hang your feeder near the door, and stand back. S/he’ll find his way out.
Can’t commit to a hummingbird feeder, but still want to attract hummers? Plant flowers that attract them. My favorite is honeysuckle, Harlequin, because it smells and tastes good, AND it fits very well with my white garden. Here’s what the Sacramento Valley Chapter of the California Native Plant Society has to say about attracting hummers. And there’s SO much more on the ‘net. Plant specimens near windows (with screens or they might fly inside!) so the hummingbirds can feed and watch YOU!
While hummingbirds are a close second, the Dove Lady thinks there is no more an amazing creature on this planet than the homing pigeon that can fly 600+ miles nonstop to get home. And she is so proud to be their mom.