Happy Hummer Season! Soon the buzzing and whirring sounds of rapidly beating wings will be filling the air in our backyards once again. The hummingbirds return!
Hummingbirds are a joy to observe in the backyard as they hover, flit and fly about, and will very soon be arriving back to summer homes in North America from winter stays in Southern Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama and other regions of Central America. Hanging a feeder to greet their arrival in spring will help immensely as they arrive thirsty and in quick need of nourishment following their long migrations northward.
To find out when to expect the arrival of regional hummingbirds in your area, check out the Audubon Guide.
Providing a hummingbird feeder in your yard helps to renourish the little hummers quickly and get them off to a healthier start for the coming breeding season after their arduous travels northward, and can be both a source of entertainment and a healthy learning experience for the children in your family as they learn more about nature.
Hummingbirds need to consume several times their body weight in food intake each day and are necessarily always on the lookout for flowering plants to quench their thirst and maintain energy. Flowering plants for the hummingbirds are much more numerous and available during the summer months, so providing an early supplementary food source with a hummingbird feeder can help them get thru leaner spells in springtime when flowers and natural food sources are not yet as numerous.
There is no need to worry about supplementing their diet with a feeder and distracting hummingbirds from natural food sources, as they will continue to seek out and consume plant nectar, small insects and tree saps to prepare for breeding season and then in feeding their young in the nest.
To select the best feeder, choose one that can be easily cleaned on the inside to prevent contamination and illness for the birds, and one that is brightly colored with lots of red to get their attention and attract them to your feeder.
If you have few hummingbirds in your area, completely filling the feeder is not necessary, to not waste the nectar mixture. As the season progresses, filling the feeder to the brim may be more advisable as the birds will be visiting more often to drink and the feeders will probably be even busier with greater numbers in the summer heat.
If there are a large number of hummers in your area, a larger feeder with a greater number of feeding ports can help to reduce territorial conflicts brought about by the hummingbirds’ natural territoriality and competitiveness to guard the feeding source, by allowing more birds to access the feeder.
Feeders can be inexpensive and plain, or very decorative and ornamental. The hummingbirds only care about the nectar and happily leave design choices to the humans’ personal tastes. But it is important for any feeder to contain a good deal of bright red coloration. Hummingbirds are naturally attracted to brightly colored flowers, including yellows, oranges, pinks and purples, but are drawn to red much more than any other color as it signals a food source to the tiny bird, so they naturally associate the color red with food.
There is no need to purchase expensive hummingbird packaged food mixes in the store, as a perfect nectar mix can be easily and quickly prepared in your home kitchen using only sugar and water as the ingredients.
Prepare the nectar supplement mixture using only Refined White Sugar, as honey can promote dangerous and harmful fungal growth and should never be used. In addition, organic, natural and raw sugars may all contain excessive levels of iron which can be harmful to the birds. Plain, white refined sugar is sucrose, which when mixed with water, comes the closest to matching the chemical composition of naturally occurring nectar in the wild.
With a brightly colored red feeder, there is no need to add red food coloring to the nectar mixture, as the chemicals in food coloring can be harmful to the hummingbirds.
To prepare the nectar mixture, simply mix 1/4 cup of refined white sugar in 1 cup of boiling water until the sugar is all dissolved, a ratio of 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. Let the mixture cool and then fill the feeder. Simple as that.
When filled, hang the feeder outside, preferably about head high so you do not need a ladder to reach it for cleaning and refilling, and also in the shade to keep the nectar from spoiling as quickly as it would in the full sun. The nectar will serve as a healthy and beneficial supplement to the birds’ natural nectar diet in springtime, and then all summer long as well, providing the birds with an extra and welcome energy boost at the end of long, hot and dry summer days.
Keeping the feeders freshly filled and out when fall arrives and having the extra nectar nourishment available will help your little neighborhood hummingbirds restrengthen after breeding season is finished, boosting energy and helping them to prepare for their long migration back to southern wintering grounds. Feeders in the fall will also provide welcome and needed nourishment to migrating birds passing thru on their way south. Because of the influx and numbers of migrating birds, putting additional hummingbird feeders out in the fall can be very helpful in providing needed energy for all.
Extra nectar mix may be stored covered in the refrigerator for up to two weeks in a clean glass or plastic container. If the mix in the feeder becomes cloudy or mucky, it should be discarded and the feeder cleaned. The feeder should be cleaned regularly every few days, especially during hot weather to keep it free from mold and mildew, as nectar is a food and will spoil.
Feeders can be cleaned using various sized bottle brushes and by soaking them in a mixture of 1 part vinegar and two parts hot water, then thoroughly rinsing to keep the birds healthy.
If black mold is detected, soaking for an hour in a bleach mixture of 1/4 cup bleach to a gallon of water can be done, followed by thorough rinsing. Mold should not be an issue if the feeders are cleaned regularly.
To control and keep away uninvited wasps and bees which may visit hummingbird feeders, avoid choosing a feeder with the color yellow on it, as yellow is known to attract them. Some feeders have built-in water moats which protect against ants contaminating the nectar, and some have screens over openings which only allow the hummingbird’s long tongue to enter, keeping bees and other insects out.
For additional tips to prevent the problem of unwanted insect visitors, visit Control All Insects On Nectar Feeders. In years of feeding hummingbirds with two different types of feeders, we have never really had a big problem with uninvited guests.
Hummingbirds can be territorial, especially during breeding season, so there is no harm in hanging out more than one feeder, which may result in even more visitors to your yard. If possible and for the best results, hang additional feeders out of the line of sight from one to another to attract more birds and to diminish conflicts over territory.
Adding native plants for your regional area, growing them in your garden and yard, will also help the hummingbirds by providing natural shelter and food, including a healthy environment for insects, which many are surprised to learn form an important part of the hummingbird’s diet during breeding season especially.
So, happy hummer season! Little Red Bear and I hope this little guide was helpful, and that both you and your family are able to experience the joys and delights of watching the amazing aerial displays and acrobatics of hummingbirds all summer long.
Thanks as always for your time and visiting. Very best wishes, and be the reason someone smiles today! — Jim (and Red!)
“Kindness is the sunshine in which virtue grows.” — Robert Green Ingersoll
“If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” — Vincent van Gogh
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