Hummingbirds

Let's help keep this nature thing going. Hummingbirds are cool.

A hummingbird feeder or two is a good way to help get the kids interested in nature for a few minutes.

Timeframe

Hummingbirds are mostly seen from April to October in NC, but there are a few that might remain in or pass through our state in unusual months. According to NCSU, some hummingbirds arrive in NC in the middle of March.

Remember, you don't have to fill up the feeder completely. You could just fill it 10% at first to see how much they're drinking. Just as long as you change the solution every few days when it's hot or maybe as long as every week when it's cool. Filling less instead of none during the less active months could help keep stragglers from going hungry.

Feeding Solutions

You can buy hummingbird feeding solutions or make your own to save money. You can make your own hummingbird feeding solution by simply mixing sugar and water. The ratio to use is a matter of debate. Many sites recommend a water to sugar ratio of 4:1 - that's four parts water and 1 part sugar, which means you should use 4 times as much water as sugar, so if you use a half of a cup of sugar, use 4 halves of a cup, i.e. two cups, of water. And during hot weather, they say to use as much as 5:1 so the poor birds don't get dehydrated.

However, some years ago, I found a website that says the math they used is wrong, volume versus weight or something like that, and that 3:1 is closer to the sugar content of actual nectar from flowers, which hummingbirds are designed to consume. And that website seemed more knowledgeable, so I trust it more. But I still often use a 4:1 or at least 3.5:1 ratio when I'm low on sugar or just putting a feeder out for the first time in a while.

Many sites say to boil the water because it helps the sugar to dissolve faster. It only takes a few minutes to dissolve the sugar without boiling if you agitate the water a little. I only recommend boiling if your sugar might have become contaminated and needs to be sterilized. Though boiling could help reduce the chlorine content, what bird wants to drink hot water?

I recommend storing sugar in an airtight container in the refrigerator to keep out the pests. Ants, cockroaches, flies, and many other bugs just love sugar.

Fly in the sugar bowl, shoo fly shoo!

Cleaning

You should refill a feeder every few days, and clean every time, or maybe just every other time if it looks ok.

I like to let the feeder soak a few hours or overnight and scrub it with an old toothbrush. A toothbrush lets you reach deep to scrub way inside the feeder. I use baking soda if there are resistant residues. Always rinse everything thoroughly after cleaning.

Don't boil the plastic feeders to clean them, because it can cause them to shrink and/or deform. Some plastics can't withstand boiling hot water, so also don't pour boiling hot solution into the feeder. (Another reason not to boil your homemade solution unless you need to.)

Ant Mote

Many hummingbird feeders include an ant mote, where you pour water to keep ants from reaching the feeding solution. You must keep the mote full, but some ants can even cross the mote and raid the sugar paradise. We have some big carpenter ants here that are good at crossing the mote.

The hummingbirds don't want to land when ants are all over the feeder, and who can blame them because they'll probably get bit up if they do, so it ruins the usefulness of the feeder.

As if that isn't bad enough, the stupid ants climb inside the feeder and drown or get so full and fat that they can't get back out the holes. It's probably not sanitary with drowned ant corpses floating around in the sugary feeding solution for a day or two in the summer heat. Sounds like a breeding ground for disease.

I'm currently using a baking soda solution in the ant mote to deter ants more. I tried vegetable oil, but it gets sticky after a few weeks and makes cleaning more of a chore.

Deep Thoughts

Hummingbirds are useful pollinators, helping plantkind with their ability to carry pollen from place to place and being rewarded with nectar. How does such a mutually beneficial relationship evolve, I don't know. But the relationship helps both survive.

During dry years or dry months or when hail kills most of the flowers and they're laying on the ground, there might not be enough food for the hummingbirds. By feeding them, we allow larger numbers of hummingbirds to survive.

It's true that when they feed from the feeder, they aren't pollinating, but they'll almost certainly alternate between feeding sources to get all the nutrients they need, so the feeder is only supplemental. And once the local hummingbird community has expanded to match the local food availability, some hummingbirds will be forced to feed from flowers even if they don't want to. So feeding them is not bad as long as you are keeping the feeder clean so it doesn't hurt them or kill them to drink from it.

If you want to make sure your feeder is only supplemental, use a low sugar content like 4:1 or greater water to sugar ratio so they'll prefer the nectar from flowers. Then they'll probably mostly only use the feeder if they need it. They'll probably still drink some and sample it even if there is plenty of food elsewhere because they are designed to visit many sources of nectar, but if they really need it, they'll have something to rely on.

Different flowers bloom at different times. I see a lot of flowers blooming in the spring, and other flowers bloom later or bloom twice per year, but there are times when I don't see many flowers, and I figure the hummingbirds must be hungry during those times. It takes a lot of calories to fly like that, and sugar is not a dense source of calories like fat or carbohydrates. Those little guys and gals need to eat regularly.

Some hummingbirds try to keep their competitors away from the feeder. You might want to set up multiple feeders out of site of each other so as many hummingbirds as possible can feed in your yard without too much fighting. The hummingbird business is very competitive.

Placing a feeder near a window can be a good way to observe nature, but motion seen by birds through the window could deter feeding. Consider placing a feeder at a great enough distance from your window that the birds will feel safe enough to feed.

Conclusion

You too can feed hummingbirds without much trouble or expense, and you get to see a cool and unique creature.



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