Hummingbirds on the Way!
According to the Hummingbird Migration Map at Hummingbirds.net, the hummingbirds are starting to arrive in Maryland. So today I’m putting up the hummingbird feeders. I’ve got two, each a little bit different but both designed to attract those fascinating tiny hummingbirds.
Hummingbird Sugar Solution
Hummingbirds drink nectar from flowers and will also drink a sugar solution made of cane sugar and water. While sugar isn’t the greatest thing for human health, apparently it works just fine for hummingbirds who use it for quick energy in addition to natural nutrition sources.
You can purchase “hummingbird nectar” in stores that sell bird supplies, but it really isn’t necessary. Simply mix one part cane sugar to four parts boiling water and then let it cool before filling the feeder. You can store any extra in the refrigerator for up to two weeks if you want to do a larger batch at a time. The boiling is meant to keep the mixture from going bad as quickly. Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology All About Birds site says that if you mix it up every day or two, then you don’t have to boil it. If you mix up a big batch and refrigerate it, they say you should boil it.
What I do is put a cup of water in a glass measuring cup and zap it in the microwave until the water boils. Then I take it out and immediately add a quarter cup of sugar. (It can bubble up a bit when you add the sugar so I try not to fill the measuring cup up to the brim.) I stir it with a fork while it is still hot until the sugar dissolves and then let it sit on the counter until it cools. You could alternatively boil water on the stove and stir in the sugar.
This is super easy, but if you don’t want to mess with it, you can purchase commercial mixtures. Just don’t get a red version, as the dye is thought to be harmful to hummingbirds. While this has apparently not been clearly proven, the dye is completely unnecessary, so why take a chance on their health? All the birds need is the sugar solution without any other additives.
When choosing sugar, go for cane sugar and not other types of sugar you might have, like brown sugar or powdered sugar, etc. Also never use honey (which goes bad really fast) or artificial sweeteners (which won’t work for the birds.) Some sources say that hummingbirds prefer cane sugar over beet sugar, although beet sugar can be used. I’ve only ever used the cane sugar so I can’t personally comment on beet sugar.
My Two Hummingbird Feeders
The hummingbird feeder I used last year, and am using again this year, is a Aspects HummZinger HighView 12 oz Hummingbird Feeder (purchased here from Amazon.) It has four feeding ports. I really like it. It is simple – just two plastic pieces (a clear base and a red top) attached to a long metal hook. It doesn’t leak, is easy to fill and easy to clean. The birds drink from the top, so they are easy to see when they visit.
This feeder only holds 12 ounces of liquid but that was actually fine because you really only want to put enough in to last a few days. So you don’t even have to fill it completely. Otherwise it’ll just go to waste when you dump any remainder and fill it again.
To fill it, after cleaning the feeder, you remove the red plastic top, fill it with sugar solution and put the top back on. There is also an ant moat in the middle. Fill it with plain water and it keeps ants from sneaking into the feeder by climbing down the hook in the middle.
This feeder worked beautifully last summer. I put it right next to my dining room window. After about a week, a hummingbird found it and made regular visits a few times a day the rest of the season. (To be honest, I don’t know if it was a single hummingbird coming repeatedly or several hummingbirds that never visited at the same time.)
The second feeder I’m putting up this year is a Perky-Pet Mason Jar Hummingbird feeder (find it here on Amazon) that we got as a gift this past Christmas. It is a much prettier feeder, made of glass and metal and has five feeding ports. The red glass jar looks beautiful and should attract the eye of any hummingbird passing by it. (Today is the first day we’ve used it so we’ll see how they like it as they start to arrive in the yard.)
It’s not a bad idea to put up more than one feeder as male hummingbirds can get territorial about feeders and fight. Putting up a couple feeders out of sight of each other can help with that. I am trying this one next to my back door where the hummingbirds should be able to find it but where it is out of the direct sun.
This feeder will hold a lot of sugar solution – 32 ounces. I am not going to start by filling it up completely, as it is doubtful I’ll get enough hummingbirds this early in the year to drink that much, but if I get more as the season progresses, I can start putting more in each time, as needed. So today, I used the same one cup water to one quarter cup cane sugar that I put in the other smaller feeder.
I filled the jar with the sugar solution, then put on the metal collar and base while it was still upside down. After twisting it closed, I flipped it over and it was ready to hang.
Refilling and Cleaning
If you are going to put out a hummingbird feeder, you have to be responsible for it and watch after it to make sure the sugar solution doesn’t get cloudy. You’ll need to refill it every few days so it won’t ferment or get mold or bacteria growing in it.
The frequency of changing the sugar solution depends on the weather. In the spring, when the temperatures are lower, you can probably do it every four to five days. Take it inside if a late freeze is expected. When the temperatures start getting into the seventies, aim for changing it about every three days or so. Hotter than that and you’ll need to do it every other day or even every day. Just keep an eye on the sugar solution’s condition. Hanging it in direct sunlight can make it go bad quicker, as can a dirty feeder.
Every time you re-fill the feeder, you need to clean it. To clean the feeder, take it down and dump any remaining syrup down the drain. Wash it with warm water, taking special care to clean the ports. If you see black mold forming there, clean it out with a weak mixture of white vinegar and water and a small bottle brush. (Look for tiny brushes to clean the ports near the hummingbird feeders in the store.) Then rinse the vinegar off and re-fill.
Learn More About Hummingbirds Online
To learn more about hummingbirds, here are just a few places online you might want to check out:
All About Birds: Use their site search for the type of hummingbird that interests you.
All About Birds Feeding Hummingbirds: Article on with feeding tips.
Hummingbirds.net: Lanny Chambers’ personal website about all things hummingbird.
Smithsonian National Zoo: Page with interesting facts about hummingbirds.
Watching For Hummingbirds
So now that my feeders are up, I just need to keep my eyes open for hummingbirds. It is still early in the season, but any early arrivals will appreciate the extra energy on these mostly cool spring days and nights.
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