Hummingbirds, those amazing little winged marvels that seem to burn more energy than they consume, are pushovers when it comes to attracting birds to your yard. Flowers are the simplest way to draw them, especially bright tubular ones like salvia and tacoma, and they love water mists and sprays, like when your drip irrigation system springs a leak. They’re big fans of floral nectar with its high sugar content, not surprising when you weigh the same as a penny, fly 30 miles an hour and sport a heart rate up to 1,200 beats per minute. These little acrobats can also hover, fly upside down and spin their wings in a figure eight pattern at more than 3,000 cycles a minute. Did I mention they have the highest metabolism of any homoeothermic animal? Sugar isn’t their only food source, however. Like the rest of us, they need protein as well, which they get by snagging spiders, gnats, mosquitoes and other tiny tasty critters. If you wonder why the hummer in your yard is playing elevator, going up, down and sideways in an apparently empty plot of space, take a closer look and you’ll likely find him picking off near-invisible bugs. But it’s a sugar high that powers those aggressive dogfights we’ve grown accustomed to, and you’ll be their friend for life if you supplement your floral buffet with a few sugar water feeders.
Hummingbird feeders are like fishing lures when it comes to consumers. Stores are full of expensive elaborate contraptions that often appeal more to the buyer than the bird (or fish). When shopping for a hummingbird feeder, keep the birds’ needs in mind. Hummingbirds don’t like to wait in line for a sugar hit, so choose a feeder with multiple feeding holes. They sometimes like to take a breather, too, so a feeder with a perch will give that racing heart a chance to rest. You also want enough capacity to accommodate your traffic, but not so much that you’re tossing unused food when it’s time to clean the feeder. And do yourself a favor at the same time—choose feeders that are inexpensive, wide-mouthed to facilitate filling and easy to disassemble, clean and reassemble. Red components, like the reservoir and top cover, are common and may attract hummers initially, but once they find your feeders, they won’t forget.
Don’t waste your money on commercial dry ‘nectar’ mix or premixed food. All you and the birds need is a simple sugar water blend you can prepare easily and cheaply at a fraction of the cost of premixed ‘nectar’. Use a four-to-one recipe: bring water to a boil, add pure granulated sugar at the rate of one part sugar to four parts water, stir to dissolve, let cool and you’re done. Store unused sugar water in a closed container in your refrigerator, and never add food coloring or anything else. And don’t forget to clean your feeders when they are empty, after a week or two regardless and immediately if the liquid turns cloudy or black spots appear. Use a bottle brush and hot water to clean the components, adding a vinegar or mild bleach mix if necessary, and always rinse multiple times to protect the birds.
In SaddleBrooke, we have six species of hummingbirds during spring and fall migration, and three of those species are found here year-round: Costa’s, Anna’s and Broad-billed. ‘Seasonal’ hummingbirds, like the Midwest and eastern states are accustomed to, is not the case here, so keep your feeders up and filled whenever you’re in town. These supplemental feeding sources, more for your benefit than the birds when flowers and bugs are abundant, can be critical lifesavers during a winter freeze. Your hummers will thank you.
(This article was published in the January, 2017, issue of the Saddlebag Notes Newspaper, Tucson, Arizona)