Hummingbird Feeders


A male Costa’s guards ‘his’ feeder (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

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.


An impatient Broad-tailed Hummer being hand-fed (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

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.


Frozen sugar water needs to be thawed (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

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.


Choose a feeder with multiple holes for crowds (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

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)


About Bob

A lifelong naturalist, Bob's avocation is birding, including field observation, study, photography and writing. He spent a career in computers and consulting, but his free time has been spent outdoors backpacking, fishing and enjoying nature firsthand. Bob has traveled extensively, exploring and photographing above and underwater in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Egypt and throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America. Now retired, as an amateur ornithologist Bob studies, photographs and writes primarily about birds of the Western Hemisphere. Formerly the Feature Writer for Latin America and Caribbean Travel at, he has been Suite101's Feature Writer for Birds and Birding since January, 2010, and has received seven Editor's Choice awards, which are listed below. Bob also writes a monthly birding column for a newspaper in Arizona, and his work appears in the travel magazine, Another Day in Paradise, published in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. His blog, Birding the 'Brooke and Beyond, discusses birding, travel and other topics in Southeast Arizona and beyond. Bob is a member of the National and Tucson Audubon Societies, Western Field Ornithologists, Arizona Field Ornithologists, the American Birding Association and other birding and conservation organizations. Bob and his wife, Prudy, live in the Santa Catalina Mountain foothills near Tucson, Arizona. To date, Bob has received Suite101 Editor's Choice awards for the following articles: • Birding by Cruise Ship in the Caribbean • The Xantus' Hummingbird, Baja California's Only Endemic Hummer • Birding the White Mountains in and Around Greer, Arizona • The Greater Roadrunner, New Mexico's State Bird • Where to Find Steelhead on the Lower Deschutes River in Oregon • Birding La Bajada near San Blas, Mexico • The 2008 Christmas Bird Count at Estero del Yugo in Mazatlan
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