Sunday, April 15, 2007

If You Hang It, They Will Come

Besides our generous Texas hospitality, around here we're also known for our ever-growing hummingbird population. About ten years ago I started out with one 8-ounce feeder, then rapidly needed another. The second year I added 2 more, then 2 more the year after that. Last year I had to upgrade to six 16-ounce feeders and in the heat of the summer, those little guys consumed that much every day. I really should add 2 more this year because they come back every year - and they bring their friends.

Their antics are delightful to watch and they are just about the most fearless creatures I've ever seen. The video isn't mine, but it shows some wonderful examples of how engaging they can be. They're fast learners, curious, and once they figure out you're not going to hurt them, they'll get right in your face to check you out. I love sitting on the patio early in the morning & late in the evening when they are most active just to commiserate with them. The Man is even in on it. At first he didn't understand why on earth I'd want to feed a bunch of silly little birds. After all, you can't eat them. All of the feeders are fully visible from the sunroom, where he reads the paper on the weekends. When he started pointing them out to me, I knew he'd been hooked by their charms too.

If you want to attract hummingbirds to your own yard, there are a few things you should know.

First, one huge myth about hummers is that they are attracted to red. They see the full spectrum of color and are just as likely to visit a blue, yellow or purple flower as any other. Their main diet consists mainly of flower nectar and small insects and spiders. They use what we offer them for quick bursts of energy - kind of in the manner in which we'd eat a Snickers bar. They're not stupid. They know which flowers and bugs are suitable for their needs and they know what's in our feeders. We don't have to do anything extra to make them more attractive.

It is unnecessary to buy commercial hummingbird food. That stuff is full of artificial dyes that are probably more detrimental to their tiny systems than they are to ours. The experts say to just use a plain sugar-water solution at about 1 part sugar to 4 or 5 parts water, although the solution I make up is about 1 part sugar to 1 or 2 parts water. Just use plain old white cane sugar. They don't particularly like beet sugar. Never use honey, fruit juice, brown sugar or turbinado sugars because the naturally occurring impurities promote faster growth of bacteria and mold, which can kill your hummer friends. You don't have to boil the water although using hot water makes dissolving the sugar easier. Distilled water isn't necessary either. Believe it or not, tap water because it offers extra minerals is considered best. I usually let it sit on the counter for a few hours or overnight to allow the solution to cool to room temperature and to give the chlorine time to evaporate out.

It's particularly important though to keep the feeders clean and change the solution frequently. Bacteria and mold can grow in them at a rather alarming rate, particularly during hot weather. Hot weather can also make your sugar solution ferment and drunk hummingbirds are dead hummingbirds.

For capacity and ease of cleaning, by far the best feeders I've found anywhere are the "Humdinger" feeders, manufactured by Turbine industries in Wichita Falls, Texas. They don't draw bees or ants and are guaranteed to only feed hummingbirds. This is my second year using them and although I've seen the odd bee or wasp hovering around the feeders, they give up fairly quickly because they can't get to the sugar water.

Because the weather here warms fairly quickly, I put the first feeder out half-full on Valentine's Day just in case we get some early arrivals. I usually see the first one around the first of March. Gradually I add more feeders and more sugar water in the feeders until all of them are out and full - around the first of May. In peak season I have to refill them every day. Then around Labor day I start cutting back on the amount of sugar water in the feeders and the number of feeders until the last one is left out half-full. I take it down around the first of November, or later if I'm still seeing them.

Last but not least, if you can't make that kind of commitment to their care, don't do it. They become accustomed to that food source and there may not be another one within a reasonable distance. Taking it away from them wouldn't be fair. Not only that, but they'll find someplace else to go when they return next year - like, maybe my house.

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Natalia said...

My parents have them on their property. When I was staying with them I used to love seeing the first cardinals show up. Now, why is the male the one who is beautiful in the animal kingdom and yet the female of the human species have to be the one to look good to attract a mate? Just pondering.


drsharna said...

The cardinals are here all year. They're also fun to watch.

I think it would be fun to be a seahorse. The males carry the offspring and raise them.

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