Bring on the Hummingbirds

We've always had a couple of hummingbirds in the yard, mostly hanging out over by the trumpet vine. Last year was hard on them, with The Pile and all, and only one of them came back this year, alas. Fortunately, he* has been enjoying the flowers in the garden, and sometimes he swoops up and hovers in the air in front of me, looking me right in the eye. It's awfully cute, if not precisely friendly (usually when wild animals look you in the eye they are about to attack).

To stay on cordial terms, I put in a feeder for him:

Hummingbird feeder

I don't buy commercial nectar for it: the stuff is expensive and so totally unnecessary. The purpose of the feeder is to offer the hummingbird sugar water so it has enough energy to catch bugs, which are the nutritional part of its diet. Nectar is basically just sugar, and the hummingbird doesn't need anything more from it.

I fill the feeder with a simple syrup made by boiling water and stirring sugar into it (in a 4:1 :: water:sugar ratio). I could have used red food colouring, but why bother? The hummingbirds will be just as attracted to the shiny copper feeder, and I hate feeding chemical colourings to wild animals, whether it is harmful or not. Also, hummingbirds are very spatially smart and have an excellent ability to return to sources of nectar in their territory as needed. Once the hummingbird knows where the feeder is, they don't rely on appearance to tell them anything at all.

So clear syrup it is. I make a lot of it at a time, because it's easy enough to do and it makes it faster to change the syrup regularly. This week I made about a gallon, storing the extra in the refrigerator in a marked bottle. Usually I make a wine bottleful. Generally my hummingbird doesn't drink enough in between changes of syrup to use more than a quarter of the feeder, three of which fit in a wine bottle. (Hummingbirds are territorial, so I can't expect more than just the ones whose territory overlaps with the location of my feeder, and right now that seems to be one.)

The reason I don't fill the feeder up to the top and then wait for the hummingbirds to finish it before refilling is that the big concern for hummingbirds is a fresh, clean food supply. The syrup should be replaced every few days, the feeder carefully washed in hot water (and occasionally a mild bleach solution) to get rid of any bad things that might make the birds sick or just make the syrup smell bad. When hummingbirds abandon a feeder during the summer, it is usually because it was not kept fresh and clean.

I'm planning to get a couple more feeders: one for the front garden, and one for the dahlia bed, just to even out the availability for the birds around us and maybe attract another hummingbird or two.

*No, I have no idea whether the hummingbird is really male. I just say he because I think hummingbirds -- most birds, actually -- look male. And whatever.

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posted by ayse on 07/14/06