Nine feeding rules
You can attract tiny, beautiful hummingbirds to your yard
Published: April 20, 2012
|Hummingbirds are the tiniest birds in the world, and among the most popular. |
I saw my first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the year at Merritt Island in Florida in January, but just as I do every year, I hunger for the first one to appear in my backyard. The years when some remain in my Minnesota neighborhood throughout the breeding season are thrilling, and when we get a migratory surge in late July and August, I’m elated.
Birdwatchers in the West have a larger variety of species than we do in the East. And along the Pacific Coast and in the Southwest and extreme southeastern United States, people often get to enjoy hummingbirds year-round. No matter where you live, feeding is the quickest way to attract hummingbirds to your yard. Here are a few simple rules to follow:
1 Make your own sugar water. The ratio of sugar to water should match that of flowers: roughly from 1:5 to 1:3.
2 During hot, dry conditions, dehydration can be a problem. Use four or five cups of water for every cup of sugar.
3 During cold and rainy conditions, make your solution on the stronger side, up to about 1:3.
4 You don’t need to boil water to make small quantities of sugar water. If you make a larger batch, refrigerate what you don’t use right away.
5 Change the water and wash the feeder thoroughly before the mixture grows cloudy. Sugar water ferments, and the fermentation process speeds up as the temperature increases. During hot conditions, replace the solution daily, or at least every second day.
6 Never use food coloring, and don’t buy prepackaged mixtures that produce red “nectar.” Flowers may be colorful, but nectar is clear. Studies show that food coloring is harmful to hummingbirds.
7 Drip feeders can lose sugar water rapidly in sunlight and during hot weather. This not only makes the ground below sticky but may attract ants.
8 Never use pesticides or sticky substances on feeders to dissuade pests.
9 Use a hanging feeder with a central moat filled with tap water to prevent ants from reaching the feeder ports.
Migrating hummingbirds may notice your feeders and visit. But it takes more than sugar water to entice them to stick around. On first arrival in spring, before flowers have opened, hummingbirds are drawn to sapsucker drill holes. Phoebes, kinglets, Cape May Warblers, and other songbirds also dine at the wells, especially during inclement weather. A bonus.
Fostering spiders and allowing spider webs to remain along gutters and soffits provide hummingbirds with spider silk, a relied-upon nest-building material. The birds incorporate bits of lichen into their nests as well. Provide an assortment of locally native vegetation and a small rock garden or brush pile to encourage spiders and lichens.
Flowers with throats provide both natural nectar and tiny insects, such as aphids, which give hummers essential proteins. Your local bird and gardening clubs will have suggestions for the best varieties to plant for your location.