Hummingbirds and humans have a great relationship. They provide us with hours of entertainment, and we often provide them with extra nectar. We see hummingbirds year round in Clark County Washington but recently, the activity has increased and soon all the “snowbird varieties” will be returning. Hummingbirds drink nectar to maintain their metabolism, (wings flap an average of 53 times per second), primarily from flowers and sugar - water filled feeders. They also eat soft bodied insects and spiders for protein–in fact, they are actually pretty effective bug eating machines. But they do need the nectar to provide the the power necessary to pursue their buggy protein diet. If you are one of the many people who help out by hanging a feeder, here are some important things to remember.
Many well-meaning people have substituted honey for sugar in their feeders assuming that they were giving their jeweled visitors a healthier choice, unfortunately that’s not the case. In fact, a honey solution can lead to a fatal fungus disease in hummingbirds. Another common mistake is adding more sugar to the standard formula. Sure your tiny friends may love you for it initially, but not for long. Stronger solutions can be hard for hummingbirds to digest and may eventually lead to liver damage.
The proper solution for a feeder is one part sugar and four parts water (or one cup of sugar added to four cups of water). A quart can be made at a time and extra stored in the refrigerator. Red dye is unnecessary, even discouraged. Many feeders have red parts added, or you can tie a red ribbon somewhere on the feeder or hanger.
A mandatory responsibility that comes with the enjoyment feeders bring is maintaining their cleanliness and supplying fresh solution. They must be cleaned thoroughly, scrubbed with a bottle brush and then rinsed with boiling hot water at least once a week, and more frequently (every two to three days) during the extreme heat of summer. If you get a mold growth, you can soak the feeder in full strength white vinegar. I don’t use bleach water because of the concern over BPA, a chemical known to cause genetic damage in mammals. I don’t think they’ve done a comprehensive study on birds, but I’d rather err on the side of caution.
Early in the spring when feeder activity is low, I put about an inch or so of solution in my feeder. The only time I fill feeders to the top is during heavy use, from late June to early September. You’ll notice the natural ebb and flow of activity. When the flowers are in full bloom, my tiny friends actually prefer natural botanical sources and I can adjust the feeder solution levels accordingly.
Soon we’ll be sitting on our decks, listening to high pitched chirps as we watch the Anna’s, Rufous, Allen’s and five other local varieties dart and dive on their arial pathways to our feeders. Let’s make sure the nectar is fresh and the feeders are clean in our Clark County Washington neighborhoods.