The best way to feed hummingbirds is to offer them nectar-producing flowers, but hummingbird feeders can act as a supplement and lure birds to spots where you can easily watch them. Hummingbirds are entranced by sugar-water in colorful feeders—after all, no flower in nature has such vast amounts of sweet nectar. Yet hummingbird feeders can become hazards to the birds unless they are responsibly tended. Here are a few suggestions:
When you purchase your first hummingbird feeder, choose one with a small reservoir for sugar-water. You will have to fill this more frequently, but the sugar-water supply will be fresher. As hummingbirds find your feeder and make it a popular stop, add more feeders or a larger feeder, selecting models that are easy to clean. Feeders with multiple sipping ports and perches can accommodate many birds at once.
Hang the feeder in a shady spot; the sugar water is less likely to spoil there. Keep the feeder within easy view of windows; placing the feeder within a foot or two of a window is usually safe, but move it if hummingbirds begin colliding with the glass. Also keep the feeder at least six feet off the ground to reduce the risk from predatory house cats. Place the feeder near a shrub or tree, which can provide convenient, nearby perches and shelter—or securely nail a branch with tiny branchlets close by to accommodate hummingbird feet.
Hummingbird Gardens: Turning Your Yard Into Hummingbird Heaven
This book shows you how to attract hummingbirds to your yard by planting the flowers they love. You can add vibrant color to your small piece of the planet and at the same time ensure a brighter future for North America's tiniest birds.
To attract hummingbirds when you first put up the feeder, dangle colorful plastic or silk flowers from it. Once hummingbirds find the feeder, they will remember its location.
Refill the feeders as soon as they are empty to keep up a dependable food source. Clean the feeder at least once a week with a bottle brush. Discourage ants by suspending a plastic cup filled with water from the line leading to the feeder. Use special plastic "bee guards" to prevent large insects from clogging the feeder tube.
Feeders do not usually deter hummingbirds from migration. In northern climates, leave feeders in place until the last hummingbirds depart for the winter, then clean and store them for the season. In warm climates, it's okay to use hummingbird feeders throughout the year, especially on the West Coast and in the Southwest. There is growing evidence that many hummingbirds (and many species) winter in the southeastern states, where they feed on flowers, insects, and tree sap released by sapsuckers. Wintering hummingbirds should not be captured, held in greenhouses, or transported to tropical climates.
Ambrosia for Hummingbirds
To prepare a batch of sugar-water for a hummingbird feeder, mix one part granulated white sugar to four parts water, then boil the solution for one or two minutes; don't let the brew turn to syrup. Cool the mixture before filling feeders and store the surplus in your refrigerator. Do not use honey, as it ferments easily and promotes a fungus growth that can prove harmful. Most feeders have enough red plastic parts to lure the birds, so it is not necessary to add red food coloring to the sugar-water.
About the Author Stephen W. Kress is Vice-President for Bird Conservation of the National Audubon Society and Director of the Society's Seabird Restoration Program. He teaches ornithology classes at the Audubon Camp in Maine and for the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. Stephen guest-edited the Brooklyn Botanic Garden handbook Bird Gardens (1998). He is author of The Audubon Society Bird Garden, The Audubon Society Birder's Handbook, the Golden Guide Bird Life, and other publications on birds and their management.