If I could have only one bird feeder, it would be a hummingbird feeder! These little guys are sources of constant amusement. They dart in and out, take a sip, call their mate over, go off for a while, then come back for another sip.
Place your feeder close as they are real small. Most are in the 3 to 5-inch range from beak to tail and weigh just north of nothing. Their name comes because they beat their little wings so fast that it makes a humming sound. They’re also one of the few birds that can hover in place or even fly backward.
Hummingbirds are territorial and will try to chase away competitors by harassment and “dive-bombing”. It makes for interesting viewing, and they all seem to get their turns at the feeder eventually.
Their small size and fast flight requires an enormous amount of energy. Nectar is their favorite food. It’s almost pure sugar water and digests quickly. Hummingbird feeders are distinctly different from other types of bird feeders as they dispense liquid.
Hummingbird food is available commercially but is very easy (and cheaper) to make at home. Just boil some water, mix in sugar at a 1:4 ratio (1 cup sugar to 4 cups water), and let it cool. Pour some in the feeder and refrigerate the rest.
This mix can spoil, so clean the feeder at least once a week and with each refill. Boiling the water kills any bacteria so that it keeps better. Don’t use honey for the mix. The birds love it, but it isn’t as pure as crystal sugar and will spoil quickly. Commercial food mixes often contain a preservative, so they keep longer, but the safety of the preservatives is questionable.
It’s not necessary to add any coloring to your hummingbird food. Hummingbirds are attracted to red flowers, so most hummingbird feeders are colored red. The nectar color doesn’t make a difference.
We leave our feeder up from spring to fall in New England. Hummingbirds show up as the first flowers are blooming and stay around until the weather chills. The surprising thing is that these little birds migrate hundreds or even thousands of miles for the winter. Our Connecticut Ruby Throated friends winter in Mexico or Central America. We’ll see them sitting on the deck rail looking around if we’re late putting the feeder out.
Selecting a Hummingbird Feeder
Hummingbird feeders are fairly simple consisting of nectar reservoirs with feeding ports. They usually have some red on them for attraction. Some have perches; we prefer them for viewing, but the birds don’t seem to care as in nature they rarely perch on flowers when they feed. Bee guards are important, though. The birds may not mind sharing, but we like to attract hummingbirds, not bees.