With the onset of spring, they’re back! I’m speaking of the hungry travelers, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. They are migratory, spending most of the winter in southern Mexico, Central America as far south as South America, and the West Indies. No wonder they’re hungry.
The area shaded in dark blue is where they fly in winter; green is summer, which is our case means an early spring arrival time. We love seeing these guys and we have put their feeders along our porch. By late summer we’ll be walking outside to what sounds like a bee-hive of activity with 40 to 50 of these delicate little birds at our feeders. They are ferocious feeders and they fight each other for food.
Here are the directions I follow to attract so many hummingbirds:
- Change the feeder food, whether they’ve eaten it or not, every 3-4 days. Why? Mold. It kills hummers. I start my season with one feeder with one cup of sugar water. No use filling it to the top if they’re not drinking it down yet and I will change it every 3-4 days.
- Use glass feeders. Why? Mold. Mold comes off glass.
- Only use vinegar and water to clean feeders. Rinse well. Don’t use any soap product.
- Have a brush that will clean the inside of the feeder. You want to get any mold out.
- For food use regular white sugar and water. To every 1 cup of water use 1/3 to ½ cup of sugar. Stir until dissolved. [I prefer to use ½ cup to give them an extra boost when they are just getting back or getting ready to leave again. Some people boil their water first and then cool, or let the water settle for 24 hours before using. That’s probably a good idea.]
- I make sugar water in a big container and refrigerate for easy refilling during the summer. I try to refill at night so it’s ready and warmed up by the early morning.
- Stay home all summer. If you plan on leaving and you’ve got 40+ birds depending on you, get someone to refill your feeders or alert your neighbors that they may have some extra visitors. During the summer I refill my 2-cup feeders up to twice a day. I have four feeders.
A bee keeper lives down the road from me; his bees were swarming my feeders, attracted to the sugar/nectar. Now I like bees as well as hummers, so I spent extra money on “humdinger” feeders like the one pictured at the beginning of this article; the bees cannot reach the food through the feeding holes, but hummers can. This also keeps away hornets and wasps that become very active in late summer. This feeder is plastic but pops open for easy cleaning. I couldn’t find any glass ones. I found my humdingers on the internet.
Managing invading ants
My humdinger has a little water cavity in the center which will catch ants climbing down the feeder, but even that is not a perfect system for keeping ants away. My husband copied an idea from a friend:
Cutting off the bottom of a small plastic water bottle, he used water proof screws, nuts and bolts to fashion this ant guard which absolutely works. No ants as long as you keep some water in it.
When friends come over we all insist on sitting on our porch to watch the hummingbirds. They zoom by us with incredible speed but not one has run into us yet. I can understand why some get killed flying into people’s windows because they are usually being chased by other hummers and don’t have time to assess the danger.
Besides the buzzing sound of their flight, they have neat songs. The baby hummingbirds usually flock to one feeder. We may have two batches of babies a season.
Having flowers in our garden is the ideal; they attract hummingbirds. Hummers are also considered “pest controllers”, they feed small insects to their young.