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What do hummingbirds eat?

 

Yes, hummingbirds eat nectar from flowers and consequently hummingbird feeders. But most people do not realize that they also eat tiny insects and spiders in order to get their required protein. If you get a chance to watch them closely when they are away from your feeders you might observe them catching bugs. I have watched them fly around closely inspecting leaves on a tree and seemingly pecking at them and what they are really doing is picking off small bugs from the leaves. I have also watched them hover in flight and stab repeatedly at gnats picking them off one at a time. This type of activity is fascinating to observe.

 

Nectar recipe

 

The nectar for your hummingbird feeders is quite simple, 1 part white table sugar to 4 parts tap water. Nothing more, nothing less. No red dye, no premix from the store, no honey, no brown sugar, no fruit, nothing. You can make it on the stove and boil the water if you like but it is not necessary. I use hot tap water and make sure that the sugar dissolves.

 

Change your nectar regularly!

 

This is where most people mess up. Nectar begins to ferment very quickly and your hummingbirds will not feed on fermented nectar and will avoid feeders that contain it. So when you first hang your feeder the nectar will be crystal clear and depending on the outside temperature it will begin to get slightly cloudy usually after about 3-5 days which are the visible signs of fermentation. To have the most birds using your feeders in your hummingbird garden you will want to change your nectar twice a week, I simply get on the schedule of doing it on Saturdays and Wednesdays.

 

Pests

 

If you hang a hummingbird feeder you will nearly always experience bees and wasps or ants. The trick is to not let this affect your enjoyment of feeding and watching your hummingbirds. Ants are easy to deal with by using an ant moat. Some feeders such as the HummerMagnet have a built-in ant moat that you simply fill with water and it keeps the ants from being able to reach the nectar so they go away. If the built-ins are not sufficient in size for your needs there are lots of larger ones available that will do the trick. Bees and wasps are a bit harder to deal with but not too bad. The first thing you will want to do is buy a hummingbird feeder that is designed to be bee-proof and that means designed so that the bees cannot reach to the nectar with their proboscis (tongue) which is about 1/4" long. If you have a hummingbird feeder that you believe is sufficiently bee-proof and you still have bees spending a lot of time on it then most likely the bees are feeding on tiny bits of nectar that the hummingbirds inadvertently leave on the surface of the feeder in the course of normal feeding activity. This can be quickly resolved by rinsing off the areas where the bees are spending time with tap water from a squirt bottle. You will observe the bees return looking for food but they won't stay if the food source has been removed.

 

Taking down your feeders in the fall

 

For those of you not living in the southwest or on the west coast where there can be hummingbirds all year long, you will want to take your feeders down for the winter at some point. A simple rule of thumb is that if you normally see hummingbirds regularly and have not seen one in a week it might be time to take down your feeders. Your feeders are not keeping the hummingbird population from starving and on the other hand keeping them up "too long" will not keep hummingbirds from migrating south for the winter either. Use your common sense and take them down for a final cleaning and they will be ready to go in the spring.

Choosing a hummingbird feeder

 

Back in the spring of 2007 it was time to hang my hummingbird feeders and when I looked at the sorry collection that I had accumulated over the years while each season trying to find the perfect feeder it was pretty sad. Most of them were not pretty and the ones that were pretty leaked which attracted bees and ants or were impossible to clean completely. As a bird lover I knew that I could design a better hummingbird feeder so the HummerMagnet was born and folks really love it. So when choosing a hummingbird feeder you will want one that does not leak, is easy to clean and although being pretty is not a high priority, it certainly looks better in your yard that an ugly one does! There are lots of creative designs available but like most things in life simpler is better. Go with a good looking glass bottle type feeder that comes apart for easy cleaning, it will last for years and you will not be disappointed. This type feeder also uses perches which allows the hummingbirds to rest while feeding which in turn allows them to conserve a little bit of energy and hang around longer for your viewing pleasure. I now use my leaky blown glass feeders as yard art and simply leave them empty. Hummingbirds do learn how to use a feeder, which is to say that it is not instinctive like it is for them to feed on nectar from flowers. They learn from either thier natural inquisitiveness or from watching other birds. So when you hang a new hummingbird feeder it may not be the most popular until they become used to it and you may want to initially hang it near your other feeders until they learn that it is awesome too.

 

Hanging your hummingbird feeder

 

Ok, hummingbird feeder #1 will obviously be located where you can best enjoy watching them feed, that is the easy one. Most people are immediately hooked on the flying jewels and want to hang more feeders to enjoy more birds. I agree with this completely as the more appealing your yard is to the birds the more birds you will eventually have in your area and season over season your hummingbird garden will grow. Now these little guys are extremely territorial and are not really into sharing so you need to be a little strategic with hanging additional feeders. So what you need to do is hang them so that one hummingbird can only see one feeder at a time which limits his (yes, the males are the worst) ability to hog more than one feeder. The only exception that I experience is the brief time of spring when there may be lots of hummingbirds passing through on their way to their nesting area. For central Texas for instance this occurs for a couple weeks in April and I will sometimes have 8 birds perched on a single feeder. Because these birds have not yet established territories they tolerate each others close proximity.

 

One other important consideration regarding hanging your hummingbird feeder has to do with if you have raccoons in your area or not. Raccoons love the sweet nectar and will cause you lots of headaches if they can get to your feeders. So in the mornings if you find your hummingbird feeders empty or laying on the ground it is nearly always because of raccoons. I have had to relocate some of my feeders and even use raccoon baffels on one or two.

 

Cleaning your hummingbird feeders

 

Once again simpler is better. Each time you change your nectar give your feeders a quick cleaning. Fill the bottle with hot tap water and run a bottle brush through it to remove any residue, disassemble the base and scrub it clean with your fingers again with hot tap water only. If you are really slow this might take 2 minutes and is all that you need to do to have a nice clean feeder all season.