Feed the Birds

Ruby-throated hummingbird, male (Archilochus c...

Image by Vicki's Nature via Flickr

Hummingbirds that is 🙂  If you were lucky enough to get a hummingbird feeder for Mother’s Day, or you purchased you first one for yourself, here in Canada it’s time to get those feeders out.  Actually it’s a little past time for.  Mother’s day is a good rule of thumb for remembering to fill the feeders for these little flying jewels.

Here in Ontario I’ve only ever seen the Ruby Throated hummingbird although there have apparently been reports of others that are considered rare or accidental.  Oh how I’d love to see them 🙂

Keeping your feeder filled and clean is very inexpensive and easy.  Please don’t waist your money on store bought “nectar” and please don’t EVER use the nectar that is coloured red or add red food colour to your home made nectar it is harmful to the birds and is totally unnecessary.  One other don’t is NEVER use honey water solution.  It will ferment and culture bacterium that can quickly become toxic and deadly.

So with the don’ts out of the way here are the simple and inexpensive do’s.

The Proper Sugar Solution Recipe for Feeding Hummingbirds:

Four parts water to one part white sugar. (For instance, one quarter cup of sugar stirred into one cup of water.)

Tap or well water is preferred; do not use distilled as it takes out too many naturally occurring minerals. If you use a water softener, you may want to use partial or totally filtered water; softeners may add too many minerals and salts to the water.

Room Temperature Method: Use very warm water (not hot) right out of the tap. Some brisk stirring is all that is required to dissolve the sugar. Let it cool a bit before setting out a feeder if the sugar water is hot to the touch.

Boiling Method I: Some people prefer to boil their sugar solution to retard the growth of bacteria and mold. Use boiling water to mix up the above-mentioned sugar solution; allow it to cool before placing outside.

Boiling Method II: Sometimes you may still have problems even if you have been boiling your water; the trouble could be contamination in your sugar. This method should take car of the problem. Mix up the 4:1 water-to-sugar solution in your normal preparation amount. Bring this to a boil on the stove and allow it to boil for a minute or two. Bring more (plain) water to the boil in another container at the same time. Pour the boiled sugar solution into a clean and sanitized measuring container (you don’t want to undo your efforts!). If some water boiled off, add plain boiled water to the boiled sugar solution to bring it back up to the original amount it was before boiling. It’s a bit more work, but the boiling method tends to extend the “shelf life” of the sugar solution.

Sugar solution can be made ahead and kept up to a week in the refrigerator.

Discard any sugar solution that has turned cloudy or contains black mold, no matter how “fresh” the solution is.

A tip: Only fill your feeders with enough sugar solution to last, at the most, two or three days. There is no sense in throwing most of the sugar water away when it goes bad before the hummingbirds drink all or most of it.

Cleaning Your Hummingbird Feeder:

Sugar solutions last about three to five days under normal outdoor conditions, longer in the cold and less in extreme heat. Feeders should be emptied and cleaned as soon as the sugar solution starts to appear cloudy (which can be in only a day or two if it is very hot or the feeder is in a sunny location, or if your feeder or solution is contaminated). There are a few different ways to clean and sanitize your feeder; no matter your choice, always rinse your feeders thoroughly after washing. Rinse, rinse, rinse; and when you think you’ve rinsed enough, rinse one last time.

Various cleaning methods include washing in warm water and mild dish soap; in boiling water only or with boiling water and a mild dish detergent; or washing with vinegar and water. Rinse well if you use anything in addition to plain water.

Feeders washed with warm water or warm water and soap can then be sanitized by soaking them in a mild bleach solution (in a 1:10 ratio = one part bleach, ten parts water; I usually go for one small “glug” of bleach per sink-full of water) for an hour, followed by lots and lots of rinsing.

Remember: rinse well!

So there you have it!  I know with my feeders, I can almost set my watch to the hummers coming to the feeder.  The seem to come back and feed at 15 minute intervals.  The antics that they go through are so rewarding to watch.  I’ve even been on the deck wearing a red shirt and had them come right up to me and hover thinking I was a huge flower.  I’m sure they were disappointed but I sure enjoyed it 🙂  It was late September when I last saw our hummer around our feeder last year.

There is a ton of information on hummingbirds and hummingbird feeders on the web if you want more info, but I think these basics are all you need to get started enjoying these little flying jewels.



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