Linda’s For the Birds: Hummingbirds
Female ruby-throated hummingbird.by Linda Gangi
Photo credit: Sue Puder
Photo credit: Sue Puder
Hummingbirds are on the way and I can’t wait! Last year was the first year that I hung out feeders, with one on the window and a larger one on the pole in the back yard. I was overly eager and hung the feeders early April and had to wait until around May 1st before I got a glimpse of my first hummingbird. I remember it was at dinner and I happened to look into the back yard. I keep a pair of binoculars on the window sill and I almost knocked my husband off his chair as I lurched for the binoculars - you would have thought I won the lottery.
Throughout the summer we were entertained by several birds, they usually visited the window feeder around dinner time giving us outstanding views. As the summer progressed and babies were born the competition for the feeders increased and we learned that these petite birds are extremely territorial!
Picture this idyllic situation: a pretty little hummingbird at your feeder, sipping sugar water. He sips a little and then hovers, displaying for all to see, then back to sipping. ‘How nice, what a pretty little bird’ we say to each other appreciating its beauty. Then all of a sudden out of nowhere - BAM - another hummer blind sides it, the two collide and fall into the bushes. The stunned hummer makes a recovery and is back at the feeder doing cute hummingbird moves, and - BAM - in the bushes again! This continues until the hummingbird gets the message and moves to another feeder. It is because of this aggression that it is best to keep your feeders far apart or out of sight of each other if possible.
Female ruby-throated hummingbird.
Photo credit: Sue Puder
New Jersey has only one breeding hummingbird species and that is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. These birds have already been spotted and it is just a matter of time before they spread throughout the state. My feeders are already up and waiting! I wanted to share with you what I’ve learned about feeding them and encourage you to put out hummingbird feeders yourself.
You can purchase hummingbird feeders in many stores or online. If you have a New Jersey Audubon Center near you, that is an excellent place to buy one while also helping to support a wonderful conservation organization at the same time. Lowes, Home Depot, and many wild bird stores around the state also have them. You can purchase them just about anywhere.
Hummingbirds are attracted to red, so the redder the better. Ease of cleaning is important, so make sure the feeder you purchase comes apart and can be washed easily. Most feeders are sold with tiny brushes which are used to clean the holes where the bird’s beak goes. Ants and bees love sugar water. To help combat this, feeders come with bee guards and tiny moats that prevent crawling insects from getting to the sugar; all these things need to be considered.
Don’t be fooled into buying the already prepared sugar mix that is sold in stores. Besides costing you money, most have red dyes in them; hummingbirds don’t need red dye! All you need to do is prepare a mixture of 1 part sugar to four parts water that translates to ¼ cup sugar to 1 cup water. Heat that mixture until the sugar has completely dissolved, cool and add to your feeder. If you have excess, store it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Once you have done that, you need to be vigilant when it comes to changing the sugar water and cleaning the feeder. How often you change the sugar water will depend on a few things. I was told to change it every 3 days and more frequently if the weather is hot. If the mixture looks cloudy, change it right away, don’t wait for the mixture to get low. Err on the side of safety, when in doubt change the mixture.
Make sure when you do change the water, that you also clean the feeder. If you use soap, be sure to rinse the feeder thoroughly. Feeding these birds is a joy and it benefits us and them, but if they end up using a feeder that is going to make them sick, then we are doing more harm than good. Better to not feed them, then to offer food that can negatively impact their health. This is a responsibility that should be taken seriously!
As far as the best hummingbird feeder is concerned, the HummZinger seems to be the most recommended (link below). I have a HummZinger look alike and a Duncraft window feeder, the birds like both. Many companies make hummingbird feeders, but I’m mentioning these in order to give you a place to start, get to see what they look like, and then make a decision based on your needs.
If you feel you don’t have the time for a feeder, then perhaps a Hummingbird garden would better suit you. Many garden stores sell hummingbird friendly plants. When picking a plant, please consider using native plants. My post on the Monarch Butterfly contained links to native plant information. See New Jersey Audubon’s site below for detailed plant information.
Visit these sites for a more in depth discussion about hummingbirds and how to attract them:
- Linda's For the Birds: Monarch Butterflies Need Our Help!
- Linda's For the Birds: Volunteers needed to Monitor Piping Plover & Least Terns
- Linda's for the Birds: The Barnegat Jetty Show
- Linda's For the Birds: Weather Warriors
- Linda's For the Birds: The Strange Mating Ritual of the American Woodcock
- Linda's For the Birds: Chasing Crossbills