It won’t be long until one of our favorite birds is back. Everyone enjoys the entertaining ruby-throated hummingbird, but not everyone has good luck attracting them. There are several things you can do to help these “flying jewels” find you, but you must act quickly. The secret is to have something available to them early in the season, when they first start showing up, or they may just move on.
The first step is to put up some hummingbird feeders before the birds get here. There are many types of feeders to pick from but the best ones have a lower container with holes in the cover, which the hummingbirds can feed through. This type of feeder is not prone to spilling or dripping on windy days. The other thing to look for is a feeder whose cover can be taken apart to clean. Some hummingbird feeders have perches on them, which is good but not essential.
The second step to attracting flying jewels is to have an assortment of flowers that they like. Bleeding heart, columbine, lily, morning glory, phlox, trumpet vine, honeysuckle, bee balm, jewel weed and cardinal flower are all favorites. They not only provide nectar, they attract insects on which the hummingbirds will feed.
Place your feeders out of the wind and in a shaded area near your flowers. Once the birds have begun to arrive, you can move a feeder progressively closer to your house where you can see it better. Eventually you can hang it next to your window for some real close-up viewing.
There are commercial mixes you can put in the feeder but they are no better than what you can make yourself. Mix 1 part sugar (no honey) to 4 parts to water. Boil this mixture for a few minutes and let it cool before you put it in the feeder. Any extra left over can be can be stored safely in the refrigerator. Put a drop of red food dye in the mixture to show you at a glance the level of the mixture. Years ago, there was a concern about red food dye being unsafe, but today’s dye is OK.
Once temperatures get really warm, you should change your mixture every two or three days if the sun is hitting it, or every three to four days if it’s in the shade. The feeder should be taken apart and cleaned with hot water each time you refill it. Mold and bacteria can build up inside the feeder and harm the birds. It’s best to fill a feeder with only enough sugar water to last three to four days. If the inside of the feeder does get dirty and you can’t get it clean with hot water alone, you can use a mild bleach solution, but be sure to rinse it out well before you refill the feeder with fresh sugar water. Keeping the feeder clean and the food fresh is very important.
You will find, once several birds have found your feeder, that they will constantly be fighting over it. I solve this problem by putting up several feeders, each one out of sight of the others, which allows the birds to feed without so much competition.
One problem you may have with your feeder is hornets and ants getting into it. There are traps that you can buy and place near the feeder that will not hurt the birds. Building a moat around the hanger on the feeder can discourage ants. Take a laundry detergent bottle cap and drill a small hole through the center of the bottom. Push an eight-inch piece of wire through this hole and bend a hook on the bottom end. Bend a loop on the other end. Now, use silicone glue to seal the wire around the area where it goes through the cap. Once the glue has dried, hang the cap from the same hanger you normally used to hang the feeder — and then hang the feeder on the loop on the cap. Once the feeder is hung, fill the cap with water and the ants will not be able to get to the feeder.
If you have never had hummers in your yard before, you could try hanging a large red cloth (the color red attracts them) where it can be seen from a lengthy distance and put a feeder near it. Once you have a hummer or two coming your way, you can get rid of the red cloth and start to progressively move your feeder close to a place where you will be able to readily see these birds in action, by a window or a porch where you spend time during summer.
Get a feeder up now and be ready for these little “speedsters,” as there should be some showing up by the end of this week.
Doug Domedion, outdoorsman and nature photographer, resides in Medina. Contact him at (585) 798-4022 or email@example.com .