Hummingbirds have arrived

Hummingbirds have arrived in the area, and the North Okanagan Naturalists’ Club offers some tips for feeding the tiny birds. - karen siemens
Hummingbirds have arrived in the area, and the North Okanagan Naturalists’ Club offers some tips for feeding the tiny birds.
— image credit: karen siemens

Another spring has heralded the arrival of the smallest of our feathered friends, the hummingbird.

We are fortunate to be home to three types of hummingbirds.  There is the Black Chinned, which sports a magnificent royal purple fluorescent throat.  The next is the Calliope, with  its stunning ragged pink gorget, and  then the noisy little Rufous with his red/brown back and brilliant red throat. While they are here for their breeding season some of us like to feed them. Here are some tips to feed them responsibly and safely.

The most important factor is to have clean feeders. This cannot be stressed enough. An unclean feeder will harbour mould, and mould is a killer.

Use feeders that are easy to clean.  Some feeders may look pretty but it can be very difficult to clean those hard-to-reach places. A feeder needs to able to be dismantled to clean each component. If you have black mould then clean the mould away and soak the feeder for an hour in a mixture of ¼ cup bleach to one gallon of water.

Rinse all parts of your feeder several times to ensure there is no bleach residue.  Before each filling wash the feeder in  hot water using a bottle brush and pipe cleaner for the small openings. It is amazing just how quickly mould will develop! Once a month clean your feeders with the above bleach mixture whether there has been mould present or not.

Many people use the eight-ounce inverted glass feeder. Although they can be taken completely apart for cleaning you may find the yellow bee guards get mould in them. The problem lies in the leakage of the nectar into the flower shaft when birds land to feed, unfortunately this also attracts insects.  There are other styles of inverted feeders but some are a little tough to clean the inside of the base. Having said that, you may have one that cleans very well. Most of them do have perches which help the hummers conserve energy while feeding.

A newer innovation is the basin style. If you can find them with red flowers that is even better (yellow tends to attract bees). I have read that you can paint the flowers but I haven’t tried that yet. They also have a perch. These feeders have a lid that just lifts off. The whole base is open but you still have to remove the flowers to clean under them and use a pipe cleaner in the openings.  You can also purchase ones whose flowers are incorporated into the basic mold so there are no movable or removable parts which simplifies cleaning.

The recipe for your humming bird food is one part white sugar to four parts water: for example  one cup of sugar to four cups of water  or ¼ cup of sugar to one cup of water. Low boil for one to two minutes (leave the lid on so water does not evaporate while boiling as that increases the concentration), cool before putting in clean feeder.

This food can be stored in the fridge for seven days.

Never use brown sugar, honey or sugar substitutes as these contain components that will harm the birds.

Do not add red dye, and save yourself money by not buying pre-made food from the store. The best food is made by you.

If the food is becoming cloudy you have left it out too long and it is spoiled. To avoid that here are some easy guides. Below 21 degrees once a week. 21 to 26 degrees every five days, 27 to 30 degrees every three days, 31 to 33 degrees every two days and over 33 degrees change every day. Note: If your feeder is in the sun you will have to change it more frequently, err on the side of caution.

If you are not around for the whole season to maintain your feeder then don’t start to feed them. It is better to have plants that are hummingbird-friendly instead. It doesn’t have to be a huge ground garden it can easily be done with containers either sitting on your deck or in hanging baskets. They tend to favour tubular shaped flowers. Here are just a few of the flowers that your hummers would enjoy: petunia, salvia, fuschsia, snapdragon and verbena. All of these are easily available at your local nursery. (Just remember that if you have cats around make sure that the flowers are well beyond a cat’s jump height.)

Happy hummingbird feeding.

Karen Siemens is a member of the North Okanagan Naturalists’ Club.


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