Saturday, October 19, 2013

Hummingbirds

“The hummingbird is the miracle of all our winged animals.  He is feathered as a bird, but gets his living as bees.”  Englishman John Lawson 1714

Hummingbirds are making their way to Mexico for the winter and are showing up in numbers in our quaint neighborhood.  I planted zinnias as usual this past spring for them, but the seeds must have been tainted because hardly any of them produced.  So I dusted off and set up my small blue single port feeder which immediately was taken over by a female ruby-throat.  Weighing no more than a penny, we sit watching as her blurred wings fanned the hot, humid air as it performed a little “sugar water snorkeling” at the feeder.
My wife suggested getting another feeder so I picked up one that had 8 ports and a perch for them to rest while they feed.  The female quickly discovered it and has claimed ownership of it also.  That’s the way hummingbirds are when it comes to finding a rich food source.  A single bird will dominate your feeders, hoarding it all for themselves.   I increased the distance between the two feeders so as to free one up for others.  Sometimes a third one is needed in order to do this.  Another trick is to put them all out of sight of one another.
My neighbors have also put up feeders, and some are using the artificially red-colored commercial mixes.     The red dye used in this mix, which is believed to be harmful towards hummingbirds, is added as an attractant. The same thing can be accomplished by using a red-colored container instead, or by just placing a simple red or orange ribbon on the feeder’s tube.  I highly suggest making your own feed.  That way you’ll know what’s in it.   
I follow Dan True’s formula from his book “Hummingbirds of North America”, using a 5:1 ratio (water to sugar) using plain white sugar (avoid honey or any other sugar types i.e. brown, raw or organic, and also sugar substitutes). [It is interesting to note the reason to avoid honey- it was discovered that a honey-water mixture produces a type of fungus that invades the tongues of hummingbirds, which in turn kills them.]  To make a 5:1 ratio mix, measure sugar (1 cup) and water (5 cups)  into a pot and bring it to a boil for two minutes (helps inhibit fermentation).  Be sure and place a lid on the pot when doing this so as to not concentrate the mixture.  He says not to microwave it because this alters the sugar molecule.  Cool the mixture before using and refrigerate the rest.  Also add plants such as trumpet creeper, Carolina Jessamine, cardinal flower, zinnias and others which hummers love.  They also need protein which they obtain from insects.  You can put out pieces of fermenting fruit which will attract fruit flies, gnats and other small bugs that they will readily take on the wing.  Also consider putting up feeders that contain just plain water.  Misters during the dog days of summer are always a welcome “oasis” for these tiny dynamos.

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