Sunday, September 16, 2007


I have been enjoying the hummingbirds this weekend. There have been up to a dozen at the feeders at times, mostly 4-6. I have refilled the feeders daily, as they empty them. I have had difficulty getting any decent photos of them. This is one (it's okay, not great). My brothers tell me that I should not keep my feeders out after Labor Day, but I feel like the birds know when to migrate and that they need the nourishment along the way.
The Audubon Society agrees: "Put up hummingbird feeders to provide sugar water as supplemental food, which is especially critical during the fall and winter, when the birds are migrating."
Flowers are the natural way to attract hummingbirds to your yard, but I am not a good enough gardener to have flowers this late in the season. So I need to use a man-made feeders filled with a mixture of water and ordinary table sugar (sucrose). Sugar, whether from a flower or a feeder, is essential for a hummingbird's diet. It provides the quick fuel for flight that it needs during waking hours; it is not "junk food." Human metabolism is not comparable to hummingbird metabolism (don't I wish it were)! Hummingbirds also eat insects and tiny spiders to provide protein for their diet (well, I'd rather have a steak for protein than spider).

A good formula for hummingbird food: 4 parts water to 1 part sugar (so 1/4 cup sugar to 1 cup water). The water should not be distilled, just use tap water. The sugar should be white table sugar. Do not use artificial colors (red dye does NOT help attract hummingbirds) or other additives. Never use honey or artificial sweeteners, for to do so may kill the birds. The ingredients can be mixed using cold water.

Any mixture of sugar and water will ferment and can host the growth of mold spores and/or bacteria. Because of this, the mixture must be discarded regularly (if not eaten by the hummingbirds) to avoid these problems. In moderate temperatures, such as 60-85 degrees F. (15-30 degrees C.) a mixture should last about 3 days. It will need to be changed more frequently at higher temperatures and less often at cooler temperatures. Regardless of the mixture's age, discard it immediately if you see cloudiness or you see mold growing in the feeder. Always clean a feeder thoroughly before refilling; do not "top off" a feeder which is low in mixture. Clean with warm water and detergent, and rinse very thoroughly.
Photos of hummingbirds--The Hummingbird Society
Addendum (Sept 19, 2007)
A friend e-mailed me this link. It is shows the birth of a hummingbird. Don't stop at the first page, but click through all 5 pages. The woman who found this hummingbird nest got pictures all the way from the egg to leaving the nest. A total of 24 days from birth to flight.


Val said...

Are there hummingbirds in DC? I've never seen any... but would put a big sugar water feeder on my patio in a heart beat if I thought I could attract some! :) The only birds I've seen lately are Marine One...

rlbates said...

According to this site ( Washington DC is in their natural range.

Walter said...

I put up a hummingbird feeder a few weeks ago and the family loves it. My daughter especially enjoys watching the birds. I was told that the red dye in the mix attracts hummingbirds. It's good to know I can make my own. Thanks.

Sid Schwab said...

We have fuschias and the h-birds love them. This year, they've come around less often. I read somewhere recently that they seem to be decreasing in number generally. I hope it's not true.

Chrysalis Angel said...

I love the hummingbirds. I put one up each year, and sit out on the deck and watch them. They are beautiful, fascinating little creatures.

One time I was sitting on the deck after swimming, and one came right up to my face and just looked at me for what seemed like a couple minutes, just holding itself there. Talk about a bird's eye view.