Make Your Back Yard a Hummingbird Hilton
This is peak season for hummingbirds but if you want them to be your guests, you'll have to offer some hummingbird hospitality. This means providing them with the same services you'd expect in a good hotel: appealing food and drink, and a comfortable place to sleep. When you translate that into the world of hummingbirds, all you have to do is prepare a sugar solution and put it into a well-designed feeder. That's their food, drink, and lodging right there.
Wait a minute, you might say. You talk about lodging, but I didn't even know hummingbirds sleep, let alone sleep on a hummingbird feeder.
Yes, these flying miracles with hearts that beat up to 1,000 times per minute and wings that carry them as far as 6,000 miles over the course of a year, do stop and snooze. And one of the places they've been known to snooze is on the perches of hummingbird feeders. Just check out this one-minute video on YouTube. (Amazing what you can find on YouTube: there's also a one-minute video of a hummingbird snoring.)
So the key to having hummingbirds visit your yard is simply to put out feeders and fill them with sugar solution. In a previous article we discussed hummingbird feeders, the information still holds up and we stand by our recommendations.
Today we'll go into detail about the sugar solutionhow to make your own and the right way to use it. This might seem a simple matter, and it is in certain ways, but if you don't do it right, the hummingbirds simply won't come, or, even worse, they could be harmed.
You've probably heard a fancier name for it: hummingbird nectar, but there's actually no such thing. Hummingbirds extract nectar from flowers but nobody sells flower nectar. However, the ingredient in the flower nectar that nourishes the hummers is sucrose, and white table sugar is 100% sucrose. Since flower nectar is approximately 20% sucrose, all you have to do to create a viable substitute is make a solution of 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. Bring it to a boil to eliminate any bacteria or mold, and when it cools down to room temperature, you're ready to go.
But here are some details to keep in mind: use the purest water available and choose a brand of granular white sugar that contains no preservatives or additives (Domino, for example), and DO NOT substitute brown sugar, honey, or any other kind of sugar or sweetener. This is critical. For example, hummingbirds can die from the mold that will start to grow if you substitute honey.
And another thing: DO NOT add red dye to your sugar solution. It is true that hummers are attracted to the color red, but you'll be pouring your solution into a red feeder anyway, so the addition of red dye is unnecessary. More important, the systems of the hummingbirds are so delicate and sensitive that it could do them harm over time. Hummingbirds feed 5-8 times an hour and they consume up to two times their body weight in nectar and insects every day. If their daily diet includes red dye, that could mean a lot of dye over time, perhaps enough to hurt them. So it's best to err on the side of caution and avoid it.
You'll want to change the solution in your feeders every two or three days. If you see no signs of mold or fermentation (odor, or change in the color of the solution) you can get away with doing it less often. But the hotter the weather, the faster the solution will spoil; during very hot spells you might even need to change the solution every day.
Before you add your sugar solution to your feeders, rinse them out thoroughly. At least once a week clean them with some soapy water and a bottle brush; some people use white vinegar. After you've filled up your feeders, refrigerate any unused solution; it should last for about a week but you should use it as soon as possible.
Much more important than avoiding red dye in your sugar solution is to avoid pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides in the area where you're offering hummingbird hospitality. The tiny kidneys and livers of the hummingbirds simply can't handle any toxic substances, so it's essential that you offer them as pure an environment as possible.
What will give your back yard value-added appeal in the eyes of your little bejeweled patrons is the presence of their favorite plants. In a previous article we discussed four such plants: Monarda, Butterfly Bush, Lantana, Zinnia and Fuchsia. We would also like to suggest Salvia and Sage as additional plants for your hummer garden. Hummingbirds will want to dine out at these fine nectar-bearing plants and you can be sure that they will appreciate the enhanced ambience those blooms provide in your back yard as much as you do. For a list of plants that will bloom all season long, read our blog article: The Ultimate Dining Guide for Hummingbirds.
Another help in creating the prefect backyard for your hummingbirds is to offer them nesting material. If you don't have access to a prepackaged supply, they will also use moss, cotton fluffs, bits of willows, soft plant pieces, dryer lint, and leaf hairs.
Hummingbirds don't make reservations, but to see the travel itinerary of the ruby-throated hummers, visit hummingbirds.net. In the meantime, roll out the grass carpet and follow our hummingbird hospitality advice. You may soon find that your back yard has turned into a Hummingbird Hilton.