Who Doesn’t LOVE Hummingbirds???
“Hummers” are probably one of the most anticipated birds that many people strive to attract to their backyard. They are fascinating creatures, and are one of the most captivating of the approximately 10,000 bird species found all over the world. Worldwide there are over 300 different species of hummingbirds, with twenty four species that visit North America alone. They are easily an entrancing bird to observe, if you are fortunate enough to see them. And if you are one of the privileged to have these little critters flitting about, identifying more information about a hummingbird such as species, gender and age can be mind boggling due to their diminutive size and aerial maneuvers. Here where I live, on the east coast, we only get one species: Ruby Throated Hummingbirds. Even though we only have one species here, with a little preparation and effort, we are fortunate to have hummer shenanigans all day.
So You Want To Attract Hummingbirds
It really isn’t that hard, I swear! Though I will admit that where I used to live I could wait hours just to see ONE, once in a while. Now a days at our current house, I admit we were very fortunate that the former owners already were hummer fans with plenty of feeders out for years. That doesn’t mean I didn’t add my own incentives. Simply just putting out a hummingbird feeder could mean a long wait.
Know Your Target
In case you didn’t know already, I like to hunt. So when I say to “know your target”, I really mean your prey. Whatever it is you want to attract (I suppose this could even work for people??!!) you need to know what makes them tick. Why do they do the things they do, such as: what do they eat and why? As well as where to they live? Habits? Mating rituals? Nests? Raise their young, and so on and so on. For every answer you know, the closer you are to understanding what a hummingbird needs. Meeting, and understanding, these needs mean a better chance of drawing them to your yard.
As with every living thing the absolute basics include food, water and shelter. So naturally the first step to attracting hummers to your yard would be feeding them. There isn’t anything complicated about this, after all there are all kinds of hummingbird feeders available. Along with feeders, you can also purchase “hummingbird food” or you can make your own. Personally, after years of buying premade nectar, I started making my own 2 years ago, simply just to save money and it is just so easy.
Make Your Own Hummingbird Nectar
- Bring 4 cups of water to a boil.
- Add 1 cup of white granulated sugar.
- Stir well until the sugar is dissolved.
- Boil this mixture for 2 minutes to help prevent it from spoiling too rapidly.
- Allow to thoroughly cool.
- Pour into clean hummingbird feeders.
A Few Tips About Making Hummingbird Nectar
- Use larger 4 parts water to 1 part sugar mixture to make a bigger batch of nectar.
- You can store the unused homemade hummingbird nectar in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.
- DO NOT use honey as this can cause a fatal infection to a hummingbird’s tongue.
- Artificial sweeteners or sugars have no nutritional value. DO NOT use them.
- Red dyes are not necessary and some may be unhealthy.
- Remember to CLEAN your feeder regularly.
- Change the nectar every 3 to 5 days and more often in hot weather.
- NOTE: Since this hummingbird food recipe is a sugar water mixture, it can quickly ferment in the heat and sun causing bacteria and mold. You will see the nectar turn cloudy when it starts to ferment.
What Feeder to Buy
While there is a diverse selection of feeders available, they should all have one thing in common: They all should easily come apart to allow for easy cleaning and filling. Regarding what size feeder depends on a few things. First of all would be the amount of birds that visit daily. Depending on where you live will have a huge factor in the amount of hummingbirds you attract. If you live in a southern region you may well have not only several birds, but even several species! Unfortunately that is not my case here in Jersey. I love those videos showing 100’s of hummers at feeders! In my case, this year I have counted 5 birds that I saw at one time at 2 different feeders. Unlike the videos I talked about, seeing more than one usually means one is chasing another away, which I fondly refer to as “Hummer Wars”.
Because the nectar’s shelf life is limited, you do not want to use big feeders if you only have one bird, or are still trying to attract them to begin with. Another thing to factor in is the placement of the feeder. In a feeder placed in all shade will hold up longer than a feeder sitting in the sun all day. For this reason alone I use different size feeders. I use bigger decorative feeders in front of my porch and the side of my house. These two feeders are only in the sun for a few hours each day. I have 2 feeders in my garden and 1 out towards our shop. These 3 feeders are in the sun all day so I use the smallest feeders I can find. My favorite has been these really small ones I got for only $1.00 at Walmart that I would throw out after October.
Keep The Nectar Fresh!
Changing the nectar every 3 to 5 days is a MUST. Have you ever accidentally drank sour milk, or maybe poured some in your coffee? Well then you get the point. Hungry Hummers, which is all the time, don’t want spoiled leftover gook either. Keep it fresh or they will hangout somewhere else. Also, just in case you remember the old wives tale of using red dye/food coloring, DON’T! Natural nectar is a combination of sugar, water, and electrolytes, and has NO color!
Don’t Forget The Flowers!
As with any other living creature, even ourselves, we all have, and keep, our favorites things around us. These are the things that make our lives easier and more pleasant. So imagine you are a hummingbird, what would you want at your “home”? Well, if you eat a LOT of nectar all day, of course you want a lot of flowers all around. Kind of like us having a full fridge of all our favorites foods, and if that’s not enough, having convenience stores close by….or if your a hummer, the neighbor’s garden. Tubular shaped flowers hold the most nectar, and are especially attractive to hummingbirds. The old wives tale of “red flowers” attracting hummingbirds is just that, an old tall tale. Hummers are fond of bright colored flowers. Having a mixture of the favorites to pick from, besides feeders, is a sure way to keep the hummers around all day. These include perennials such as bee balms,columbines, daylilies, and lupines; biennials such as foxgloves and hollyhocks; and many annuals, including cleomes, impatiens, and petunias. One of my personal favorites for around my home is Butterfly Bushes, of course you get a bonus by attracting butterflies as well as hummingbirds. Unfortunately a few years ago the winter wiped all of mine out, but this year I am finally getting new ones established. One of my favorites was a yellow butterfly bush my husband found…..of course he doesn’t remember where and I haven’t seen another since. I will most likely spend time this winter looking for bushes online so I can find colors other than the usual purple bushes. Either way, this is definitely not a plant to forget when attracting hummers!
Some Hummer Favorites:
History of Hummingbird Feeders
While avid bird-watchers have been paying attention to these tiny creatures for decades, feeding hummingbirds through a commercial device did not come about until around 1950. The design was by Laurence Webster and was produced by a glassblower at the MIT lab. Laurence made the feeder for his wife, who was fascinated to learn from a National Geographic that you could feed hummingbirds in your own backyard.
While there had been publications in the past about feeding these birds with a sweet nectar through artificial flowers since the 1800’s, these were handmade by hummingbird lovers. It was the publications of John James Audubon that really brought awareness about feeding hummingbirds at home.
A Few Fun Facts About Hummingbirds
- There are more than 325 hummingbird species in the world. Only eight species regularly breed in the United States, though up to two dozen species may visit the country or be reported as regular vagrants. The rest of the hummingbirds are primarily tropical species and do not regularly migrate.
- A hummingbird’s brilliant throat color is not caused by feather pigmentation, but rather by iridescence in the arrangement of the feathers. Light level, moisture, angle of viewing and other factors all influence just how bright and colorful the throat may appear.
- Hummingbirds cannot walk or hop, though their feet can be used to scoot sideways while they are perched. These birds have evolved smaller feet to be lighter for more efficient flying. They will use their feet for itching, however!
- The calliope hummingbird is the smallest bird species in North America and measures just 3 inches long. The bee hummingbird is the smallest species and measures 2.25 inches long. It is endemic to Cuba.
- Hummingbirds have 1,000-1,500 feathers, the fewest number of feathers of any bird species in the world. Not only do they not need as many feathers because of their tiny size, but fewer feathers also keeps them more lightweight for easier flight.
- The average ruby-throated hummingbird weighs 3 grams. In comparison, a nickel weighs 4.5 grams. It would take more than 150 ruby-throated hummingbirds to weigh one pound.
- From 25-30 percent of a hummingbird’s weight is in its pectoral muscles. These are the broad chest muscles principally responsible for flight.
- A hummingbird’s maximum forward flight speed is 30 miles per hour. These birds can reach up to 60 miles per hour in a dive, and hummingbirds have many adaptations for unique flight.
- Hummingbirds lay the smallest eggs of all birds. They measure less than 1/2 inch long but may represent as much as 10 percent of the mother’s weight at the time the eggs are laid. A hummingbird egg is smaller than a jelly bean!
- A hummingbird must consume approximately 1/2 of its weight in sugar daily, and the average hummingbird feeds 5-8 times per hour. In addition to nectar, these birds also eat many small insects and spiders, and may also sip tree sap or juice from broken fruits.
- A hummingbird’s wings beat between 50 and 200 flaps per second depending on the direction of flight and air conditions.
- An average hummingbird’s heart rate is more than 1,200 beats per minute.
- At rest, a hummingbird takes an average of 250 breaths per minute. Their breathing pace will increase when they are in flight.
- The rufous hummingbird has the longest migration of any hummingbird species. These hummers fly more than 3,000 miles from their nesting grounds in Alaska and Canada to their winter habitat in Mexico.
- The ruby-throated hummingbird flies 500 miles nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico during both its spring and fall migrations. It is a myth, however, that these tiny birds “ride” on the back of other birds during migration – they fly this distance completely on their own.
- Depending on the species, habitat conditions, predators and other factors, including threats to hummingbirds, the average lifespan of a wild hummingbird is 3-12 years.
- Hummingbirds have no sense of smell but have very keen eyesight.
- Hummingbirds do not suck nectar through their long bills, they lick it with fringed, forked tongues. Capillary action along the fringe of their tongue helps draw nectar up into their throats so they can swallow.
- A hummingbird can lick 10-15 times per second while feeding.
- Hummingbirds digest natural sucrose in 20 minutes with 97 percent efficiency for converting the sugar into energy.
- Many hummingbird species, including Anna’s, black-chinned, Allen’s, Costa’s, rufous, calliope and broad-tailed hummingbirds, can breed together to create hybrid species. This is one factor that makes identifying hummingbirds very challenging.
- The peak fall migration period for hummingbirds is from mid-July through August or early September, depending on the route and the exact species. Species that nest further north generally begin migration earlier.
- Despite their small size, hummingbirds are one of the most aggressive bird species. They will regularly attack jays, crows and hawks that infringe on their territory, and backyard birders often have one dominant hummingbird that guards all the feeders, chasing intruders away.
- The bill of the aptly named sword-billed hummingbird, found in the Andes Mountains, can reach up to 4 inches long, and it can be so heavy that the birds may perch holding their bills straight up. These birds hold the record for the longest bill relative to overall body size of any bird in the world.
- Hummingbirds are native species of the New World and are not found outside of the Western Hemisphere except in a few zoos or aviaries.
Best Hummer Season Ever
2016 has been my best hummingbird season ever! Whether I am just sitting in the garden reading, working in it, or just watering, they are constantly whizzing by my head or hovering right in front of my face, and yes, it’s so cool!!! When you have this around you all day, it doesn’t take long to get accustomed to what they sound like. Of course it does take some time to reconcile that what you hear is NOT a huge, disgusting bug that you should immediately run very fast from or start frantically waving your hands around trying to swat away the gargantuan insect that is invading your personal space. When you finally train your brain that these “noises” are cute adorable little flying birds, you will be astonished how often a hummer as been right near you and you never knew it before. Like I mentioned earlier, I have the little handheld feeders ordered and I can’t wait for them to get here. I have no doubt I will be perfectly content sitting in my garden with one of these in my hand….for hours!!! Another thing I want for next year’s ariel visitors:
There is so more more that I know about Hummingbirds, as well as so much more to learn, but this post has gotten long, so I’m going to end it here. Not sure if I will write about them again, but either way, there is so much more information about them out there. Hummingbirds are truly captivating little beings that steal your heart and keep you hanging waiting for their next arrival.