Okay, Okay, Jeez, I’ll Get You a Feeder!

For the second time this summer, a little gray hummingbird has hovered meaningfully in the corner of my porch where a feeder could be hung quite handily, looked at me for a minute, and then zipped away. I am apparently being told in no uncertain terms that a hummingbird feeder is desired. I live to serve not only cats, but hummingbirds! Just think of the photos I could get for you, my darlings!

But I refuse to hang a feeder in ignorance. Advice and recommendations from those of you who know about this stuff would be awesome. The birds, the cat and I all thank you!

Image shows a gray and green hummingbird in flight against a pale gray background.
This isn’t my hummingbird. That little bugger never hovers when I have a camera ready. This is a female Anna’s hummingbird which vaguely resembles it. Photo by Matthew Field. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Okay, Okay, Jeez, I’ll Get You a Feeder!

14 thoughts on “Okay, Okay, Jeez, I’ll Get You a Feeder!

  1. rq

    How to feed a hummingbird.
    The two big things I remember from feeding them in childhood is:
    1) they like red, use a red container and NEVER use red food colouring;
    2) always use real sugar, just sugar, none of this NutriSweet or aspartame crap, because it tastes sweet but doesn’t have the calories so they eat but die.
    Can’t wait for your photos! ;)

  2. 3

    The easiest way is to buy pre-made ‘nectar’ for filling a feeder. Much less expensive is to make a sugar syrup (boil 1/2 cup sugar in 2 cups water, cool before filling feeder). As rq mentioned, don’t use sugar substitutes.

    Clean the feeder at least every 2 weeks (though you may need to refill more often than that if you have a busy site) to avoid mold growth.

    Expect to also attract paper wasps for the sugary goodness, so don’t hang it somewhere that you will likely get stung if that’s a problem. (Paper wasps are no where near as aggressive as yellow jackets, but if you’re allergic, obviously best to avoid any avoidable risk.)

    In unrelated news, will you be at the pumpkin pitch in Burlington next weekend?

  3. 4

    Sadly I have no personal experience regarding hummingbird feeders to share. I do recall from my childhood that a great-aunt used to have several such feeders. She filled them w/ a sort of hummingbird Kool-aid — an artificial-red powder (I can see in my mind’s eye the blue box & hummingbird graphic, but don’t know the brand name) mixed w/ water, and when we sat on her porch hummingbirds would often come and feed just feet away from us. I also remember my mother tried to have a hummingbird feeder for a time but found that ants & mold (or some other microorganism which clouded the fluid) combined w/ the awkward-to-clean design of the feeder made it untenable to maintain.

    What I can share is a bit of experience with hummingbirds feeding in my yard. As far as I can tell, from the days when I am home throughout, my yard hosts hummingbirds intermittently throughout the day, every day. Of the flora in my yard, they seem to favor Salvia above all — Bog sage, Cleveland sage, Hot Lips sage, Scarlet sage, amongst others — but they also go after citrus, grevellia, alstroemeria. The closest I’ve been to a hummingbird for a sustained period (sitting still while reading in the garden when they flew in to feed) is about ~2 feet. I could feel the air vibrate on my face from their wings beating, as they went from blossom to blossom for 10, 15, 20 seconds, all within arm’s reach. The only other kind of wild bird who gets that close, for that long, (in my experience) is a chickadee.

  4. 5

    Sugar solution gets sticky, so above all get a feeder that’s easy to clean, and IMHO a glass container with a wide neck is best so you can scrub the heck out of it with hot water or microwave it to help kill any crud. Also IIRC hummingbirds can be territorial, so consider getting two feeders a little ways apart so everyone gets some food in case of duels.

    rq has a great link; here’s another with reviews of some feeders so you have an idea what to look for: (four types)

  5. 6

    My observations, over the years, tell me that hummingbirds tend to be very territorial. With two or more feeders, I’ve found it necessary to site them out of sight of each other, or at least out of sight of whereever the hummingbirds roost or nest.

  6. 8

    The water:sugar ratio should be either 4:1 or 5:1. Anything sweeter is bad for them. Also, I second Pteryxx’s recommendation to get an easily cleaned feeder. Nasty gunk will build up in them quickly.

    If you find you have problems with ants, there are inexpensive “moats” that you can hang between the feeder and its hook.

    Here is more help:

  7. 9

    We have three that are very similar to this one (https://www.google.com/shopping/product/17985256065062671801). Ours don’t have any brand on them and now we can’t remember what store we got them at — probably a local pet shop (they are not in the Petco catalog).

    Prior to these we we tried several others and these work the best. They are easy to keep clean, and have the very important Ant Moat integral with the top. Without an Ant Moat you will have a parade of ants trying to share the sweets. Cleanability is important because sugar is food for mold as well as hummers. Any hummingbird feeder will tend to accumulate nasty black mold around the beak-holes where the sugar-water evaporates. So every time you refill — which is surprisingly often, those little suckers can eat a LOT — you have to scrub the basin part.

  8. 12

    The long narrow feeders mentioned in post 9? Sorry, they suck. They have a narrow neck which makes it difficult to fill them without spilling sticky sugar water, so you need a funnel, and also that narrow neck requires you to go to a lab supply company and get a bottle brush with big enough bristles but a narrow enough stem to get it through the small hole to wash the insides of it. You might think that oh it’s just sugar water, but no bacteria and fungus love this stuff and hummingbird snouts and bee and butterfly tongues carry these pathogens in. Better to plan ahead and be properly lazy about it and get the shape that’s easiest to clean right to start with, right?

    Sugar is cheap and you are engaging in a luxury activity with a high maintenance version of wildlife. Wash early wash often, and don’t wait for them to eat it all if it looks anything but pristine, pour the old stuff out put new stuff in.

    Get a feeder that’s flat like a flying saucer with no bottle on top of it at all, just a dish shaped lid with holes and another on the bottom. If you’re feeling ambitions and are Green and have the tools, use a shortish glass jar that doesn’t have any narrowings that make it hard to clean, and cut some hardware cloth with tinsnips and shape the hardware cloth over the top of the jar, or drill carefully and then carefully file-till-smooth holes in the lid that comes in the jar. Hummingbirds can really stick their tongues down in!. Of the two manufacturers I know that do the dish shaped thing only, only one has a moat in the middle where you can put water with a little detergent in it to break the surface tension because ants will use their own bodies as a bridge to get to sugar water.

    You may think your cat can’t get to it…you’d be wrong. Double check it for a few days to see how high she can jump until then don’t decide how long the string is or where to drill in the hook to hang it from. Hummingbirds are gorgeous versions of flying dinosaurs, but they retain the feroctiy. They’re mean little territorial fuckers and they *will* taunt your cat. Sometimes they…lose. Don’t help them lose, if you can help it.

  9. 13

    Feeders not needed … leave them some spiderwebs for nesting material and plant some flowers rated for attracting them.

    Feeders are a PITA to take care of, attract bees, and need immaculate cleansing or the juice goes nasty and kills the hummers.

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