Hummingbird photographer Dan True noticed that hummers come to hummingbird feeders that provide the greatest visibility - so that the birds can feel safe while feeding. Then he said that he will continue to buy all kinds of hummingbird feeders because he enjoys the many ways a hummingbird will respond to feeding.
There are two basic styles of hummingbird feeders and each has advantages – particularly when you know a few things to plan for.
Basin or pan feeding designs have the advantage of not dripping. This means they also discourage bees and wasps and larger birds. This style is less affected by wind and can be stabilized with a weight (lead fishing weight, rock, other) hanging from the bottom.11
The same saucer (pan) shaped hummingbird feeders have some disadvantages in rainy climates. Inexpensive or poor designs can catch the rain and this dilutes the nectar. Dilution is not harmful except that the hummingbirds will not like it and remember that your hummingbird feeder is not good enough. Dirt and small insects can gather more easily and fall in the holes. There are styles with roofs and this can accentuate sloshing if you also have strong winds. 10
Dripping and sloshing means that sugar water is spilling on the ground or on the hummingbird feeder and attracting bugs.
Some vacuum style feeders (inverted bottle feeders) are vulnerable to dripping and sloshing from the wind and also because air pressure and temperature changes (night to day) act like a pump upon the fluids and force the liquid out the ports. Styles that look like a hamster bottle feeder are less likely to drip (when the tip is good) and very agreeable to the hummingbird because of good visibility.11
“No drip” may be boasting in the hummingbird feeder industry. Weather is unavoidable and some additional attention seems to be required. You can wipe down your feeder with a damp cloth. You can take your feeder down in rough storms. If you have a lot of storms then the hanging devise and location of your hummingbird feeder may determine which model is best for you.
“Ant moats” are useful features. Ants are not able to swim so the idea is to surround the hummingbird feeder with a ring of water – like a castle moat – to prevent the ants from reaching the nectar. There are other home-remedies for avoiding pests (ants, wasps) and unwelcome guests (orioles, bats) – see Feeder Pests.
One source reported that flower ports that are flat and close to the base attract fewer insects. Some flower ports come with insect guards – and be aware that the openings in these guards need to be 1/16th of an inch for the hummingbird bill to penetrate.10
The most important question to ask, regardless of style, is,
“How easy is it to take apart this feeder and put it back together?”
Your hummingbird feeder must be thoroughly cleaned every few days so simple assembly and access is important. Parts that are hard to put together may slop nectar everywhere. And don't forget – you need to be able to take apart the reservoir and flower ports to clean them with a bottle brush or toothbrush.10
The safest material for the hummingbird is glass. Glass does not disintegrate in the sun, it does not absorb chemicals and will not leach chemicals into the water. It comes perfectly clean with hot water and scrubbing – no soap.
Most commercial feeders are made from plastics. Plastics come in many qualities. Low cost plastics are also low grade plastics. They do not survive the summer heat, direct sunlight or the dishwasher. Higher grade acrylic and polycarbonate feeders last longer and are worth the investment.11
Archival and food quality plastics are good - they do not emit gases that can be harmful when absorbed into the food. Markets change and there is constant improvement. As I window shopped (and without making any other endorsement)...
|I was impressed with the designs of:
|the web site and history of:
|and the selection at:
||- particularly the Droll Yankees Window Hummer 2
(a good company that does not seem to sell direct)
plus many glass choices...
Amazon seems to be carrying the best that is out there. Still, beware, I saw red dyed water (bad teaching) & Instant Nectar (hummingbird nectar is sugar water – do you want to pay $5 for sugar, plus shipping?)... along with $10 feeders and designs that did not look cleanable. Read reviews.
Look for key words:
food grade plastic
brass hanger/parts (will not rust)
baked powder coat finish (on metals – will not rust)
Things to avoid:
feeders that do not come apart - EASILY!
feeding ports that do not come apart
??? ceramic feeders – must be well glazed inside (no “crazing”)
so easier to buy this style in person
cheap plastics – fade & disintegrate in the weather
cheap metal feeders – will rust
The most attractive material to hummingbirds is red glass. Red glass is impregnated with gold and actually emits an ultra violet light frequency. It was discovered that hummingbirds “see” light and color in a range that we do not. When a flower is “ripe” with nectar, it will actually glow and shimmer in patterns of ultra violet light - thereby attracting the hummingbird to it.11
Various man made materials emit ultra violet light and are perfect for flower ports. One would be red glass. Another would be surveyor's tape that is florescent orange. It can be tied to the hummingbird feeder at the port - a suggestion Dan True made for homemade feeders.
Feeders that advertise UV light & color emissions would be more attractive to hummingbirds.11 However, I am not seeing this feature when I window shopped.
We used to think that hummingbirds preferred red food and so we dyed the hummingbird nectar red. Now we know that food dyes are bad for hummingbirds AND unnecessary because they have such good memories.
The color that first captures their attention is red – but then they test to see if the red is rich in sugar. As soon as they know that the sugar has the right concentration, then they no longer care about the color. They remember the location of a quality source. Tests show that you can switch the hummingbird feeder color from red to blue and they will remain loyal – and! - the hummingbird will respond by seeking out blue flowers because it has learned that blue gives quality sugar.
If you are thinking about replacing your old feeder – you can substitute any color/design of hummingbird feeder you like because your hummingbirds are already remembering the LOCATION of a rich source of nectar.2
The base of a hummingbird feeder is usually red – a guaranteed hummingbird eye catcher. However, you do not need much red.
A good hummingbird feeder can be absolutely clear in color with only a spot of red at the nectar port. Red is preferable at the nectar port because of the very first attraction and also because other insects are NOT attracted to red - so red keeps bugs away. Bees, in particular, are attracted to yellow and so yellow should be avoided. Yellow flower ports should be strongly avoided.10
Hummingbirds rarely perch and eat in the wild. Nature created the perfect flowers for hummingbirds and they do not have perches. No perching is what guarantees that only a hummingbird will get the nectar. We do not have to follow that restriction and so some hummingbird feeders offer perches.
This innovation comes from a strange compassion. We want to help.
And help is justified. High winds make it hard for hummingbirds to hover and eat their fill. Long migrations can leave a hummingbird near exhaustion – a perch can be life-saving. In the high mountains, the altitude makes it harder for hummingbirds to hover for any length of time. A perch conserves energy and is recommended. Female hummingbirds just about to lay their eggs are lifting 10-20% more body weight. A perch would be nice. And those young birds, newly fledged and learning everything, surely they deserve assistance.
We are concerned – and that's OK. Hummingbirds have lived a long time without us and without perches – yet perches do no harm and some good.(11) If perches sound appealing to you, then a perch might be nice.
Size and Number of Feeders
A smaller feeder is better.
The best hummingbird feeder is one that is empty at the end of the day. Notice how much nectar is being used and only fill your feeder with food for one or two days.
A one quart feeder will sustain 60 birds if it is refilled every other day and 40 birds if it is refilled every three days. However, 40 birds WILL NOT usually share and share alike.
It is better to have more feeders. Hummingbirds do not like to share. They are naturally territorial and will fight over your hummingbird feeder – no matter how much food you give them. The best tactic is to hang another feeder far enough away so that feeding hummingbirds cannot see each other.10
Another tactic is to group several feeders at least 15 feet apart. Dan True reported that a very aggressive hummingbird was driving all the other birds away. When a second hummingbird feeder was introduced with enough distance in between, the aggressive one was overwhelmed trying to defend two feeders at once. Relative peace was finally achieved when a third feeder was introduced a good distance away from the other two and the aggressive male kept that one all to himself.
Three hummingbird feeders seems to be a good number to start with and more is merrier.11
First, choose a site that is higher and farther than a cat can jump. Then remember the ants. Do not give them an advantage – such as hanging your hummingbird feeder from a tree. Earlier I mentioned that it is good to be able to take your feeder down in rough storms. Plan accordingly. If you have the option, create an extension arm that attaches to the eves of your house and hang the feeder out into open air – about 2-3 feet away from the house.
This creates an ideal flight space for the hummingbirds. When they can see in every direction they know they are safe and can eat in peace. They will stay at the feeder for longer periods of time and be less edgy.11
Hang your hummingbird feeder(s) in the same location, year after year. The hummingbirds have superior memories and will hunt and expect food in the same location.2
Season for Hanging
It is important to have your hummingbird feeder(s) up when the hummingbirds arrive in the spring – beginning their migration. They remember the rich source that was there last year. If a scout comes and inspects your garden and does not find food, he and other hummingbirds may not stay. If a male hummingbird comes and claims a hummingbird feeder, you may want to promptly hang another feeder to provide a territory for the next male. You'll know a male has claimed your feeder because he will chase everyone else away. Females will follow a male who has a territory.
In the fall, most people leave their hummingbird feeders up until all the birds have passed through on their migration. If you have resident hummingbirds in the South - Arizona, California - then you would leave your feeder up all year.
In the farthest North - Canada, British Columbia - some people believe it is important to take hummingbird feeders down early. Otherwise, hummingbirds may become stranded because the food sources they will need to travel, insects and flowers, are already gone from the south.
This point of view believes that false food supplies can tempt an underweight bird to stay in the north – making a bad situation worse. Cold snaps kill flowers and insects and emphasize the need for hummingbirds to rapidly move south. Hummingbird feeders may disrupt this natural, secondary signal.
Scientists believe that the hummingbird migration is triggered by the change in light – not food supply. This controversy has not been resolved.11 Please see migration – ruby throated.
ANTS: They will come. They will find your feeder – and sooner than you think. Prevention is the best and only defense. Earlier, I suggested choosing a hummingbird feeder with an ant moat. Only fill your ant moat with water. Some people have filled their ant moat with oil and unfortunately, small birds drink it. You can use oil to stop the ants– but in a different way.
||Apply “Crisco,” vegetable oil or other shortening to the hanging wire
||Apply “Tanglefoot” to the hanging wire and/or to the support arm
(available at garden supply stores)
||DO THIS AS SOON AS YOU HANG YOUR FEEDER11
Once the ants have found you – they remember.
Prevention is the best and only defense.
BEES: If they find you, they can be relentless. Keep your hummingbird feeder clean and drip free. If you reduce the sweetness of the nectar, the bees will eventually leave. Bees require high levels of sugar in their diet. Using 5 parts of water is just enough to keep the hummers happy and to make the bees go somewhere else. Believe it or not, you can actually vacuum the bees and wasps. If you vacuum about 5-10 bees and 5-10 wasps, they will seldom come back. It has to do with the way they establish territories.
||Remove all traces of yellow from your feeder
||Apply Vaseline or vegetable oil to the flower ports. (do not clog the opening or pollute the nectar)
||Change the nectar recipe to 1 part sugar to 5 parts water (good for hummers and uninteresting to bees)
||vacuum 5-10 wasps and 5-10 bees
||DO THIS AS SOON AS YOU NOTICE ANY BEES11
BATS: In the southwest there are several species of nectar-feeding bats. You will know that a bat has found you when the nectar mysteriously disappears overnight. You may want to decide to coexist. Bats consume as many as 2,000 mosquitoes a night and some are on the endangered species list. Options for getting rid of them are poor. If you take your hummingbird feeder in at night – it may not be outside again when the hummingbirds wake up hungry – just before sunrise.
||Bee guards on you feeder may work for bats.11
BEARS: In bear territory, it is best to hang your feeder(s) above 10 feet. When food is scarce, they have been known to raid hummingbird feeders in broad daylight – mostly just smashing them – attracted by the scent.11
BIRDS/ORIOLES: There are special feeders designed for larger nectar eating birds. Buy them one and they will leave the hummingbird feeders alone.10
Soap is not recommended.
Dish soap and other cleaners are designed to leave a coating on the surface to cause “sheeting” of the water. This is good for dishes and counters because there are no spots and streaks. This is bad for vacuum style hummingbird feeders because they rely upon water surface tension to function. The result? - all the water flows out of the ports because it cannot “stick” to anything!!! 11
Another result? - soap film with sheeting chemicals leaches into the hummingbird food. Humans would need to eat 300 lbs. of food to equal what a hummingbird eats every day to survive. Is soap harmful? If you drank 300 lbs. of chemical water, every day, would you get sick?
In the article I wrote about hummingbird nectar I asked people to be very serious about their choice to feed wild animals. We must do this right, and for once... right is rather easy.
Mix the proper solution of hummingbird nectar and clean your feeder on time, with hot water.
Thoroughly clean every nook and cranny and use little brushes to clean the flower ports. That's it!
ON TIME IS:
Change the hummingbird nectar every 3-5 days, and every 2 days
in hot weather or direct sunlight (over 70º).
If you do not, the solution will begin to ferment.
You know it is far past the right time
if the nectar has turned cloudy
or smells sour.10
Throw away the unused nectar and clean the feeder every time you change the solution. If the solution ferments - then you have a mess that has to be scrubbed and sterilized.
Controversial ways to clean your feeder:
#1) Lanny Chambers at Hummingbirds.net offers this cleaning/maintenance recipe:
"At least once a month, clean the feeder thoroughly with a solution of 1/4 cup bleach to one gallon of water. Soak the feeder in this solution for one hour, then clean with a bottle brush. Rinse well with running water and refill. Any remaining traces of bleach will be neutralized by reacting with the fresh syrup, and there's no need to air dry before refilling. Bleach is both safe and very effective."
#2) A weak solution of white vinegar and water may be better than soap. Use a bristle brush and then a cloth and rinse thoroughly.
#3)Sand or gravel mixed with saltwater may be useful for scrubbing. Then soak in hot water and... rinse thoroughly.
#4)Use mild soap. Then soak in hot water and scrub off the soap film/sheeting chemical that you cannot see.
#5) Put your feeder parts in the dishwasher if the manufacturer says so. Then soak in hot water and scrub off the soap film/sheeting chemical that you cannot see.11 Running the dishwasher with no soap will not help because there is so much sheeting chemical built up in the washer – and – the dry cycle bakes it on! rinse and rinse again.
Then ask yourself;
How often do you use these strong measures to clean your feeder?
It should be easy!
If you find yourself scrubbing black fungus out of nooks and crannies, then perhaps you should throw away your contaminated feeder and buy one that is easier to keep clean – or plant flowers!
As I said in the hummingbird nectar article,
I do not own a feeder because I am not home enough to maintain it.
Special thanks to Dan True and Connie Toops
for this extensive information on hummingbird feeders.
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