I have a love, hate relationship with hummingbirds. Love them. Small, quick, beautifully colored. I love the whir of their wings. I envy those with hummingbird feeders that the hummers flock to. I have a hummingbird feeder. I don’t have a flock. Nor a herd. Maybe a couple. Maybe.
Our friend Fred is a Master Birder. That means he’s serious about it, knows a ton and goes to some pretty obscure places looking for some pretty obscure birds. It’s pretty cool. One time Fred casually mentioned that he has hummingbirds year round. Year round??!! I’m lucky if I can woo a couple in late winter/early spring.
There seems to be a lot that goes into wooing hummingbirds. At least in my opinion. Though there are many that enjoy a Field of Dreams type of experience: “Hang a feeder and they will come.” Not so me.
First, the food. Do you buy the liquid from the store? The powder from the store? Do you just mix it yourself? After all, it’s just sugar and water, right? Okay. Mix it yourself. What’s the ratio of sugar to water? Four to one? Three to one? Or should you woo them with a high-sugar mix, then decrease the amount of sugar once you have them sucked in? Should you color it? (For the record: general school of thought is a 4-1 water/sugar ratio with no food coloring). Easy enough, right? One would think. But, apparently the feeder you use can make a difference, too.
The women in my family (Grandma, Grandma, Mom) have always been feeders of hummingbirds. Thus, it’s not surprising that I would feel compelled to carry on the tradition. If only the hummers would cooperate. When we were down in Oregon I noticed Mom’s feeder and asked, “Have you been getting hummingbirds at your feeder?” She replied, “Oh, yeah, quite a few. But they didn’t like that one I bought up at your place a few years ago. This is a different one.”
They didn’t like the feeder she had bought up here a few years ago. Really?! Guess what feeder I’ve been using all this time? The same kind that she has now cast aside. And, okay, it doesn’t look real good at this point. If I was a hummer I don’t know that I’d want lunch served out of this thing.
So, I bought a new feeder. It’s bright and shiny. And, yes, the nectar is red. Don’t bombard me with accusations of poisoning hummers with red food coloring. It came with a packet of nectar which, ironically, was colored red. I mixed the nectar, filled the feeder, asked the husband to hang it (not because I’m incapable, but because I was too lazy to drag the step ladder out), and stood in the kitchen staring at the feeder. Willing the hummingbirds to come. In droves. That was after I stood outside as the husband hung the feeder announcing to the bird population that there was a brand new feeder available filled with freshly made nectar.
Which brings us to the final topic for discussion: how often should one clean said feeder and change the food? Apparently the little birdies can be picky about that. It was last year when Fred told me he has hummers through the winter. It was winter at the time. I eagerly came home, pulled my feeder out of the garage, prepared nectar, hung the feeder and….nothing. Of course, Fred also changes out the nectar every few days. I mentioned the whole ladder thing, right? Which means my feeder doesn’t get cleaned out that often. Maybe it would if I had a flock sucking down nectar. But, I don’t. So, last winter the feeder (full of nectar) swayed in the breeze and moldered. Then, one day in early spring I was in the kitchen and an eager little hummer came up to the feeder. I imagine that swig was a bit of a shock. Okay, so I may have some culpability in the lack of hummingbirds at my feeder. I fell over myself getting the feeder down, washing it, refilling it and…nothing. That’s kind of how it works around here. I see a hummingbird at the scuzzy feeder, I scramble to clean the feeder, I get little response, the feeder sits. It’s a vicious cycle that just keeps repeating itself.
Just one time I’d like to look outside and see something like this: