Can you find something positive to remember about this summer, despite the lockdown and the quarantine? I shall remember this as the summer we rediscovered hummingbirds.
My wife and I used to feed hummingbirds, but lately we prefer to attract them by planting flowering native trees, shrubs and vines, plus annual and perennial flowers. But two really nice hummingbird feeders caught my eye late this spring. They had an antique look, molded to resemble old bottles, one in green glass and the other in red. Both of them had multiple feeding ports to accommodate several hummingbirds at once and perches for hummingbirds to sit upon.
I bought both feeders and hung them where we could watch them from several rooms in the house. Soon, we seldom looked out the window without seeing one or two around the feeders. Feeding these tiny creatures became our source of live summer entertainment. We often saw five or six hummingbirds flying around the feeders, and by the beginning of August they were consuming almost half a gallon of sugar water a week.
Hummingbirds are famously territorial. One female acted like a bully, chasing the others away. She often perched atop the shepherd’s crook hanger, preening her feathers while watching for somebody to chase. Once, when I tried to photograph her at the feeder, she approached my face before flying away, as if demanding to know what I was doing. The smaller feeder in the front yard offered a place where those she chased away could feed in peace.
If you’re new to hummingbird feeding, here are several recommendations. Hang your feeder in a spot that receives both sunlight and shade for part of the day. It can be close to a window for easy observation but not where the birds might fly into the window glass and kill themselves by accident. Fill your feeder with a mixture of four parts water to one part of sugar. Commercial hummingbird nectar is dyed red to attract the birds, but the dye has no food value and it may even be toxic to them. And it is unnecessary because most hummingbird feeders have red somewhere in their construction. Avoid feeders with yellow decorations because that color attracts bees and wasps.
Refill feeders once a week if they aren’t emptied sooner, wash them inside and out with hot soapy water, and rinse thoroughly. If the syrup in your feeder looks cloudy, replace it immediately. Wash your feeders in a vinegar and water solution once a month to discourage mold growth.
Hummingbirds get nutrition from tiny insects and spiders, flower pollen, and tree sap. They sip nectar from deep throated flowers such as trumpet-vine, morning glory, honeysuckle, azalea, cardinal-flower, and bee balm. But these flowers only bloom for a short time. Offering sugar water in a feeder provides a reliable source of energy for their hyperactive bodies. Keep your hummingbird feeders filled throughout the fall, because hummingbirds start to migrate at the end of August. Newcomers passing through your area will surely welcome a high-energy snack.
— Doug Pifer is an artist, naturalist, and writer. He has a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Penn State and has been an editor and art educator. His illustrations have appeared in various books and magazines and he has been a contributor to The Observer for several years. He lives with his wife and assorted animals on 5.7 acres in a historic farmhouse near Shepherdstown.By Doug Pifer