Hummingbirds have a unique relationship with humans. In many ways, they’re like children — they’re curious and they want to be fed. But unlike kids, hummingbirds don’t just accept food out of the goodness of their hearts; they need it in order to survive. And if you love them as much as I do, you will feed them.
The good news is that feeding hummingbirds isn’t difficult, but it does require some effort on your part. The bad news is that feeding hummingbirds is also quite expensive, so you aren’t going to be able to do it every day. There are other options for providing artificial nectar to your hummingbird friends, such as bird houses and feeders made specifically for hummingbirds. You can find these items at pet stores or online, as well as from specialty bird shops.
How do hummingbirds get their food?
Hummingbird food comes in all shapes and sizes. Some come in powder form, while others are sold as pellets. All hummingbird foods contain sugar, though not necessarily in the same proportions.
As a general rule, pellet-based foods are more nutritious than powdered foods. Pellets tend to be higher in protein and fat. They’re also easier to work into a mixture because they’re not as sticky as powders. Because of this, some people recommend offering pellets over powdered foods, especially during winter when hummingbirds are harder to attract.
While all hummingbird foods contain sugar, there are different kinds of sugars in the mix. Some have been modified to make them digestible for birds; others have been altered to make them taste better or last longer. Here’s an explanation of what makes each type of hummingbird food special:
Sugar syrups: These are sweetened liquids made specifically for hummingbirds. You can buy sugar syrups at any grocery store. They usually come in squeeze bottles, which make them easy for hummingbirds to drink. Be sure to use a clean bottle for hummingbirds; the sugar syrup can cause gum disease if left inside the bottle.
Birdseed cakes: Birdseed cakes are made from finely ground seeds mixed with a sweetener. They’re typically sold in bags, although sometimes they come in individual packets. Birdseed cakes provide an excellent source of nutrition for hummingbirds, making them perfect for use in mixed diets. Like sugar syrups, birdseed cakes should always be kept away from water, as the moist environment can damage the seed.
Pellet mixes: These consist of tiny bits of dried animal feed (typically insects) that have been coated in a sweetener. You can find pellets at most pet stores and online shopping sites. This may sound like a great idea until you realize that insect pieces are full of bugs and other nasty things. It’s best to avoid using pellet mixes altogether unless you absolutely have to. Instead, look for pellet mixes that are free of bug parts and other extraneous substances.
If you choose to use pellets, make sure they’ve been treated with a pesticide that won’t harm your hummingbirds. If you live in an area where pesticides are used heavily, such as around farmlands, you might consider purchasing only organically grown pellets.
Feeding hummingbirds at home
There are two main methods of feeding hummingbirds. First, you can put out a bowl of sugary water for them to sip from. Second, you can set up a homemade feeder. Both approaches work equally well, but both require a bit of work before you start seeing results. Follow these steps to ensure success:
Get your supplies together. Buy a plastic container, some paper towels, and a small funnel. You’ll also need a bottle of water, a few drops of dish soap or bleach, and paper cups for water. Make sure you know how to properly fill the cups, as these are important to hummingbirds.
Fill the cups with water first. To prevent the cups from drying out, place them in a shallow pan filled with water. Let the water soak overnight.
Next, let the cups dry by placing them on paper towels.
When the cups are completely dry, add a drop of dish soap or bleach. This helps kill harmful bacteria and algae in the water.
Finally, pour in a handful of sugar or sugar syrup and replace the lid.
You can now leave the feeder outside for hummingbirds to enjoy.
Keep in mind that hummingbirds prefer to drink from the top down, so make sure that you put the sugar near the top of the cup.
Using a homemade feeder requires a little more preparation. A feeder needs to be able to hold at least twice its own weight in liquid. So, for example, if you plan on creating a feeder that holds 3 tablespoons, you would need a container that holds 6 tablespoons.
In addition, a feeder must be placed high enough off the ground that it doesn’t collect rainwater. This is important because rainwater has a tendency to lower the temperature of the surrounding air, thus reducing the amount of nectar available in the feeder.
To create an effective feeder, begin by cutting a hole in the bottom center of a large garbage bag. Next, cut four slits in the bag about 1 inch apart.
Open the feeder by pulling on the top of the bag. Once you have opened the feeder, slide one corner of the bag underneath the rim of the feeder and fold the excess material back onto itself.
Place a couple sheets of newspaper beneath the feeder to catch spilled nectar.
Finally, hang the feeder somewhere that hummingbirds frequent. When the time comes to refill the feeder, use a funnel to pour in the desired amount of sugar, then close and secure the feeder again.
Hummingbirds may visit your feeder several times per day. Depending on the weather, there may be days when they don’t appear, so be patient and keep checking.
One final tip: When you first start feeding hummingbirds, it’s best to keep them in a room without windows. That way, you won’t have to worry about attracting unwanted attention, and hummingbirds won’t be tempted to leave your yard.