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Insects - Provided by Nature

Hummingbirds need protein in addition to the sugar water or nectar.  Their protein comes from insects like small beetles, true bugs, weevils, flies, gnats, mosquitoes, aphids, mites, leafhoppers, flying ants and parasitic wasps.  Their favorite insect food source is the spider, especially the daddy long legs.  If you want to bring insects for the hummingbirds to catch, hang a mesh bag with banana peels, melons or other fruit near your feeders.

Natural Nectar

Hummingbirds love natural nectar sources!  Brightly colored tubular flowers are a great source for this nectar.  Flowers such as bee balms, columbines, daylilies, and lupines; bienniels such as foxgloves and hollyhocks; and many annuals, including cleomes, impatiens and petunias will bring them to your yard.

Honey - It's Not a Good Idea!

Sherri L. Williamson is an ornithologist who specializes in hummingbirds and knows more about them than probably anyone else in the US.  She says that honey is great food if you are a honeybee.  It is also a great food for a variety of microbes, some of which can cause diseases in your hummers.  Honey/water diets have been linked to fatal yeast infections (candidiasis) in captive hummingbirds and similar infections have been reported in wild ones.  She says that honey belongs on your biscuits, not in your feeders.

Artificial Nectar

Sugar Water made at home is the best way to feed your Hummingbird guests.  Check out our DIY video for the recipe and process to making Hummingbird food, simple and fast.  Never buy pre-made Hummingbird food colored red.  It's expensive and the red dye can be very dangerous to the birds.

FAQ's about Hummingbird Food

The nectar produced naturally in the flowers varies. The usual concentration of 4 parts of water per part of sugar is within the range and is the recipe that most people use. If you mix it a little more concentrated (3: 1) it will not harm the birds, but it will be more likely to attract bees that look for sweeter flowers and will rot much more easily. The 4: 1 solution is the proven and true way to mix your nectar.

Most of us use pure cane sugar.  This is sucrose, which is the sugar that is produced in the flowers.  Beet sugar can also be used (usually marked "granulated sugar" on the bag).  Some think that the hummingbirds prefer cane to beet, but I've used it and the birds drink it without hesitation.  Someday I will do an experiment on the cam and fill half of the feeders with beet and half with cane and we can see which they drink first. 

Click here to find out more about making your own nectar.

Click here to read about the dangers of raw and brown sugar.

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DINNERWARE

hummingbird customers love RED

Feeders

Feeders come in different materials and in varying configurations.  The hummingbirds will use all of them once they find out that there's nectar inside, but some feeders are much better than others.  The most important quality is the ease of cleaning.  Hummingbird feeders are filled with a solution that grows bacteria and mold even if left in a refrigerator long enough.  In hot weather?  That stuff grows VERY quickly.  The especially dangerous black mold will begin growing as soon as one spore gets inside the feeder.  And the spores are plentiful in the air outside.  If you can't take apart your feeder, you can't see what's growing inside and you can't easily clean it. 

Another thing to consider is the number of ports.  If you only have a few birds, feeders with four ports are fine.  Here in Studio City, I need feeders with ten ports, and even with 50 ports on the webcam, two birds will be often be sharing. 

Feeders come in different materials.  They may be metal, ceramic, plastic or glass.  I use plastic because I have yet to find a glass feeder with a wide mouth making it easy to clean.  AIso, I believe that the danger from mold is much bigger than the possible danger of BPA. 

Most hummingbird feeders are red, because it is the number one color that attracts them.  They don't have to be red, though.  Once a hummer knows there is food inside, he/she will keep coming back.  They will undoubtedly find the red feeders faster, though.  The yellow flowers are pretty but unnecessary.  Actually bees prefer yellow to red.

Feeders also come in two styles: saucer and vacuum.  For a detailed description of both, click below.

Saucer vs. Vacuum Feeders

Premium Hand Service

Everyone wants to hand feed hummingbirds.  They WILL land on your hand and drink, but it takes patience.  Your hummingbirds have to get used to you and realize you have something for them!  If they already come to your feeders they are probably already used to seeing you.  Put a closed container with nectar in your hand and wait near the food source where the birds normally feed.  Doing this early in the morning or before sunset will give you the best chance of having them land on you for the first time, as the traffic should be heavier.  Once they are used to your hand, they will do it all the time.

 

There are pictures and videos all over the internet with thousands of views showing hummers eating red food out of someone's bare hand and perching on red solo cups.  These are dangerous practices.  You already know better than to use red dye.  Any kind of open container like your hand or a cup risks getting the sticky nectar on the bird.  This can impair their flight, their ability to temperature regulate and it can even cause the feathers to fall out.

Only feed them from closed containers designed for hand feeding.  You can make your own by drilling holes in the top of small containers with plastic lids (thoroughly washed) or you can buy ones designed for this purpose.  Here is a link to the store to buy them.  Be safe and do it right!

Buy Hand Feeders Here

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HUMMINGBIRD FOOD SAFETY

DON'T KILL YOUR CUSTOMERS

Food Poisoning

Mold and bacteria will grow in a sugar solution even in the refrigerator.  If you don't go through a lot of nectar, you should probably bring your sugar water solution to a boil before using it.  It will last longer in the refrigerator that way.  Since I go through 5 gallons of nectar every two days, I don't have to worry about boiling. 

Once the solution gets into the feeders, all bets are off and bacteria will start to divide and multiply and mold spores will begin to grow.  The hotter it is outside, the faster they will grow.  I have to laugh when I read all the different instructions about how long nectar will last at different temperatures.  People have heated arguments over who is right.  I have yet to see a study where someone did bacterial counts in a sugar solution stored at varying temperatures over a different number of days.  How hot it gets inside the feeders depends on whether your feeders are hanging in the sun or shade.  It also depends on what season it is and how long the days are.  If the temperature outside is 85 degrees, how hot do you think it gets inside the feeder?  Stand inside an unventilated greenhouse in 85 degree weather and see.  Do you have metal feeders?  Sit inside your car at 85 degrees and see how hot it gets.  Suffice it to say that nectar has to be changed frequently in hot weather.  If you don't have many birds, just put a little in the feeder.  And change it daily.  

Cleaning Your Feeders

How you clean your feeders really depends on what kind of feeders you have.  If they come apart and you can reach all of the inside nooks and crannies, you can wash them like you wash your dishes.  Scrub them with dish soap and make sure you clean all the surfaces.  The mantra on the internet of "leaving soap residue" only applies to feeders you can't rinse properly. 

 

In order to get the surfaces clean inside of those kinds of feeders you will have to use either clorox, vinegar or hydrogen peroxide.  Clorox is the best for killing visible mold.  Do not under any circumstances mix clorox and vinegar together.  A chemical reaction will occur producing chlorine gas, which produces acute damage to the respiratory system and will kill you if you inhale enough.  In fact, chlorine gas was used as a chemical weapon in World War I. 

If you want to use clorox, mix 1/4 cup bleach to one gallon of water and soak your feeder.  Rinse thoroughly.  If you are unsure of the rinsing, you can soak the feeder in clean water with a crushed Vitamin C tablet.  Vitamin C neutralizes chlorine (as any fish tank owner knows).

The vinegar mixture is 2 parts water to one part vinegar.  The feeders have to soak longer in vinegar than in clorox in order to kill the mold - two to three hours.  Rinse well because there is no magic neutralizer for the vinegar.

Hydrogen peroxide also works very well.  You can pour it straight into the feeder and leave it for ten minutes or so.  Hydrogen peroxide chemically degrades to oxygen and water, so rinsing the feeders is much easier.  The downside is its expense.

How often should you clean them?  Mine get rinsed and brushed under water every day and scrubbed every 2-3 days. 

For a great assortment of brushes to help you clean your feeders (I use these) click here.

Commercial Hummingbird Food Safety

Manufacturers make most commercial hummingbird food red because it sells better.  Money is always the bottom line.  They continue to manufacture it because they can claim that there is no study showing that it is harmful to hummingbirds.  They're right.  And there never will be.  In order to do that study, you would have to separate a bunch of hummingbirds into two groups and feed half of them red dye.  Then they would have to be sacrificed (killed) and their organs examined under a microscope to look for disease.  Nobody is going to do that study, and there would be a public outcry if anyone attempted it.  

Red Dye #40 (or Allura Red) is the most commonly used dye in the US.  It is derived from coal tar.  There is enough evidence in other animals to make you want to forsake the red.  Vorhees, Butcher, et.al. fed pregnant female rats Red Dye #40 for TWO WEEKS.  Behaviorally the rats fed the dye had reduced reproductive success, parental and offspring weight, brain weight and survival.  The offspring had behavioral issues and had substantially decreased running wheel activity.  There is unpublished anecdotal evidence that it may cause bill and liver tumors in birds.  Tsuda, Murakami et.al studied rats fed red dye 40 and found DNA damage in the colon, stomach and bladder.  

Now imagine the amount of dye a hummingbird must consume eating twice its body weight in nectar daily.  I wouldn't want to down a bottle of dye a day, but that's the equivalent we are forcing them to do.

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PARTY-CRASHERS AND UNWANTED GUESTS

who may show up and how to excuse them politely

The Praying Mantis

A large enough and hungry enough praying mantis will catch and eat a hummingbird.  They are attracted to anything that likes nectar and normally they go after easy prey like bees and wasps.  But they can and will get a hummingbird.  If you want to avoid this, remove them far from your feeders.  If you move them too close, they will find their way back.  There is more information at the link below, but be warned that this is graphic material.

Praying Mantis - WARNING - Graphic Pictures

The Ants

Ants LOVE hummingbird nectar and once one finds it they will signal the whole colony to "come and get it."  The only way to safely and reliably stop them in to hang an ant moat filled with water between the feeder and whatever you're hanging it on.  Ants can't cross the water. 

DO NOT grease the feeder hook, line, pole or anything around the feeder with vaseline, oil or any sticky substance.  No matter how far away you think it is from the feeder ports, birds will come in contact with it.  They fight and brush against everything around the feeders.  Once they get that on their feathers, it is almost impossible to get off.  It will impair their flight, their temperature regulation, and it may even cause their feathers to fall out. 

Click here to buy ant moats.

Click here to learn how to make an ant moat.

The Bees, Yellow Jackets and Wasps

Bees - you love them, but not on your feeders.  Controlling them takes a multi-directional approach.  I wrote a complete blog on this which you can find below.

Controlling Bees

Yellow jacket trap or prevent the nest from starting in the first place.  The latter way works the best and I tell you how below.

Preventing Yellow Jackets from Nesting in Your Area

Wasps will not come to an area where there is another nest and they are easily fooled with a crumpled up small paper bag.  I have never had a wasp problem and I would love to hear from someone who have deterred them this way.

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