Hummingbirds, Orioles and Nectar

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Orioles and hummingbirds, though they look almost nothing alike, have one important thing in common – their mutual love of nectar. But might you have problems with two kinds of birds – both so fond of the same food – fighting each other for the right to drink it? And even if you don’t, what are some tips for offering nectar in your backyard? For that matter, what about some pertinent info on orioles and hummingbirds? Luckily, all your questions will be answered if you read on.

8119Orioles and hummingbirds can, in fact, both eat from a hummingbird feeder. If that’s how you’re going to serve both of them nectar, however, you should definitely put up at least two feeders. If given the chance, orioles will quickly establish dominance over a given feeder and have no qualms about killing nearby hummingbirds in order to protect it. Male hummingbirds, meanwhile, are quite aggressive and won’t hesitate to attack other hummingbirds in the area either. Besides putting up multiple hummingbird feeders, an even better way to avoid this possible rash of avian in-fighting is to set up feeders that are specifically designed to serve orioles nectar. These oriole feeders actually aren’t that much different from hummingbird feeders – they simply have sturdier and larger perches for the bigger birds, and sport a bright orange coloration rather than a bright red one.

It’s vitally important to change the nectar and clean the feeder every couple of days, no matter if you’ve had any birds feed at it or not. This is because fermented nectar – which will occur when nectar is exposed to too much heat over too long a period – can be deadly to birds that ingest it. Similarly, you should put a nectar feeder in a shady area because excessive direct sunlight can have the same effect on nectar as excessive heat. You can clean the feeder with vinegar water and a good rinse, while a brush should be used to clean hard-to-reach areas.

3091It’s relatively easy to make nectar for either hummingbirds or orioles. The basic procedure is the same for both, it’s only the ratio of water to sugar that changes (4:1 for hummingbirds, 6:1 for orioles). So for hummingbirds, you would pour four cups of water into a pan and then add a cup of white table sugar. As you stir the two, bring the resulting mixture to a boil. As soon as that happens, take it off the heat, let it cool and then fill your feeder. Put the extra nectar in the refrigerator until you need to use it. Among the things you shouldn’t do while making nectar is using a sweeter mixture (it can be harmful to the birds), substituting honey for sugar and adding dye or coloring to the mix (it’s superfluous).

Although both hummingbirds and orioles make nectar a part of their diet, the extent to which nectar makes up a part of those two diets is wildly disparate. Hummingbirds consume so much nectar that even though it doesn’t quite comprise the whole of their diet, you could certainly be forgiven for thinking that was the case. If not drinking nectar from a feeder, hummingbirds have no problem getting it from flowers. But nectar isn’t of great nutritional value, so they also have to occasionally prey on insects and spiders to get the necessary protein, vitamins and such. Unfortunately, you obviously can’t serve up insects and spiders from one of your feeders, so you’re restricted to offering nectar to hummingbirds. Orioles, however, are a far different story. Not only do they not nearly feed exclusively on nectar, they also feed on several things that you can offer in one of your feeders. Grape jelly, oranges, suet, waxworms – all these and more will bring the orioles in droves to your backyard if you put them out.

Hummingbird and orioles will both start showing back up at nectar feeders from their winter migrations at roughly the same time, depending on the area of the country you’re in. If you’re in the southern U.S. or coastal areas, expect to see them appearing in March (or even earlier) – but if you’re in the northern U.S., you’ll have to wait until some time between mid-April and mid-May. Either way, you should have the feeders cleaned, filled and hung about two weeks before you would start seeing the birds. They’ll both generally begin the long journey back south beginning in August and September. The two-week rule applies here too, as you should keep the feeders out an extra two weeks after you see the last regular visitor to catch whatever stragglers there are.

With an understanding of how orioles and hummingbirds can coexist and the subsequent correct application of that knowledge, you’ll be able to create an environment that’s more than acceptable for both of these beautiful backyard birds. Shop hummingbird and oriole feeders at Happy Birding!

Written by Guest Writer Sean Peick

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