Spring and summer bring hummingbirds—and these little birds aren’t shy! They visit feeders on apartment balconies, windowpanes, porches or decks, and backyards both big and small. With a simple feeder and a little sugar water, anyone can enjoy these delightful little jewels. An interesting fact is that hummingbirds are only found in the Americas. When the Spanish arrived in the New World and discovered hummingbirds, they called them joyas voladoras, or “flying jewels.”
Our smallest bird, the amazing hummingbird is a joy to watch—they can hover in place, fly up, down, forward and backward, even sideways. And they’re one of our most colorful birds, with beautiful iridescent plumage that flashes like gems in the sunlight. Having hummingbirds nearby is a constant source of entertainment.
Along with some occasional visitors from Mexico, there are 16 species of hummingbirds found in the U.S. They have different migration patterns and, for the most part, they winter somewhere between Mexico and Panama. By January, many birds are already heading back North. Some banded hummingbirds have been shown to return to the same location where they were hatched and return to the same feeder they used the previous summer. This is great news because once you attract hummingbirds you may have the very same birds next year!
Feeding and attracting hummingbirds is easy. Hummingbirds feed on the sugary nectar of flowers and tree sap, which fuels them for when they need to catch the mainstays of their diet–spiders and flying insects. And they readily visit hummingbird feeders filled with a mixture of sugar and water. If you want to attract hummingbirds, have your feeders out and filled about a week before it’s estimated they are going to arrive in your location. You can find range maps for migrating hummingbirds on the internet. For example, in the northeast, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds arrive about mid-April. The rule of thumb there is to have feeders out by tax day!
You can make your own nectar solution or you can purchase instant nectar. If you make your own, boil 1 part white table sugar with 4 parts water. Boiling helps remove the chemicals and bacteria present in tap water. Let cool thoroughly before filling your feeder. Do not use honey or any other kind of sugar and there’s no need to color the water. Store unused portions in the refrigerator for up to 5 days and change the nectar in the feeder every 3 to 4 days. In hot weather, change it every 2 days. It’s also important to keep your feeder clean. Mold can build up very quickly, so clean the feeder before each refill. Small brushes are available to help you clean the nectar tubes or openings. Only use plain water or water with a little salt in it as an abrasive. Then rinse very thoroughly before refilling.
Hummingbirds are attracted to the bright colors of flowers, especially the color red. The “flower” feeding ports of most feeders are red, so even if the feeder itself is a different color, it can still attract hummingbirds. A few other excellent ways to attract hummingbirds include placing the feeder in a shady location with a gentle mister near a birdbath.
Hummers usually feed in the early morning and the late afternoon on hot days, and come to feeders during the day on cloudy, cool days. So, have your feeders filled and out early, watch the weather and with a little luck you can see hummingbirds all summer long. Happy Birding!