This is a piece I wrote for a newsletter that didn’t get used, so I thought I would post it here. The information is still applicable for hummingbirds in your area, even if you don’t have these same species.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, our summers are blessed with mostly moderate temperatures, beautiful blue skies and those living jewels, the hummingbirds. They are the masters of the aerial maneuver, hovering while feeding at flowers, rapidly flying forwards, backwards and even upside down, zipping and buzzing through your garden. And they are easy to attract and so much fun to watch! Here are a few basics.
The most common hummingbird species in the area is the Anna’s hummingbird. About 4 inches long and weighing approximately as much as two Hershey’s Kisses, the Anna’s is the only US hummer with a red crown. The males have a red, iridescent gorget – the throat feathers – that they flash when displaying or feeding. The females have a dark green back and a gray-green breast, with a red-spotted throat. Another species you may see is the rufous hummingbird, which is a little smaller and weighing only as much as one Hershey’s Kiss. The males can be easily distinguished by their bright red-brown backs and orange gorgets; the females are green, but rufous on the sides, breast and base of the tail.
The Anna’s hummingbird is one of the earliest breeders in North America, returning to its breeding ground in early December and often laying eggs before the first of the year. They create a tiny cup-shaped nest of moss and spider silk for their two white eggs, which they incubate for up to 19 days. Nestlings are in the nest up to two weeks, then are considered fledglings for another week or two. Anna’s are all-year residents of the Pacific Northwest, whereas the rufous hummingbird migrates as far north as Alaska from February to May. Post-breeding, they migrate south and inland as far as the Rocky Mountains from late June to October. This is the longest migration of any North American hummer.
So how do we go about attracting them and keeping them happy? As we know, the primary food for hummingbirds is nectar (they also eat small insects and spiders). They especially love any flowers that are red, and there are a number of species we can plant for them, available at local garden stores. Otherwise, hummers are quite content to dine at a feeder. These pugnacious little birds will jostle each other out of the way for the privilege of getting to the food you provide, providing us with hours of enjoyment watching their antics.
Some things to keep in mind:
- Most feeders have either a reservoir or flower ports colored red as an attractant. Therefore, don’t bother with commercially-available hummer foods. Plus, there is some suggestion that the dyes they contain may in fact be harmful to them.
- White table sugar (sucrose) is the closest substitute to the natural sugars contained in flower nectar; never use honey or brown sugar, which can ferment and cause a fungus that affects the birds’ tongues. The recipe is simple – just remember 4 to 1: 4 parts of water to 1 part sugar. Boil for 1-2 minutes to dissolve the sugar completely, cool and store it in the refrigerator.
- Hang the feeder in a shady spot, out of the wind. The liquid food can spoil easily so don’t allow it to remain for more than 2 days without changing it. If you see that it becomes cloudy, change it more often.
- Keep it clean. A hummingbird feeder should be scrupulously washed every few days to keep mold from forming. Use very hot water and a bottle brush or old toothbrush to scrub all the surfaces.
- Because the Anna’s hummingbird is a year-round resident to our decks and gardens, food should be provided all year.
If the birds don’t come to your feeder right away, don’t lose heart. It sometimes takes a while for them to see it, but once they do, you might find yourself refilling the feeder several times a day!