Welcome to another season of hummingbird heaven. This year is particularly exciting as we had an Anna’s hummingbird overwinter in Vernon so we should be seeing these beautiful coastal birds in our backyards this year.
The Anna’s are joining our regulars which are the Calliope, (the smallest North American hummingbird) the elusive black chinned and the declining Rufous. It’s not known the exact reason for the Rufous’ decline but scientists and citizen scientists are doing research to find the cause.
To help all the species maintain their numbers and protect them and their young during their breeding season in our valley, here are four things we can do.
1) Proper Feeders
It’s best to buy glass if possible. It is common to find glass in inverted feeders. They have plastic feeders as well and if you do buy plastic make sure that it is “Food Grade Plastic” and “IV Stabilized.” This ensures that there is no chemical leakage into the food they eat. The cheap plastic disintegrates in our hot summer sun and will contaminate the food.
The basin style feeders usually come in plastic and some have the “flowers” incorporated into the plastic mold and will be red. Red flowers are better than yellow because yellow is attractive to wasps. Other basin feeders have yellow flowers which can be popped out to clean because mould can easily grow between the flower base and the feeder.
Whichever style you choose make sure they can be completely dismantled for cleaning.
2) Clean Feeders
Feeders should be cleaned with hot water (no soap). The feeder should be totally dismantled and feeding ports taken apart. Use a bottle brush for inverted types and pipe cleaners for the small holes.
Every time you refill your feeder, take it apart and rinse with hot water.
Twice a week use the brush and pipe cleaners to ensure it’s clean.
Mould is a death sentence to hummingbirds. If there is any sign of black mould, soak your feeder for one hour in a mixture of 1/4 cup of bleach to one gallon of water. Rinse the parts several times in hot water to remove all traces of the bleach. With some of the inverted feeders they have a yellow basket at the feeder port which is prone to getting mouldy. You can buy replacement ports if you are having problems. The reason this happens is that when the birds land on the feeder it sways and the liquid runs down the port into the yellow basket.
The recipe for their food is one part white sugar to four parts water. Low boil for two minutes in a covered pot (covering ensures there is no evaporation of the water to increase the concentration), cool to room temperature before filling feeders.
This food can be stored in the fridge for seven days.
Never use brown sugar, honey or sugar substitutes as these contain components that will harm the birds.
Do not add red dye. The red on the hummingbird feeder base is all that is needed.
Do not add scent to the food. Hummingbirds cannot smell.
The healthiest food for the hummingbirds is homemade food so save your money and don’t buy pre-made food from the store.
If food is cloudy it’s bad and you need to clean and refill.
If temp less than 21 degrees: change once a week
Temp between 21 and 26: change every five days
Temp between 27 and 30: change every three days
Temp between 31 and 33: change every two days
Temp over 33: change every day.
Do not use a feeder if you cannot maintain it for the whole season, instead you can do your part and enjoy their visits by providing flowers for their food. Hanging baskets and containers can easily be planted and maintained. Here are a few plants that look great in planters and will keep your hummers happy: petunias, salvia, fuschsia, snapdragons and verbena. Just remember to have these well beyond the reach of cats.
Enjoy your hummingbirds!
Karen Siemens is with The North Okanagan Naturalists’ Club in Vernon.