My inspiration for this article came to me yesterday afternoon as I made my way to my back deck to enjoy a freshly brewed tea, soak in the beautiful view of my backyard and revel in my newly hung flower baskets. It took only moments to realize I had unknowingly stepped into a war zone. A myriad of hummingbirds were battling for the sweet nectar of my new baskets, and if you’ve never witnessed how vicious those gorgeous, tiny birds can be towards each other, let’s just say I was lucky to escape with only a slight burn and half-a cup of tea. I realized it was time to get my beloved hummingbirds some feeders, which also made me think of the big responsibility of doing so. Did you know they are an easy bird to love to death?
First of all, great care must be taken to provide feeders that are clean and free from mold and fungus, or the poor little buzzers can develop a serious and deadly fungus infection. This infection causes the tongue to swell, making it impossible for it to feed, so it will die a slow and painful death from starvation! To make it even worse, a mother hummingbird can pass a fungal infection to her babies. I bet you’re running to grab your feeder right now.
To clean your feeder, flush the feeder with hot tap water and use a bottle brush to scrub the sides of the glass jar. Do NOT use soap; soap will leave a residue behind. (If you just can’t help yourself and must use soap, a bleach or vinegar and water solution rinse will remove soap residue.) Make sure you inspect the feeder carefully for black mold. If you see any mold growth, soak the feeder in a solution of 1/4 cup bleach to one gallon of water for one hour.
Secondly, fermented nectar can damage the liver, which can lead to death. If the nectar becomes cloudy, it has spoiled and needs to be replaced. A sugar solution can spoil in as little as two days. If your feeder is hanging in the sun or outside temperatures are high, the nectar may start to ferment in just one day.
To make nectar, mix one part ordinary white cane sugar to four parts water. (Do not use store bought mixtures, do not use honey or any other kind of sugar — just ordinary white cane sugar.) Bring to a quick boil, stir to dissolve the sugar, then let the mixture come to room temperature before you fill your feeder.
The boiling water will help slow fermentation of the nectar, but as soon as a hummingbird beak dips and drinks, the microorganisms carried on the beak will be transferred into the nectar.
Put out only as much nectar as your birds will consume in two or three days. If you mix up a large batch of nectar, you can keep the rest in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. If you’re planning on a summer vacation, remember to take down your feeders or leave them in the care of a trusted neighbour. Let’s all do our part valley folk and take care of our famished, frisky, feathery friends so they can forage in favourable fashion.