Sunday, May 30, 2010

Will Hum For Food

Every year in early spring I begin to look anxiously for the return of my mighty little hummingbirds. I call them "mine" because I have been hanging a feeder from the gutter of our screened porch for 14 years this summer and feel that I have developed a relationship with them. It's unclear how long a hummingbird lives though the average is thought to be five to six years. Some have been known to live for twelve years. Part of the problem with determining lifespan is that so many things can happen to our spunky little friends: perils of migration, disease, destruction of natural habitat, and predation. Adult birds have few predators though an image search for hummingbirds will eventually result in the pic of a praying mantis dangling from a branch with one of our little friends firmly in its grasp. Or my cat with little feathers ... nerve mind, it was an ugly scene.

Anyway, on a sunny warm day about the middle of May I will hear a familiar low throbbing and know it's time to hang the feeder.

I hang my feeder in the exact same spot every year, not because I think the hummers won't find it if I don't but because I have worked out the best place to see it while standing at the kitchen sink.

I made an extended hanger from an old wire coat hanger and by now there is a scraped out mark on the metal gutter so I will know right where to hang it for the best view of the show.

One spring, as I was working around that side of the house, a hummer (the first one of the year) flew straight up to me and hovered twelve inches from my face. It was a bit unnerving because the summer before I had accidentally stepped into the path of a zooming hummer as he was chased from the feeder and was smacked right in the face by this guy. I never saw him coming and never saw him going. Getting back to the story- after this guy hovered in front of me for several seconds (an eternity of hummingbird patience) he zipped around the corner to the feeder spot and hovered again before swooshing up to the phone line to sit and watch. It takes time to boil and cool a batch of hummer juice but this little guy zipped and hovered around the patio all morning until the nectar was finally cool enough to pour into the feeder. As I was carrying the feeder to its spot, he flew up to me again and hovered. When I stopped moving, he immediately helped himself to a long drink as I held out the feeder.

I'm not one of those people who are obsessed with hummingbirds. There are no sweet hummingbird knickknacks in my home. But I have learned a bit about them over the years in order to be a better feeder and they are definitely an admirable creature. They may be small but they are fearless. I think of them as the Chihuahuas of the bird world. The shrieking and racket of fighting birds coming from the feeder is only equalled to the raucous my Chihuahua makes when anyone comes near his food bowl (or touches him while he's sleeping, or, well.... that guy's a whole 'nother blog).

Making hummingbird nectar is so cheap and so easy that I can't imagine why anyone would buy it. OK, it's easier- just throw it in the cart. Where's the deep maternal connection to your birds in doing that? Also, I recently priced a bottle of hummer juice at a big box store at $5.00 for 64 ounces. At my house, a 64 ounce bottle would last about four days and it's not really in my budget to spend $5.00 every 4 days for 4 months. PLUS- hello? What's all that stuff in the ingredients? Some of it's obviously sugar but the other stuff?

So this is how I make nectar using the standard 4:1 ration-

Boil a little pan of water for about five minutes. Pour 2 cups into a glass measuring cup and add 1/2 cup of white table sugar. Stir well to dissolve the sugar. Cool completely before serving.

Some hummer juice notes:

Some recipes tell you to add the sugar to the water and then boil them together. However, if you boil too long you will lose some of the water and the 4:1 ratio. This will make your nectar sweeter and that will attract wasps and bees.

A batch made by this recipe lasts about 2 days at my house depending upon the weather.

We have "city" water now so it needs a little extra boiling time to eliminate the chlorine and such. When we were still using our well ("country" water?) I only boiled it for a couple of minutes since the hummers water at the horse trough, which is essentially overflow from the spring from which we were pumping our water.

Clean your feeder every couple of days. The hotter the weather, the faster the nectar will go bad or ferment and you don't want a bunch of drunken hummers crashing around your backyard.

Confession time:

I add food coloring. While there is only 1 drop a red food coloring for every 2 cups of water in Mammy's Hummer Juice, it is a scandalous addition, I know. All of the nectar that I checked out in the store contains Red dye #40. All of it. The food coloring which I purchase contains Red dye #40. Does the dye hurt their little kidneys? Are the reported tumors on the little beaks a direct result of bad #40?I don't know.

But I do know that it is somehow impossible for me to make a batch of juice without that one drop of dye. So there it is. Please don't email me.

If you want to know more about these interesting little birds, you can go to:
World of Hummingbirds

The links below are for your hummingbird shopping needs. I have not done business with these sites and do not necessarily endorse them. You may find better Internet deals on your own.

The Backyard Bird Company offers a mix for clear nectar if you must but I would encourage you to do the math in order to determine if it's a cost-efficient purchase for you, as opposed to making your own.

Hummingbirds Forever has a variety of feeders, nectar, books, and gift items for your home.

(Hummingbird photo at top of post from

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