Hummingbird Feeding Tips
By Gord Gadsden
Attracting hummingbirds to your backyard is fairly easy and is very rewarding. Rufous Hummingbirds are the most common species we are likely to have in our backyards. However, Anna's Hummingbirds are becoming increasingly common, especially in Abbotsford and Chilliwack. What is unique about the Anna's Hummingbird is that they remain in the area all year round even when the other species are long gone south on migration. Calliope Hummingbird has also been sighted at feeders in the Upper Fraser Valley, usually in the spring during migration. Rare hummingbird species are always possible. Costa's Hummingbirds, a hummingbird from the southern states, have visited feeders three times in the Upper Fraser Valley to date. Black-chinned Hummingbirds are also seen once in a while as they migrate to the interior of the province.
Feeding hummingbirds is very popular. A variety of plants, which will be listed below, can also be
grown to make your backyard into a hummingbird haven. The hummingbird food recipe is cheap and very easy to make. The ratio of sugar to water mimics natural nectars which the hummingbirds feed on. Adding more or less sugar is not a good idea. To make hummingbird food, simply take one part white granulated sugar and four parts boiled water. Stir well, cool and store any extra in your refrigerator for a couple days. Boiling sterilizes the water which also helps the food last longer.
Do not use food colouring! It is potentially harmful to the hummingbirds and won't make the food or feeder any more attractive to the hummingbirds. While red is indeed a favourite colour for hummingbirds, the colour on the hummingbird feeder is more than enough to attract them. Same for the hummingbird food solutions bought in the store. I would be hesitant to use it not knowing what is used to create it and, this store-bought food is almost always dyed anyway.
Honey is harmful to hummingbirds and should never be used!
Hummingbird food should be replaced every 4 or 5 days to prevent it from going bad. In warm weather, replacing it every 2 days may be necessary. Putting enough food to last as long as the weather will allow the food to stay fresh is not a bad idea. Unless you have huge numbers of hummingbirds, such as at the Chilliwack River Fish Hatchery (they go through over 50 lbs of sugar in a season!) they won't empty a feeder before the food should be changed. Rinse the feeder, inside and out, with warm water between refills.
Where to put a Feeder
Hummingbirds don't seem to be too picky where the feeder is placed. Try to find a place out of direct sun as the heat will cause the food to turn more quickly. While small, hummingbirds, especially males, are very territorial. One male can monopolize a backyard and will try to chase away other hummingbirds. To get around this, place feeders in various locations out of the direct line of sight from each other.
When to put up a Feeder
Rufous Hummingbirds, typically the males, usually arrive in middle to late March often when the salmonberry shrubs are blooming. Females come afterwards and will usually stick around longer into the summer than the males. After the male mates with as many females as he can, he'll leave the nest building and raising the young to the females. Adult males will leave south before females and the year's young. Anna's Hummingbirds, as previously mentioned, won't migrate and will especially depend on hummingbird feeders over the winter. If you have Anna's Hummingbirds, or wish to attract them (their range is expanding), leave your feeders up. If it is cold enough to freeze the food, people have come up with inventive methods with flood lamps and heaters to keep the food from freezing.
Ants and Wasps
Ants and wasps can be very annoying. Wasps can be prevented by using bee guards or buying hummingbird feeders designed to exclude wasps. Ants, once they have located a hummingbird feeder, will be constant visitors. Barriers can be bought,such as little water moats, to keep ants away. I have, in the past, also effectively used Tree Tanglefoot in a very small amount on the wire that the feeder hangs from. This product is designed to keep insects from walking over it. However, I always worried about what could have if a bird came in contact with it so used it only in extreme cases and in small amounts.
Other birds, such as orioles like nectar feeders. They may try to feed at a hummingbird feeder. If you have orioles, special feeders for orioles are on the market. I used to get House Finches feeding at my hummingbird feeders. For two years, they (probably the same birds) discovered how to pull out the bee guards so they could reach the sugar water. I was constantly sticking the bee guards back on the feeder and sometimes even replacing them if I forgot to collect them before I mowed the lawn. This seemed to be an isolated incident as I have never had it happen again nor have I heard of other people experiencing it. Clever birds!
If any mold or other grossness appears on the inside of the feeder, it should be cleaned more thoroughly than with just warm water. If the feeder is too small to get cleaning equipment inside, try using a mixture of sand and water inside the feeder and shake it well. Be sure to rinse any soap used out.
Plants that attract hummingbirds
Try growing some of the plants listed below to attract hummingbirds. If possible, use native plants instead of introduced ones. Some of the species listed below are invasive plants and have the ability to overwhelm native species if they 'escape' your yard. Always be careful when disposing of prunings or parts of non-native plants. Even a part of some plants can take root.
Cardinal Flower Lobelia cardinalis
Lantana Lantana camara
Red Columbine Aguilegia formosa (native)
Fuchsia Fuchsia sp.
Impatiens Impatiens sp.
Coral-Bells Heuchera sanguinea
Hollyhocks Althea sp.
Penstemen Penstemen sp.
Petunia Petunia sp.
Flowering Tobacco Nicotania alata
Geranium Pelargonium sp.
Begonia Begonia sp.
Bleeding Heart Dicentra formosa (native)
Azaleas Rhododendron sp.
Butterfly Bush Buddleia davidii
Flowering Quince Chaenomeles japonica
Trumpet Honeysuckle Lonicera cilosa (native)
Weigela Weigela sp.
Salmonberry Rubus spectabilis (native)
Ribes sanguineum (native)
Pacific Crab Apple Malus fusca (native)