At the start of the Spring season this year I noticed a pretty little hummingbird investigating my back porch petunias, so I decided to put out the typical hummingbird feeder. It's red, of course, because hummingbirds are instinctively drawn to this color ... reminds them of flowers, ya know. The nectar ports look like little daisies, which I guess tricks the bird into thinking he's actually sipping from a flower. The reservoir is clear, so that I can see the level of food, and know when it's time to refill. There's a little rail around the edge, so the bird can sit and rest it's pretty little wings while it feeds, if it so desires. You know, it's the typical feeder found at any discount, drug, or hardware store for about five to seven dollars.
It didn't take long before the bird figured the whole thing out, and began to visit regularly, about ten to fifteen times a day, or more! It took me a little longer to figure out that there were actually two of them! They must be a mating pair, because hummingbirds are very territorial, and I can't imagine them sharing their dependable food source with any resident of another nest. I mean, I don't let my neighbors browse through my refrigerator.
It also didn't take long before the local thief realized that he could sneak a drink on a hot day. I'm talking about a squirrel. I hate squirrels. Okay, so I like squirrels, but only when they stay on their side of the forest. But that isn't going to happen, and so I hate squirrels. We have a history. Thirteen years ago, I lived in a neighborhood that was just overrun with them. They ate every rosebud, green pepper and tomato that I ever grew. I'll never forget seeing one particular fuzzy tailed rodent running across the porch with my hard earned sunflower in his mouth. It was bigger than he was! They went through my trash. I have a funny little story about a chicken carcass... but I digress. All I mean to tell you is that there's a squirrel in my woods who has learned to tip the feeder and chug the nectar, like a surfer at a frat party. It seems that he prefers this to sitting in the other feeder and cracking seeds all day. Right now, allowing my dog to make his presence known on the porch for a few hours every day, is a pretty decent deterrent, as opposed to my last resort, which is to break out the BB gun. Something a nature lover would rather not do to a fuzzy little mammal.
So, between the hungry hummers, the thieving squirrel, and a recent encounter with some huge black ants, I've been going through nectar like ... well, like a surfer goes through beer at a frat party. So, I've learned how to make my own nectar, saving a bit of money, and maybe even providing a healthier option for the birds. Here's how:
1) I use tap water, so I have to boil the water first to remove excess chlorine, and any other purifying chemicals. You can use filtered water, if you like, but tap water, or well water contains other natural minerals that will provide some extra nutrition to the birds.
2) Once the water cools a bit, I add some sugar. One part sugar to four parts of water. That's it. There's no need to add food coloring, or kool-aid packets.
First of all, the birds are looking for the sweet, not the flavor. They don't know tropical punch from kiwi-strawberry. And second, they certainly don't need the harmful dyes that we humans have grown accustomed to poisoning ourselves with. Natural nectar is clear anyway, so as long as there's red on your feeder, they'll notice it.
What I call "our" hummingbirds have become very used to us being on the porch watching them. They're very curious about us, and will often hover very near to us, sizing us up, before feeding. If we're not on the porch when they come by, they'll actually hover in front of the glass doors and peer inside the house! They are a wonderful addition to the families of cardinal, Carolina wren, titmouse, and chickadee that we've come to know and love.
(p.s.) I wrote this post two days ago, but decided not to publish until I could grab a shot of the hummingbird on the feeder ... with the camera, not the BB gun. The task was impossible yesterday because I spent the day battling those huge black ants that I mentioned. Persistent little buggers. Finally, this morning, the ants are gone. Probably having more to do with the big scary storm that washed out their trail, than the bug spray and the outdated Amdro that I'd been using. As I stood on the porch, examining the feeder, Buzz Lightyear came by. Yeah, I think that's what I'll call him. He hovered about three feet away and buzzed something like "Are you just gonna stand there and stare at it? You eat and you move along, those are the rules!". So I politely excused myself and stepped inside to get the camera, as he left to make his typical lap around the house. It's what he usually does while he's waiting for us to step away from the feeder. So, I decided to duck down behind one of the deck chairs, and wait for him to return. Normally I would sit in the chair, and use my knee to stabilize the camera, but because of that big scary storm, everything was wet. So, I ducked behind the chair, to use the chair arm for stabilization. Suddenly I hear "Who do you think you're foolin'?" I look up, and there's Buzz, hovering two feet away from my face. Now I'm a good six feet away from the feeder, and crouched about three feet lower... but he found me, and called me out. I assured him that I was only there to take pictures, and that he was free to feed. So he did. He sipped some nectar, and then came back to me... went back to the nectar, and back to me. It was as if he were asking "Did you get that shot? I'll do it again". He flew back and forth several times, and then decided to fly to different areas around the porch. "Take one of me here, now one over here." I was absolutely giddy, as I watched him pose over and over. Of course most of my photos are a bit blurry. He moves very quickly you know. And he's very small, so I have to zoom in, which causes me to lose some focus. It's a cheap camera. But alas, I have the picture I was waiting for, so I can finally publish this post!