Hummingbird Feeders

Power these little flycatchers up

Hummingbirds are very welcome visitors to any garden - you've probably seen these little guys zipping around the yard, catching flies and drinking nectar from flowers. They're little powerhouses with an amazingly fast metabolism. Depending on the species, a hummingbird's wings can beat up to 53 times a minute, so it's no wonder that they need a constant source of energy.

A hummingbird's natural diet consists of flower nectar, tree sap and small, soft-bodied bugs like flies and mosquitoes. When they eat from a feeder, they consume a sugar-water solution that you can either make yourself, by adding one part sugar to four parts water, or buy from a pet store.

Hummingbird feeders are not only functional; they also add a decorative feel to your garden. A hummingbird feeder, at its most basic, is simply a bottle with feeding ports, but you can find feeders made of glass and plastic and hung in many creative ways to suit your sense of decor. You can choose to feed a few or many hummingbirds by incorporating several feeding stations into one feeder.

Hummingbirds are attracted to the color red, so many commercial feeders are completely red or have red incorporated somewhere on them. If your hummingbird feeder is homemade or doesn't have any red on it, you can tie a red ribbon or flower by one of the feeding ports. Never use red food coloring to dye the nectar, because it could hurt or kill the birds.

If you are going to feed hummingbirds, you will need to be prepared for a little maintenance. It's not as easy as simply filling a feeder and setting it out for the birds - sugar solution spoils quickly, especially in hot weather, and hummingbirds prefer fresh nectar to keep their energy up. You'll have to keep an eye out for unwanted pests and predators and keep your hummers safe from window collisions. You'll also need to clean the feeder every few days to cut down on the amount of mold and mildew that will grow inside the feeder and the feeding ports.

To clean your feeder, wash it out thoroughly with water and use a bottle brush to gently scrub it. Don't use soap, as hummers don't like the taste of the residue that's left behind. If there is black mold in the feeder, using weak bleach solution will kill the spores and loosen them from the sides of the feeder. Gently brush them away, and then thoroughly flush the feeder with water.

When you're feeding hummingbirds, it goes without saying that you'll need to keep the solution fresh, but did you know that you should only use plain white table sugar to make the nectar? Using anything else, like brown sugar, honey or molasses, can be harmful to hummingbirds because other sweeteners ferment much faster than table sugar. An interesting fact about hummingbirds is that they prefer the taste of cane sugar over beet sugar. Also, don't use artificial sweeteners - hummers need the calories real sugar provides to keep their strength up. You can buy nectar from a pet store, but often these formulas have a lot of extra vitamins and minerals in them that hummers can find for themselves. Remember that you are putting out a snack for your neighborhood hummingbirds - by providing more than they need, you might make them dependent on your feeder, and they might become unwilling to forage for themselves.

If you really want to attract hummingbirds, why not provide them with flowers that they're naturally attracted to? The flowers that you plant may also attract the tasty insects that hummers crave - and will ensure that your little colony of flycatchers will keep your yard free of pests for summers to come.