Catering to Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are amazing creatures and because of their migration habits are only enjoyed for a few months by their host families.  To help make your yard more enticing for these small wonders you’ll want to meet as many of their needs as possible.

These include:  food, water and shelter.

Food for Hummingbirds

The simplest of the three to do because there are many plants you can place in your yard that will provide for them as well as add to the beauty of your landscape.  A few suggestions would be:  hummingbird bush, bee balm and rose of Sharon.  Hummingbird feeders too, are a great way to provide food and can be hung from a tree or a shepherd’s hook, as well as mounted to timber posts or windows.  These feeders are quick and easy to use with either store bought formulas, or by making your own.

Here I would give a few words of caution:  Purchase only clear nectar-the red dye creates health issues for the hummingbirds and since the feeders have red on them, is not truly needed to attract them.  Be sure to boil your water and allow sufficient time for it to cool before mixing.  Boiling the water helps to purify it.

Hanging on the shepherd's hook is homemade nectar and an apple half. From the tree is a suet holder filled with lint and leaves, and my "dripper" made from a 2 litre bottle hangs over a clay saucer filled with water and placed on a stand.

Hanging on the shepherd’s hook is homemade nectar and an apple half. From the tree is a suet holder filled with lint and leaves, and my “dripper” made from a 2 litre bottle hangs over a clay saucer filled with water and placed on a stand.

If you would like to make your own nectar- mix   1/4 cup of sugar to 1 cup of water.  ( You can make larger batches of nectar and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.)  Fill your feeder and place in a shady area.  Hummingbirds also eat insects so avoid the use of pesticides and set out some over-ripe fruit to draw insects into your feeding area.  I pierce the bottom of an orange or apple halve with a knife and place right on the end of my shepherd’s hook where I hang my nectar, but you can place any fruit in a small bowl or saucer on a rock.

Water for Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are not bathers, but do enjoy the refreshing feel of sprayed water and need it to keep clean.  To provide water in a usable way you will need either a shallow bird bath with a mister or a  12-16 inch clay saucer and a dripper.  Misters may be purchased at a garden center or nursery and will require some assembly.  You can make a dripper yourself easily and it is another unique way to provide water.

You will need a 12-16 inch clay saucer,  some twine, and a plastic bottle or jug (64 oz. or more.)  Holding your jug securely, take the point of a sharp knife and make 2 small holes; one on the bottom and one near the top to allow air to enter in.  Turn upright, fill with water and recap.  Watch for a few minutes to be sure it drips slowly.  To make the hanger, take your twine and tie into a large loop.  Hold one end open as you wrap the neck of the bottle tightly 2-3 times and tie-off.

To Hang

Pick a location with some shade and find a suitable tree branch or place your shepherd’s hook.  Holding your bottle, wrap remaining loop  several times over the branch or shepherd’s hook and pull the bottle thru the loop, making a slip knot.  (To protect your tree from possible damage be sure your jug is not too heavy for the branch and you may place a folded sock or other material between the branch and twine to keep it from cutting into the flesh of the branch)  Allowing your dripper to hang, place your saucer underneath and fill with water.

IMPORTANT - It is very important to check your water levels daily, especially during hot weather, and to clean your water bowl often.  This can be done easily with a stiff brush and clean water.  If needed, you can use a 50/50 mix of water and vinegar.  If using the drip system, check your bottle each time you fill it for signs of bacteria or algae growth.  It too can be cleaned with the vinegar mix, however I simply replace it.

Shelter for Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds fly at an incredible speed (35 mph) and need a safe place to rest.  When taking a break, they will settle on a tree or bush and even on a structure in your yard, like a trellis or the hanger where the feeder is located.

When it comes to making a nest, they prefer someplace dry, out of the wind and safe from predators.  This usually means in the fork of a tree, but they have also been known to use the underside of a deck/patio roof or shelter beneath the eaves of a home.  To encourage them to nest you can set out nesting material and if you would like,  a hummingbird house can be purchased on-line.

Nesting material can be found in most of our yards: they will use leaves, spider silk, dandelion fluff, lint, cotton fibers, moss and lichen.  When I put out my liquid feeders in April, I will also hang suet feeders that I have filled with lint from my dryer and moss gathered from the yard, adding leaves and dandelion fluff as they are available.   These should be hung where they can be anchored from blowing about and should be emptied and the material replaced if they get wet after a storm to prevent mold.

There is nothing more exciting then, seeing hummingbirds zipping around the yard or catching a glimpse of a newborn hummingbird-they are about the size of a large bumblebee.  Since hummingbirds are migratory you can count on them coming back year after year for you to enjoy.

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