Friday, June 30, 2006

hummingbird feeder : How to woo a hummer in summer

Stories by
DEBRA McKINNEY
Anchorage Daily News

Published: June 11, 2006
Last Modified: June 11, 2006 at 04:52 AM


Want to encounter a hummer this summer? To increase your odds, hang a hummingbird feeder and plant the kinds of flowers they like.


As for feeders, go basic, said hummingbird researcher Stacy Jon Peterson of Eagle River.

"A lot of people will have fancy glass feeders with tubes and all this stuff. A feeder that has a lot of nooks and crannies can get a lot of mold growing in it, so I like simple ones."

Nectar ferments quickly, so feeders must be cleaned and fresh nectar added at least once a week -- in hot weather, every three days or so. When the nectar starts to look cloudy, it's time. If you see black spots, it's time too. That's mold.

To clean a feeder, go at it with hot water and a bottle brush. Do not use soap. Once a month or so, soak the feeder for an hour in a solution of a quarter-cup bleach and a gallon of water, then wash it thoroughly with hot water and a bottle brush and allow it to air-dry.

There's no reason to buy commercial nectars with additional vitamins and protein. It's a waste of money, Peterson explains on his Web site, www.trochilids.com. Hummingbirds get their protein and other nutrients from eating bugs and spiders.

To make nectar, mix one part granulated sugar and four parts water -- a quarter cup to a whole cup makes plenty. Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for a week or two. Boiling helps the sugar dissolve faster but isn't necessary. It doesn't make the nectar last longer.

Never use artificial sweeteners. Never use honey. And definitely do not add red food coloring. Most feeders have red parts on them, and that's enough to attract birds.

Red dye hasn't been shown to cause cancer in hummingbirds, Peterson said. It has, however, caused cancer in mice in the kinds of concentrations used in some commercially made nectars.

Ants can be a problem if feeders are leaky. Some feeders come with ant guards. They can also be purchased as add-ons. Among home remedies found on the Internet is greasing the feeder hanger with petroleum jelly or vegetable oil. But Peterson said that's not a good idea because birds can get it on their feathers.

Bees can be troublesome, too. They apparently can't see red well but are attracted to yellow. If your feeder has yellow parts, take them off or paint them red.

Hummingbirds are fond of nasturtiums, fuchsia, salvia -- all kinds of flowers that produce good nectar. Lobelia, lilac, cosmos, bee balm, columbine, impatiens, hollyhock, petunias, nicotiana, geraniums, begonias.

"They tend to prefer reds, but they'll investigate any bright color," Peterson said. "It's interesting, though -- a lot of hybrid plants that we grow for beauty don't produce a nectar the hummingbirds eat."

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