Here Come the Hummingbirds!
Hanging up my hummingbird feeder is probably my favorite rite of passage every Spring. To me it portends a long summer watching these incredible acrobats of the sky swooping in to enjoy a cool sip of water-sugar nectar. I never tire of seeing them hovering over my feeder, then settling down for a drink.
I get the feeder ready by first giving it a warm soaking, wiping it down with paper towels to remove any grime or dark spots. Most years, that’s all it needs before I fill it with homemade “nectar.” When I first started feeding hummingbirds I had one of those tall, globe-shaped feeders with the feeding ports at the bottom.
After struggling – and failing – to get the insides of the globe perfectly clean and free of any mold, I switched to the platform feeder that you can see here. It holds about the same amount of nectar, but it is vastly easier to clean. You just unscrew the top hook, pull off the top part of the feeder, and you have complete, easy access to every part of the feeder. Easy! You can buy one of these feeders at most hardware and birding stores, or you can click on the photo and order it directly from Amazon.com for about $15.
Once my feeder is up, it is then a matter of waiting for my customers. Up here in Bath, Maine, the first sightings of hummingbirds come around the first week in May. Sure, I am a little early, but I would rather be ready than have a hungry male hummingbird stop by and leave disappointed (my understanding is that the males are the first to show up in a given area, scouting the territory for the females that follow).
I’m also prepared to change the nectar several times, if necessary, before the first bird shows up. During the summer, I usually change the food or fill the feeder every three or four days. When it is really hot, I will change it at three days, though it rarely gets terribly warm here along the coast.
Making the nectar for your feeder is easy. In a jar combine one part sugar with four parts of water, stir or shake (with the cap on!) until the sugar dissolves. I use a quarter cup measuring cup – one filled with sugar, followed by four with cold water.
Although a bright red feeder is likely to get a hummingbird’s attention, it is also a good idea to have some plants in the area that are also hummingbird favorites. In the past I have had great luck with coral bells and bee balm. Although I had to leave my weigelia behind when I moved to Maine, it was one of the best shrubs at attracting and feeding hummingbirds. They loved to poke their long beaks and tongues into the trumpet-like blossoms.
I also had a large mandarin honey-suckle vine nearby that also had plenty of business during the mid- and late part of the summer.
There are several web sites that have in-depth information about using plants to attract hummingbirds, as well as tons of other information that you might find useful. One of my favorites is www.hummingbirds.net. Here’s their list of plants that will attract hummingbirds:
Trees and Shrubs
- Butterfly Bush (Buddleia)
- Cape Honeysuckle
- Flame Acanthus
- Flowering Quince
- Red Buckeye
- Tree Tobacco
- Turk’s Cap
- Coral Honeysuckle
- Cypress Vine
- Morning Glory
- Scarlet Runner Bean
- Trumpet Creeper
Some may be annuals or perennials depending on climate.
- Bee Balm (Monarda)
- Cardinal Flower
- Coral Bells
- Four O’Clocks
- Hummingbird Mint (Agastache)
- Little Cigar
- Beard Tongue (and other penstemons)
- Various Salvia species
- Shrimp Plant
Another website you might check out for information about hummingbirds is http://www.rubythroat.org In addition to general information, they also have several pages devoted to plants that attract these wonderful birds.