CLEMSON, S.C. – Most people like hummingbirds, but few realize how hard life is for these tiny beings.
First, they must eat 12 to 15 times per hour. Between foraging for food, they rest quietly, perched on a limb. To conserve energy, hummingbirds can lower their body temperatures at night, sometimes as much as 50 degrees lower than normal.
A busy life.
They are so busy; they build a nest and then refurbish it year after year. But refurbishing can be dangerous. Female hummers often use spider web silk to glue their delicate nests together.
Sometimes a hummingbird can fall prey to a very large garden spider after being caught in a web. Other predators also threaten hummingbirds.
For example, largemouth bass and bullfrogs eat the tiny birds when they venture too near the water’s edge. Even electricity can be dangerous to these birds. I have actually seen a hummingbird meet its demise on an electric fence wire.
The only hummingbird that frequently comes east of the Mississippi River is the ruby throat. The ruby throated hummingbird is one of more than a dozen kinds of hummingbirds from tropical America that spend some part of their lives in the United States.
If you know where to look, you may find many nests of these birds during this summer’s nesting season. After nesting and raising young, hummingbirds will migrate southward.
The sexes migrate separately; it is believed the males are first to leave and first to return in the spring.
What they eat.
Another unusual fact about hummers is that they do not eat just flower nectar or sugar water; they eat insects, too even spiders. The insects help to provide protein necessary for their diet.
If you plant a hummingbird garden, keep in mind that insects and spiders are an important part of the plan. People spend a considerable amount of time and effort to attract these delicate creatures.
Here are some tips that make their constant search for food easier. One possibility is to plant and maintain a natural wildflower or cultivated flower garden with plants that provide nectar to hummingbirds.
Another is to place artificial feeders outside, filled with sugar water or commercially prepared nectar solution. Many people opt for a combination of the two.
Flowers to include.
Some favorite flowers of the ruby-throat include: jewelweed, bee balm, trumpet creeper, coral bells, columbine, morning glory, honeysuckle, nasturtium, cardinal flower, butterfly bush, petunia, foxglove, hibiscus, phlox, red-hot poker and many lilies.
Although red is probably the most popular flower color among hummingbirds, these birds visit flowers of a great many other colors for nectar.
A successful hummingbird garden should have a mixture of annual, perennial and biennial flowers.
Types of feeders.
There are many types of hummingbird feeders commercially available. Feeders need to be cleaned and refilled at least once a week, so look for feeders that are easy to clean.
In hot weather and when feeders are situated in direct sunlight, clean and refill them at least every few days. This keeps the sugar water from becoming moldy, which can be harmful to hummingbirds.
Nectar for artificial feeders should consist of a four-to-one solution of water and granulated white sugar. Boiling this solution for a couple of minutes lets the sugar dissolve completely and retards the growth of microorganisms.
You can store excess solution safely in the refrigerator for about a week.
What not to feed them.
All of the following can be harmful to hummingbirds and should not be used in any nectar solution: honey, brown sugar, and artificial sweeteners.
Nectar solution does not need to be artificially colored red. Most feeders have bright colors, which attract hummingbirds.
Once the birds discover the location of a feeder, they do not need to be reminded where it is.
Hummingbirds will return year after year to the same feeders. Some other feeder tips to remember are:
* Place feeders in part shade; this slows fermentation of nectar.
* Separate feeders by at least 6 feet, so one hummingbird does not dominate all of the feeders.
* Attach an “ant moat” to the feeder wire to prevent ants from entering the feeder.
* Keep the feeder up year-round, or remove it in late fall. Leaving the feeders out will not harm the birds. Migrating hummingbirds will still head south in the fall, even if feeders or flowering plants are available.