Mini Militants: Five Rules for Feeding Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds can weigh less than a penny, and have heart rates as high as 1200 beats per minute.

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Photo credit: Pslawinski, Wikipedia Commons

How do they stay alive in winter?

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Our hummingbird feeder

They have tricks:

They weave their nests with spider silk, which must be pretty warm.

They sit around most of the time.

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Photo credit: Morguefile

They consume more than their body weight in nectar (or sugar water) every day and supplement with insects.

They fiercely defend their territory from invaders.

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Photo credit: Morguefile

When food is scarce, they slow down their heart rates, as low as 80 beats per minute.

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They respect the flag. Photo credit: Morguefile

They train humans. I recently bragged to friends about single-handedly saving the hummingbirds from a cold spell by thawing out the feeder two or three times a day. My friends confessed they had all done the same. ¬†We’re foot soldiers to one ounce generals.

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Photo Credit: Morguefile

FIVE RULES FOR HELPING HUMMINGBIRDS SURVIVE IN WINTER.

(1) Standard fare: 1 cup white sugar to 4 cups water. Heat to almost boiling so the nectar doesn’t ferment and intoxicate the hummingbirds, although that might be funny. In extreme cold, it’s OK increase the concentration of sugar, maybe 1 1/4 to 4, but return to normal concentration when whether warms. Too much sugar will cause harm to the birds.

(2) Healthy sugars for humans are bad for hummingbirds. Brown, raw and turbinado sugars can be fatal over time. Use white sugar.

(3) When it’s below freezing, take your feeder in at night, or rotate two feeders, allowing one to thaw while the other remains on duty.

(4) Change the food every few days so you don’t start any salmonella epidemics.

(5) Pipe cleaners and old tooth brushes work well to clean black stuff, like mold, off the feeder.

Follow these rules and you are qualified to be a hummingbird slave. The birds will reward you by appearing daily, even when it’s twelve below. The Aztecs believed hummingbirds brought sexual potency and skill at war, but there is no scientific proof, so admire and envy hummingbirds for their amazing metabolism, and wish the same for ourselves, especially at this time of year.

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16 thoughts on “Mini Militants: Five Rules for Feeding Hummingbirds

  1. Great informational post. I thought I was being a good ‘bird and critter’ parent. I keep the heated bird baths both in the back and front yards. I even have a little spray mister attached to the bird baths the hummers and other small birds might fly through. Tom teases me that I should put out miniature hand towels and tiny bars of soap. Now I must get busy and find climate suitable hummer feeders.

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  2. While on vacation one time I had the pleasure of seeing one of these beauties every morning. I was in awe as I watched it sip from the feeder hanging from the deck as another stayed in the distance watching…they are very cool indeed.
    Thanks for helping them out this winter! Happy New Year!

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  3. PS — This tip arrived by e-mail from a hummingbird expert in New England: please do not add red dye or buy commercial hummingbird food which have dyes and preservatives. Both are harmful to the birds. Attract birds with colorful tape or ribbons, or by painting the outside of your feeder red. (Thank you Anthony!)

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