Hummingbirds are the most sought-after birds in North America, and their appeal is easy to see. These tiny creatures can fly up to 50 miles per hour, have a wingspan of only 3 inches, and weigh less than one ounce. They can hover for minutes at a time, even while feeding on nectar from flowers. And they spend much of their lives zipping around gardens looking for these tasty treats.
You may not realize it, but hummingbird feeders are not all that different from bird feeders you'll find outside your home. In fact, many people use them interchangeably without realizing how different they really are. So here's what you need to know before buying or building a hummingbird feeder.
Types of hummingbird feeders
There are three basic types of hummingbird feeders available today:
Hanging feeders (also known as hanging feeders, tube feeders, or hanging cups)
These are the simplest type of feeder, consisting of a simple tube with a narrow opening at the top where the hummingbirds can insert their bills. The hummingbirds usually hang upside down inside this feeder, which keeps them safe from predators like snakes and hawks. While hanging feeders do require some maintenance -- like replacing the water every day or two -- they don't require any tools or electricity. Some people also say that hanging feeders attract more hummingbirds than other kinds because they're closer to the ground, which makes it easier for the birds to reach their food.
A branch feeder has a plastic tube attached to a wood or metal arm. A piece of food hangs inside the tube, and a small hole lets the hummingbirds get to it without having to go through a long tube. This type of feeder doesn't require any maintenance. However, if you live in an area with lots of squirrels, raccoons, or other animals who might chew on the arms of the feeder, you might want to put some kind of cover over the top.
If you want to attract hummingbirds, the best way to do so is by providing them with a place to nest. Nesting sites are areas in the garden where the plants provide shelter and nesting materials for the hummers. You can create a nesting site by planting trees, shrubs, and vines near your house, or even by adding a few branches to your window sills or porch railings.
The good news about nesting sites is that they won't take too long to build. Once hummingbirds have found a new spot to nest, they'll be back within a couple weeks.
What to look for when choosing a hummingbird feeder
When shopping for a hummingbird feeder, there are several things you should consider before making the purchase. For example, make sure the feeder is sturdy enough to hold up to heavy winds and high temperatures. If you live in an area with extreme weather conditions, you might want to invest in a feeder that includes a cover that will keep out rain and snow.
The size of the opening at the top of the feeder is another important factor. Big openings are better for smaller birds like ruby-throated hummingbirds, but smaller openings are preferred for larger species such as Anna's hummingbirds.
Finally, choose a feeder that offers a variety of foods. There are many varieties of sugary and non-sugary fruits and vegetables that hummingbirds love to eat. But if there isn't a wide range of food options available, you might want to buy a second feeder for other birds, such as cardinals, blue jays, tanagers, or orioles.
How often to refill hummingbird feeders
Many people think that hummingbirds don't need to be fed very often. After all, they're fast and powerful fliers, right? Actually, hummingbirds need to drink water regularly to stay healthy and perform well. To help avoid dehydration, hummingbirds should be given access to clean, fresh water twice daily.
In addition to drinking water, hummingbirds need to eat sugar-rich foods once or twice each day. Most hummingbird experts recommend placing the food source directly above the drinking area, so the birds don't have to stretch far to reach it. When using a branch feeder, it's recommended that you fill it with a mixture of sugar water and sugar-free nectar.
To prevent disease and parasites, you should clean and sterilize your hummingbird feeder at least once a week. Use a mild bleach solution to disinfect the feeder, then rinse it thoroughly with hot water. You can use a homemade solution made by mixing 1 part white vinegar with 2 parts warm water. Or you can purchase commercial cleaning products designed specifically for hummingbird feeders.
For more information about caring for hummingbirds, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's hummingbird care page.