John Sterling Poole
The Hummers are Here!
This is perhaps my favorite time of the year. Nesting season is in full flight, spring is in the air, and so are the hummingbirds! Hummingbirds are amazing creatures that travel half the globe twice a year, play a huge role in pollination, and bring great joy to us all! With something so famous, there are lots of “facts” that everyone seems to know. This post is hopefully going to straighten out any confusion and make sure the birds are happy!
Perhaps my most favorite fact about hummingbird nesting is that they’ll use spiderwebs to cement their delicate nests! These nests are real hard to find since they are so small. They can be balanced on anything, sometimes even clothes line! Typically, you’ll see the nests positioned forks in the branches or areas where two twigs are close by. This is done for stability.
What can you do to help the hummingbirds? Not much, unfortunately. We always recommend that you let your yard stay as natural as possible. That means that you should leave the twigs and branches, especially the lichenous and mossy limbs. They’ll use the moss and lichen specifically to build the nest. Bark chips are also used if they are small enough!
Their nests are about a 1.5 inch in diameter. This lets them fit their incredibly small eggs (about the size of a tic tac). That’s why they are so hard to find!
Hummingbirds are famous for their pollination! Many folks think that hummingbirds are crazy for red flowers and red nectar. That’s not necessarily true. Yes, hummingbirds are drawn to red. Yes, hummingbirds like flowers. However there are way more facts and nuances to their diet than most folks realize!
First, hummingbirds are crazy for insects. That is where they get their protein (another reason to avoid insecticides!!!). Hummingbirds feast on smaller insects like gnats. This is a critical aspect of their diet. Since they are so quick and nimble, they’ll consume quite a bit of insects in an hour.
Flowers are also a major element for hummingbirds. Hummingbirds can be some of the most active pollinators in a yard. They like any flower, but there are some that they like more than others! Obviously red is their preference with purple, pink, and yellow following behind. What they really enjoy and seek out is a flower that is tubular. This is more natural for their beaks and their tongues! This eases their effort to get to the nectar and get the nutrients they need.
Finally, let's talk about nectar. To begin: NEVER USE RED NECTAR. This can cause renal failure. They like clear nectar just fine. The amount of red needed to draw them has been extremely over exaggerated. If you can see a dot of red on the feeder, so will they. That’s all they need! Find a feeder that has red somewhere on it and put it out with the simple clear nectar recipe: 4 parts water to 1 part sugar. Side note: you’ll need to change out your nectar regularly. You can place your feeder in the shade which can make it last a little longer. In peak summer heats, you’ll need to replace the nectar every 2-3 days. In the cooler weather, you can make it last a week in the shade!
I generally caution folks away from using inverted feeders. These will leak all over your patio, pole, whatever. This will bring in insects galore. I suggest using feeders such as Wild Birds Unlimited feeders. Not only are they under warranty, many of them come with pest deterrents!
Insects will ruin your feeders in a second. They are drawn to the sugar water. This will brings ants, wasps, yellow jackets, bees, gnats, and the list goes on and on. You always want to take precautions when dealing with pests. Luckily, there are pretty easy solutions.
Ant moats stop the ants from even reaching the feeder perches. You’ll have to keep them watered and filled often, especially in the summer heat. The nice perk of these is that they are so simple, they cannot fail. (Many of our hummingbird feeders have built in moats.)
Most feeders have bee and/wasp guards. They simply prevent the insects from getting to the nectar. That saves the nectar longer in two ways: they won’t drink it up, and they won’t spoil the nectar sooner.
Squirrels, sadly, can go after hummingbird feeder too. The only solution is to place your feeder somewhere they cannot reach (at least 4-5 feet up and 10 feet away from anything they could jump from). You’ll also need a baffle. Squirrels can truly ruin a lot of the fun.
They are several species of hummingbird, and they are also all pretty similar. The species most common (almost exclusively) in Charleston and all the South is the ruby-throated hummingbird. This little bird travels every year between the South and South America.
I’m sure it is not surprising where they got their name, but they fit all of the above criteria. They follow all the same feeding, nesting, and migration rules that we’ve already reviewed.
Hummingbirds bring so much color and character to our yards, so the least we can do is plant a few flowers out for them, leave a few branches out in the yard, and keep fresh, clear nectar out.