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Maintaining a Hummingbird Feeder
essential information
Proper care of hummingbird feeders requires a significant commitment on your part. Before you start feeding hummingbirds, make sure you will be able to spend the requisite time. If you do not follow the instructions below, visitors to your feeders could leave with a serious and deadly fungus infection This infection causes the tongue to swell, making it impossible for an afflicted hummingbird to eat. Ultimately, it will die of starvation, slowly and painfully. A mother can pass this infection on to her babies; they will die of starvation also.
What hummingbirds eat: The typical hummingbird diet consists of small, soft-bodied insects (aphids, gnats, small spiders, tiny fruit flies, etc.) and nectar from flowers. Natural nectar is mostly sucrose. When you put up a feeder, you are providing quick, dependable access to a form of sucrose. Although "artificial nectar "is not nutritious, supplementing a hummingbird's diet with sugar water from a feeder can give it vital, renewed energy to continue searching for nutritious food. When natural nectar sources (flowers) are not readily availabilities, sucrose from feeders may aid survival.
Selection of a Feeder: A feeder should not have unreachable areas. Be sure that all interior surfaces can be cleaned with a bottlebrush. (Brushes come in a range of sizes; purchase ones designed for small areas, like the insides of baby bottles.) Keep brushes clean by rinsing in hot water. Never use soap or chemicals to clean a bottlebrush or a feeder.
How to make feeder food: Boil sufficient fresh water in a clean saucepan that has no food or soap residue in it. After the water is cooled to a temperature that is safe to handle, measure out the appropriate amount (example: four cups of bottled water) into a clean glass or stainless steel container. Add one part sugar (one cup) to this container and mix thoroughly until all sugar granules are dissolved. Allow this mixture to cool to room temperature before pouring it into a feeder. The mixture must always be four parts boiled water to one part sugar. Boil the water before mixing, evaporation may alter the ratio of sugar to water. Too little sugar will not provide the necessary calories; too much sugar can harm the liver and kidneys of hummingbirds.
Use only granulated white cane sugar and fresh water. Store bought hummingbird food contains preservatives; avoid it. Never use honey which is fatal to hummingbirds; do not use food coloring, artificial sweeteners or other forms of sugar. Make sure the mixture is at room temperature before hanging the feeder.
Feeder location and care: Hang the feeder in a shady area. Sun will cause rapid spoilage of the sugar solution. Select a spot that is safe from cats and other predators. If you put a feeder close to a reflective window, hummingbirds might fly into the glass.
The feeder must be emptied and thoroughly washed in hot water (but not hot enough to damage plastic parts) according to the following schedule: in cool weather (below 60 degrees F), clean and refill with fresh sugar water after three days,. In warmer weather, the feeder must be cleaned after two days. In hot weather (above 80 degrees F), daily cleaning might be necessary, Use a bottlebrush to scrub all surfaces. Rinse completely, making sure that every speck of foreign material is washed away. If the feeder contains removable plastic feeding flowers, these must be taken out and scrubbed as well. Hummingbirds put their tongues into a feeder to drink; sugar water is conducive to the growth of pathogens. If there is mold, slimy accumulation or cloudy water in a feeder, hummingbirds can die from using the feeder. Follow this rule: both the sugar solution and the feeder must be so fresh and clean that you would drink the contents yourself.
If you accept the commitment to properly maintain a feeder, you will be helping hummingbirds, perhaps extending their lives. In turn, they will express appreciation by entertaining you with their colorful presence, amusing chatter and remarkable aerial displays. But, if you can't maintain a feeder properly, you will be doing great harm by hanging one. Instead, offer flowers (fuchsias in hanging baskets, shrimp bush, sage, etc.) which will attract them without the work of feeder maintenance.
Call the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach (714) 374-5587 for further hummingbird information and/or if you find an injured, sick or baby hummingbird that can;'t fend for itself.


Sea & Sage Audubon Society
PO Box 5447 • Irvine, CA 92616 • 949-261-7963