Good things come in small packages. This is certainly true when contemplating the magic of the minuscule—yet wildly popular backyard visitor—the hummingbird. Shimmery, swift, and oh so dainty, hummingbirds can be a delight to spot zipping past the window or taking a quick sip from a backyard feeder.
Hummingbirds rack up a lot of mileage on migratory trips, which is why these tiny creatures require good nutrition and safe spaces to rest during long seasonal journeys. Take a look at these six easy ways to keep the hummingbirds in your yard healthy.
1. Get the Nectar Right!
Hmm, what’s the recipe again? Some sugar and water should be good, right? No! Not all hummingbird nectar mixes are the same, which is why we recommend sticking to the tried-and-true recipe recommended by the Audubon Society: Mix one cup of water with ¼ cup refined white sugar until sugar is dissolved. If you heat the water for easier dissolving, let the mix cool before pouring it into a hummingbird feeder.
Homemade hummingbird nectar mix is intended to replicate the same sugar concentration that hummingbirds would naturally consume from flowers in the wild. That’s why sticking to the recipe is super important. Swapping sugar sources (i.e. using honey, brown sugar, raw sugar, or artificial sweeteners) is a big no-no. These ingredients can contain varying levels of iron, which can be harmful for our tiny flying friends. In addition, honey can promote fast fungal growth, especially in warm weather. Use plain white sugar to create a safe mix that closely matches the natural chemical composition of wild nectar.
You can also purchase ready-to-use nectar or concentrates in stores or online. Some brands are fortified with Calcium and vitamin D. These additives can help to strengthen the birds' egg shells and allow for better hatching. In fact, scientists have observed female hummingbirds eating dirt, snail shells, and ashes in order to supplement their intake of Calcium and vitamin D. While dyes are not necessary to attract hummingbirds, the colors can add a pleasing aesthetic to your hummingbird feeders. But if you choose a nectar that is dyed, be sure to verify that it is a non-harmful, naturally derived dye.
2. Choose BPA-free Plastic Over Traditional Plastic Feeders
In recent years, there has been increased awareness of the harmful effects of some types of plastic, especially when plastic containers are used for food and/or water over a relatively long period of time. BPA-free plastic is a safer option that essentially removes the industrial chemical that has caused some of these health concerns. Just as folks are now opting for water bottles and food containers that are BPA-free, the same caution should be applied for hummingbird feeders. BPA-free plastic products typically have labels that proudly announce their composition. If you’re still unsure, you can always opt for a glass feeder to be confident that you’re not putting the birds at risk.
3. Provide Comfortable, Ergonomic Perching Space
Even these fast fellows need a place to rest! While hummingbirds are perfectly capable of hovering near the feeder while they wet their whistle, having a comfortable perch can help them save precious energy during a long migration south. In addition to having ergonomic perches located close to feeders, having other perches around the yard can be a great relief for these busy fliers. Hummingbirds will use them to stop and survey the feeding options in the surrounding area. If you live in an urban area, providing a shaded space on a balcony or patio with a few tall plants and/or an umbrella can be a cool and refreshing respite from the concrete jungle. Remember that perches don’t always have to consist of manmade materials. Tall flowers, bushes, climbing vines, and trees with thin branches can all be areas that hummingbirds can take a quick break and rest.
4. Offer Additional Food Sources
Believe it or not, hummingbirds can’t live on nectar alone. In fact, hummingbirds need to eat about 300 fruit flies a day in order to survive. Gnats, fruit flies, tiny spiders, and other little bugs are all food sources that provide essential nutrients for hummingbirds to stay healthy. One way to help hummingbirds get easy access to important nutrition in your own backyard is to boost the bug population. While no one loves the idea of having more bugs in the backyard, simply setting out overripe fruits can concentrate the bugs in one area and make for easy pickings for passing hummingbirds. Brown bananas and soft apple slices tend to work great for calling the bugs to gather in a single spot.
5. Keep the Yard Safe From Predators
Fast. Small. Flighty. The qualities that make hummingbirds so enchanting happen to be the same things that also attract the attention of predators looking for a fun chase. Cats—and sometimes even dogs—can be caught up in the quick movement of a hummingbird’s flight path. These domestic animals will often consider the quick movement as a fun new toy or challenge. If you have cats or dogs that frequent the yard, consider placing hummingbird feeders in an area that’s further removed from the four-legged animals. This may require moving feeders to the front yard where dogs and cats don’t have access. You may also try moving feeders higher up in a tree that’s safe from pets near the ground.