Despite our best efforts, early Spring is pretty sparse for hungry hummingbirds. Intercept those spring migrants and hold onto them as potential nesting birds. Hang your hummingbird feeders out in mid-March in the Rogue Valley. The males will arrive first. From that day forward, the hummers will be regulars at your feeder and in the treetops as they chase spiders and other small insects (yes, hummers eat other things besides nectar). The constant source of food that a feeder provides in a garden that is always changing, and where nectar is not constant, may be what entices a hummer to nest in your yard or perhaps nearby.
The proper solution for hummingbird feeders is one cup of sugar to four cups of water. Making it stronger will not help the hummingbirds; it is hard to digest and could cause liver damage. You can make it up a quart at a time and store it in the refrigerator. Red dye is unnecessary and generally discouraged. Most hummingbird feeders have red parts that serve quite well to attract the birds. Whatever you do, DON’T use honey in your feeders! It can lead to a fatal fungus disease in hummingbirds.
There is a responsibility that comes with the enjoyment that feeder brings and that is maintenance. Cleanliness and making sure that you are offering fresh, unfermented solution. Feeders must be cleaned thoroughly with hot, soapy water and then rinsed with hot, clean water at least once a week, more frequently during the extreme heat of summer. Refill with fresh solution, even if the birds are not diminishing the supply. Old solution will ferment and could even be harmful if it turns into alcohol. In the early spring, only fill your feeders with a couple of inches of solution due to the lower activity at the feeders. Really, the only time you need to top up the feeders is from around mid-June to late September or so.
People often wonder if feeders are “bad”. No, they are not, as long as they’re maintained and not the only source of food in your yard. Feeders should complement yards full of nectar sources and healthy insect populations. This means NO PESTICIDES that can harm hummers or butterflies that visit your yard. Use, instead, organic and low impact, non-poisonous solutions. This mix of food – evolving gardens and always-available feeders) is what may entice a hummingbird to nest in or near your yard. When their favored sources are blooming, hummingbirds generally ignore feeders.
Many flowering plants attract hummers. Most are tubular in shape and many are red, though certainly not all of them. A successful hummingbird garden provides nectar sources from May through the first hard frost. There is a great temptation to plant acres of Bee Balm or Cardinal Flower, two of the hummer’s favorite nectar sources. In each case, however, nectar from those sources would be available for just a brief period in a hummer’s life. The wise gardener selects an assortment of flowering plants with overlapping bloom periods, mixes perennials and annuals and allows nature’s wildflowers and even some weeds to remain, many of which are favored by hummers and butterflies.