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Hummingbird feeders need meticulous care

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Our Evergreen World

By Sylvia Brockner

Once more we have snow in May. This is a bit disturbing because we have just had some fine spring weather in April, and this seems like we are going backward. We don’t really want to see winter return, but it is not unusual. All of the ice was off Evergreen Lake by April 30.

Even May Day was a nice spring day until late when the snow began in the early evening. By May 2, we had a good 10 inches of fluff on the patio, most of which melted during the day. However, it has turned colder and is unusually cold for May.
Several people reported hummingbirds during this period, and I received several requests to write an article about hummingbirds and how to feed them. Because of its importance and for the welfare of our hummingbirds, here is the information.
When it is as cold as it has been the last few days with fluid freezing in the hummingbird feeders, it is important to have them up, filled and liquid. I keep two feeders for each location. That way I can bring one in when it is frozen and put a fresh liquid-filled feeder out in one trip. You can’t make them return too early by putting feeders out because they are already here before they know the feeders are out. However, they do return to the same place you had a feeder last year to look for one this year.
Having two feeders for each location also makes it easier in summer when you must change the feeders more frequently, and it gives you plenty of time to clean them properly.
Hummingbirds can only survive spring snow and cold weather if they find enough to eat, and that means you need to put out feeders because there are very few spring flowers in bloom this early. The flowers that are in bloom are very small and white, so like the mountain candytuft, they look like bits of unmelted snow. There is just not much for hummingbirds to eat.
That brings us to what to feed them. There have been many flower nectars tested, and the well-accepted formula of one part sugar to four parts water is the closest to natural nectar, which they normally consume. This is plain white sugar and water. Do not use more sugar as it makes the fluid too sweet, and while they will eat it, it may damage their livers. Do not use honey or other substitutes for they often develop mold, which can be a major problem.
The only remaining issue is cleaning the feeders. It is vital that your feeders be kept clean. Mold grows quickly in hot weather, and any residual left in the feeder will contaminate the new liquid you put in. Thoroughly wash each feeder before refilling it. Small brushes are important to get into most bottles. I prefer wider mouthed glass bottles that can be put in the dishwasher, but they are hard to find and break if dropped on a concrete patio.
Bears also are attracted to hummingbird feeders, so it becomes important to take them in every night and put them out each morning. That makes a late task for you because hummers feed heavily at dusk, so they can get through the night.
Broad-tailed hummingbirds are our common, summer-nesting hummers in this area. Ruby-throated hummingbirds very rarely come west of the Mississippi River. Usually about July 4, we begin to see rufous and calliope hummingbirds. The rufous hummingbirds are copper-colored birds, and the early ones are usually males migrating south because they have an elliptical route, migrating north along the Pacific coast when flowers bloom there in the spring and migrating south along the mountains where the altitude makes the blooming season later.
The rufous hummingbirds nest as far north as southern Alaska, and the males depart as soon as the eggs are laid, leaving the female to incubate the eggs and feed the young. The rufous migrate through here in the late summer.
There are also a few calliope hummingbirds that show up here at feeders, but most of them nest at a bit higher elevation. We also have an occasional sighting of blue-throated and magnificent hummingbirds. Magnificent hummingbirds also are occasional nesters, but we are just at the edge of their range. It is also obvious from recent records that many hummingbirds seem to wander about with their young after the breeding season is over, and many unusual hummingbirds have shown up in October and November in the Southwest.
Mostly, if you have breeding hummingbirds, they are broad-tailed hummingbirds. It is vital that you keep your feeders fresh and clean. If you do not have time to do this, plant some petunias or other tubular flowers, and enjoy seeing hummers without the task of cleaning feeders.