Don't give hummingbirds what you wouldn't drink

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By Sylvia Brockner

Once more, fickle April had lulled us into believing spring had arrived with 80-degree temperatures, only to have our face slapped with soggy snow the next day.

Tuesday, April 15, was unbelievably warm for the date, and its 80-degree temps brought two reports of broad-tailed hummingbirds. The first came from Inga Brennan on Lookout Mountain and the second from Sherman Wing in Indian Hills. On Wednesday, April 16, Rune and Trisha Toffte phoned to say they had a hummer at their feeder in Kittredge just before the big chill brought hummingbird activity to a standstill.

We have many times had hummingbirds arrive and then find themselves in deep snow the next day. When this happens, it is very important to keep your feeders up and thawed. If they freeze overnight, it is especially important to have them thawed out and filled at daybreak. Hummers can survive overnight by going into a torpid state, in which all bodily functions slow down so energy is saved. By morning all their fuel is used up by coming out of torpor, and they must eat almost immediately to meet the demands of increased metabolism and heartbeat. Everything goes back to their usual hyperactive state that demands feeding frequently.

With snow on the ground, about 8 inches at our house, there are few flowers to be found, so they really need our feeders. Keep your feeders full, and they will return to eat again and again. During one spring snow, I recall one broad-tailed hummingbird that remained perched on our feeder most of the day and all night in order to protect the only available food source.

Other birds seen at Evergreen Lake during this past week’s warm spell include, Wilson’s snipe, tree swallows, ring-necked duck, shoveler, redheads, double-crested cormorants, common grackle, mallard and both species of bluebirds. Spring continues to advance slowly, despite the yo-yo weather. The ice is nearly gone except for the far bays, and by the time you read this, it no doubt will be entirely gone. I haven’t seen the mallards look so happy since last November.

I owe everyone an apology, for I meant to write about and remind you to go the Earth Day Fair last Saturday and to the official opening of the new Evergreen Nature Center at Evergreen Lake. My only excuse is that somehow through the haze of pneumonia and antibiotics I lost an entire week. Both events received fine advanced publicity from this paper earlier. Both events, everyone tells, me were highly successful. Unlike Earth Day, the Evergreen Nature Center is not a one-day affair, so you won’t have to wait another year if you missed the opening. Plan to visit it all summer for various activities. And yes, I am feeling better. Thank you!

In fact, plan now to visit the Nature Center on Sunday, May 5, for the Dawn Chorus will be centered there. This is a wonderful early-spring count and list that the Evergreen Naturalists Audubon Society has done for the past 14 years at the Lake House. This year the Dawn Chorus will be held along the boardwalk, wetland and lakeshore as usual, but the refreshments, hot cocoa, coffee and all kinds of goodies will be at the new Nature Center.

Just a reminder, in case you have forgotten the hummingbird nectar recipe since last year: The accepted standard recipe is 1 cup of pure cane sugar to 4 cups of water. No red food coloring is needed; use a colored feeder.

Equally important, however, is remembering to keep your feeder clean and filled with fresh fluid. Everyone asks me, “How long can I leave it up?” There are fewer birds feeding in the early spring, so use a smaller feeder. Then watch the temperature. If we have three days of 80-degree weather, especially if your feeder is in the midday sun, it needs cleaning every one to three days. If it is cold and snowy, it can sometimes last a week. Changing doesn’t mean just adding new liquid. It means throwing away the old fluid, scrubbing the bottle clean, and then refilling the bottle with fresh new nectar. Remember, the nectar is just a simple syrup of cane sugar and water that ferments rapidly. When in doubt, I look at it and ask myself, “Would you like to drink this in your iced tea?” If the answer is no, because it looks cloudy or has a dead insect floating in it, then it’s time for a change. Keep our hummingbirds healthy and don’t give them nectar to drink that you wouldn’t drink yourself.