Hummingbirds are some of the most adorable avian species known to humankind. We’ve devoted an entire industry to creative ways of keeping them happy with all the sugar water they can handle. But what many of our species may not understand about theirs is killing the birds off in record numbers.
Several species of hummingbirds, including the Rufous, Lucifer, and Allen’s, have been declining for years. And, while the archetypical example, Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, remains relatively prolific, there is still cause for concern.
Unlike the losses of other species, hummingbird deaths are typically not attributed to a disappearing food source or global climate change in North America, but most of these deaths are preventable if backyard birders would just take a few precautions. Here is a list of ways to change your hummingbird care habits, and keep these creatures around for good:
6. Get a bird feeder that’s easy to clean
Your birds will thank you for it! A bird feeder that comes apart for cleaning will a much healthier experience for those that show up in your yard. If the feeder does not disassemble, certain corners inside may be impossible to reach, even with a bottle brush, and black mold could develop (more on that later).
5. Put it in the right spot
You can position the feeder close enough to your home so you can watch the birds sip for a spell, but make sure you don’t put them too close that they would fly into your windows by accident.
Some feeders can be suctioned to a window, which the birds can safely fly up to, but feeders placed just one or two feet away may lead to collisions as they try to navigate around. At least five feet of space between your home and feeder is recommended, if not more. Yard Envy recommends using a shepherds hook to hang a feeder at eye level.
4. Keep it Clean
With a feeder up and attracting birds, it’s also important to keep it clean throughout the season. An unclean feeder can pass along hummingbird candidiasis, a fungal tongue infection that causes the birds’ tongues to swell until they are physically unable to eat.
Eventually, the birds starve to death.
As horrific as this condition sounds, it is also preventable. Hummingbird feeders should be cleaned after every refill, and if left out too long, may start to develop black smudges near feeding holes.
3. Keep ants and bees away, safely
Never use chemical deterrents for unwanted insects around your bird feeder. That would only pollute your feathered friends’ source of food.
It’s much easier, and safer, to invest in an ant moat, a cup of water that hands above the suspended feeder, to catch the ants as they try to climb down into the nectar. To keep bees away, make sure there are not bright yellow pieces on your feeder, Nature for my Soul recommends, and if there are, put red tape over them.
2. Fill Your Feeder For Just A Few Days At A Time
Another easy way to prevent an unclean feeder is to prevent the nectar from sitting out too long. If you have a large feeder, don’t fill it up all the way; a large amount would spoil before the birds had the chance to finish it, and the fermented sugar water could severely damage a bird’s liver.
Instead, fill your feeder up for 2 to 3 days at a time, bird blogger Sharon Mammoser writes, and keep some nectar in the fridge, so you can easily refill them after a good cleaning.
1. Ditch the Dye
As NC-Culture reports, hummingbirds find food by searching for the most colorful plants or surfaces, a telltale sign that sweet nectar may be within. The red water commonly sold in stores is sure to attract the tiny birds, but it also poses a serious health threat. The red dye passes through humming bird bodies, making its way into red-stained droppings, but only after being filtered through the kidneys.
According to Wild Birds Unlimited, there is no proof that Red #40 may harm hummingbirds, though it is made from petroleum, and not recommended for consumption by human children in Europe. Moreover, it isn’t necessary. The bright colors of most hummingbird feeder are enough to attract the animals to eat. And, if not, a red ribbon tied around the feeder, a red tablecloth placed on nearby bushes, or brightly-colored decorations can accomplish the same task.
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.