By John Porco | Special to The SUN
The hummingbirds will be arriving in Pagosa Country in the next few weeks, providing a flash of color in our gloomy days. Scout birds arrive early to identify feeders, so it is important to get the feeders out by mid- to late April. So, courtesy of the Weminuche Audubon Society, here are a few guidelines.
There are many good feeders on the market. The most important criteria when selecting a feeder are that it be easy to clean and easy to fill. In order to be a responsible host, you must keep your feeder very clean and full of fresh nectar. Feeders should come apart so that all parts are open and available for cleaning. Red attracts the hummingbirds. If your feeder isn’t red, tie a red ribbon on it or use red tape. Hummingbirds are very territorial. If you put out more than one feeder, try to put the two feeders in locations out of sight of each other. Feeders attract bears, so keep your feeders out of bear range.
In nature, hummingbirds eat flower nectar for energy and bugs for protein. Here is the recipe for making hummingbird nectar:
Mix four parts water to one part plain white table sugar in a pan. For example, use 1 cup sugar to 4 cups water. Do not use honey, agave, syrup, Jell-O, or powdered or brown sugar. Especially do not use artificial sweeteners, as putting hummingbirds on a diet will kill them. They burn prodigious amounts of energy for their size and need real sugar. Do not use red food coloring or buy premade red nectar. It is unnecessary and can harm the little hummers even in low concentrations because they eat so much nectar. Do not add anything else — just sugar and water.
Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat. Stir it while it is heating until all the sugar is dissolved. Don’t boil it for long because that will change the ratio as water is boiled off. The reason for boiling is not to make syrup, but to drive out the chlorine in the water and to kill mold and yeast spores that might be in the sugar. This will help make the nectar last longer both in the feeder and in your refrigerator. Cover and allow to cool before using or pouring into a storage bottle. We recommend making a large batch of nectar and storing it in the refrigerator.
Sugar water is a very rich growth medium. Yeasts like to eat it, causing fermentation, which can harm hummingbirds. Mold and bacteria grow in it and can also harm the birds. If you see black spots inside your feeder, this is mold and you will need to scrub it out with a good bottle brush. You must change the nectar frequently to avoid contaminants. In cooler temperatures, we recommend changing it every seven days. If the temperatures are getting above 70 degrees, clean at least every three days. Clean the feeder thoroughly using a mild detergent. You can use a mild bleach solution (one part bleach to nine parts water). In any case, rinse the bottle thoroughly. Some pet stores sell specialized brushes made to fit into feeder bottles and the holes in the base.
So, get your feeders out and enjoy the antics of these wonderful and colorful little birds through the fall.