Putting out hummingbird feeders in your yard is a simple way to welcome more of these colorful creatures and enjoy the charming view as they flit to and fro. However, there are a few common mistakes that are often made during the process. And at their worst, these errors can harm the birds rather than help them.
So, when attracting hummingbirds to your outdoor space, keep these tips in mind – your feathered friends will be much happier and healthier as a result.
5 mistakes to avoid when feeding hummingbirds in your backyard
Keep your plot wildlife-friendly by steering clear of these errors.
1. Adding red dye to hummingbird food
Zach Hutchinson, the owner of FlockingAround.com, warns against using hummingbird food dyed red. 'Not only is this dye unnecessary to attract hummingbirds, but it may have long-term impacts detrimental to hummingbird populations,' he says.
Zach Lovatt, an animal expert from The Pampered Pup, agrees. He explains that although it's well-known that hummingbirds are attracted to the color red, adding red dye to their nectar can harm the birds. 'Despite being approved by the FDA, red dye is full of toxic chemicals that can lead to tumors of the bill and liver,' he says.
Instead, Zach Hutchinson suggests sticking to a basic hummingbird food recipe of granulated white sugar and water, explaining how the resulting concoction is not only safe for hummingbirds but is also the closest drink we can make to replicate the natural nectar provided by flowers.
Zach Hutchinson is the owner of FlockingAround.com and an ornithologist striving to ignite bird conservation globally. He is also the creator of the Great Wyoming Birding Trail and the author of Birding in Yellowstone National Park. Zach has banded and tagged over 15,000 wild birds and has efforted to protect birds for over a decade. However, he also crawled in the muck and grime in the world of reptiles and amphibians (and loved every moment) before his work with birds, as he worked in alligator conservation on the gulf coast to mitigate human and alligator conflicts.
2. Using the wrong type of sugar in hummingbird nectar
Zach Lovatt highlights another common error: adding honey or brown sugar to your hummingbirds' food. 'This is a no-no!' he says, explaining how they can't be digested efficiently by the birds.
Kelsey Waddell of WildBirdScoop.com agrees, advising to only use white sugar when making hummingbird food. 'Brown sugar is made by adding molasses to white sugar, and molasses has a high iron content,' she explains. 'While iron is good for humans and even birds in tiny amounts, it can be toxic to hummingbirds in larger amounts. Brown sugar, and other sweeteners with high iron content, can cause health issues and even death in hummingbirds.
'Honey has natural antimicrobial properties, but when it’s diluted with water, it spoils quickly and can promote the growth of harmful bacteria and fungi,' Kelsey continues.
'Honey is also high in natural sugars, which can ferment into alcohol in your feeder. If hummingbirds consume fermented food, they may become intoxicated or even die. There are other reasons to avoid honey, too: it can attract other insects, is sticky enough to clog up your feeder, and it doesn't provide hummingbirds with the right balance of nutrients.'
What's more, 'the stickiness of honey can get stuck in their tongues and glue their bills shut, making it impossible for them to eat, says Tammy Poppie, an expert from OnTheFeeder.com.
Kelsey is a freelance writer and amateur backyard-bird enthusiast living in southern Virginia. From the moment she moved from the suburbs to her current rural home, she was struck by the sights and sounds of the abundant wildlife. She's been watching, learning, and trying to attract more feathered friends ever since.
3. Leaving feeders out during cold nights
During spring migration, when the first hummingbirds arrive, many who feed hummingbirds will leave their feeders out overnight. The problem with this, as Zach Hutchinson explains, is if the temperature drops, the nectar can freeze and become inaccessible to hummingbirds.
Even if they can still access it, cold nectar can be potentially less-than-helpful as their bodies must then burn calories to help heat it up after it has been consumed.
'This becomes less of an issue as nighttime temperatures rise,' he adds.
4. Forgetting to frequently clean your feeder
'During the heat of summer, nectar must be replaced every 4-5 days at minimum,' says Zach Hutchinson. This is because the molds and bacteria that will grow in hummingbird food can be dangerous.
'When changing the nectar, it is also essential to clean the hummingbird feeder.' If you use soap or vinegar, a robust and repeated rinsing is necessary – the residues can be harmful if consumed, he adds.
He also advises having a backup feeder to ensure visiting birds don't miss a meal while the other feeder is being cleaned. 'Swap the feeders every time a cleaning is due.'
5. Setting out only one feeder
'Hummingbirds, no matter how small they are, are very territorial,' says Zach Lovatt. 'It's common for male hummingbirds to claim one feeder as their own and aggressively chase other hummingbirds who try to enjoy the nectar.
'Having one feeder will keep you from having multiple hummingbird visitors,' he continues. So, opt for two or more if you can.
Place the hummingbird feeders 10 feet apart from each other, he suggests. 'This way, you can have other hummingbird visitors while a dominant bird defends his turf.'
As well as putting out feeders, don't forget that there are other ways to attract these wondrous creatures, such as planting their favorite flowers. And as a bonus, more blooms will help attract butterflies to your garden, too.
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The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then; over the years, she's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator. Having worked for Gardeningetc.com for two years, Holly now regularly writes about plants and outdoor living for Homes & Gardens.
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