By all means

By all means

Simple steps to help, not harm, the hummingbirds

Many people like to put out feeders to attract these colourful creatures; but if you do, keep the hummers safe.

Among the many species reappearing now that spring is here, hummingbirds are certainly the most colourful, and a favourite of many people. Nothing says the approach of summer like the sound of these speedy creatures buzzing through the air, and the flash of sunlight on their beautiful plumage.

Many people plant flowers that are known to attract hummingbirds, which are excellent pollinators. Others put feeders up in their yard, both to feed the birds and to encourage them to visit. However, unless you take care of your feeder, you could unwittingly cause more harm than good.

Whether you use a prepared or homemade nectar in your feeder, the feeders must be cleaned and refilled on a regular basis. If they are not, the nectar can be a breeding ground for mould and fungus, which can cause serious illness and death to hummingbirds who ingest it. The most common fungal infection that can result is one that causes the hummingbird’s tongue to swell, making it impossible to feed.

Also, nectar that is left too long inside the feeder—particularly if the feeder is in direct sunlight—can ferment, which can cause liver disease in hummingbirds. Adult birds know to avoid feeders with fermented nectar, and will avoid them, but juvenile birds do not have that internal warning system.

Ideally, you should only put about three days’-worth of nectar in the feeder at a time. That way it is unlikely to develop mould or fungus, or have time to ferment (although keep an eye out in very hot, sunny weather). The feeder should then be cleaned thoroughly before it is refilled.

Do not use soap, bleach, detergent, or chlorine to clean the feeders. Very hot water and a good scrub brush should be sufficient, and will not leave any potentially harmful residue. A 50/50 water/vinegar solution can also be used if there are obvious signs of mould, but make sure to rinse the feeder very thoroughly afterward. Boiling the feeder in a pot of hot water for an hour will also clean it.

Whether you use a commercial nectar or make your own is up to you. Most commercial nectars contain a red dye, which initially attracts hummers to the presence of a feeder; but after the first visit or two they will know where it is. Almost all hummingbird feeders contain a lot of red in their construction, so if you make your own nectar, purchase feeders that are red, so you do not have to put dye in your solution. If you have older feeders that are clear, tie red ribbons around them, or use bright red nail polish on the feeding ports.

To make your own nectar, you only need water and cane sugar. Bring a pot of water to the boil, then add two parts sugar for six parts water. Keep the water boiling, and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved, then turn off the heat and let the nectar cool to room temperature. Unused nectar can be stored in the fridge in a sealed container, where it will stay good for several weeks.

Never use honey, organic sugar, cane or agave syrup, brown sugar, or artificial sweeteners in homemade nectar. These sweeteners contain many natural elements that may be safe for humans but are harmful to hummers, such as iron or calcium. Also, do not use distilled water; tap water is fine.

An advantage to making your own nectar using this method is that boiling the water will slow the fermentation process. If it is clear, rather than dyed red, it will make it easier for you to notice if it has gone cloudy (a sign of fermentation) or developed white strings or black spots (mould and fungus).

Keep our feathered friends safe, and safely returning to your garden, by following these simple guides. The hummers will thank you.


Just Posted

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Over 5K jabbed at Interior Health mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics

The clinics have made stops in more than 40 communities since launching last week

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interior Health COVID-19 cases falling slower than the rest of B.C.

More than a third of provincial cases announced Thursday came from the Interior

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Second dose vaccinations accelerating throughout region: Interior Health

To date, more than 675,000 doses have been administered throughout the region

Okanagan Lake (File photo)
Thompson-Okanagan ready to welcome back tourists

The Thompson-Okanagan Tourism Association expects this summer to be a busy one

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

A coroner’s inquest will be taking place at the Capitol Theatre in Port Alberni for the next week. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Teen B.C. mom who died following police custody recalled as ‘friend to many’

Police sent Jocelyn George to hospital after intoxication had gone ‘beyond the realm’ of normal detox

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel speaks to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church burning down early Monday morning, June 21, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Penticton band chief condemns suspicious burning of 2 Catholic churches

Both Catholic church fires are deemed suspicious, says RCMP

COVID-19 daily cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day moving average to June 17, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections drop to 90 on Sunday, 45 Monday

Pandemic spread dwindles as 77% of adults receive vaccine

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

A blood drive in support of 1-year-old Rielynn Gormley of Agassiz is scheduled for Monday, June 28 at Tzeachten First Nation Community Hall in Chilliwack. Rielynn lives with type 3 von Willebrand disease, which makes it difficult for her to stop bleeding. (Screenshot/Canadian Blood Services)
Upcoming blood drive in honour of Fraser Valley toddler with rare blood condition

The Gormley family has organized a blood drive in Chilliwack on June 28

One Reconciliation Pole and two Welcome Figures were unveiled during a ceremony in honour of truth and reconciliation on National Peoples Indigenous Day at the Vancouver School District in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, June 21, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Horgan marks Indigenous Peoples Day by urging recognition of systemic racism

National Indigenous Peoples Day has been marked in Canada since 1996

A man makes his way past signage to a mass COVID-19 vaccination centre at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canadians encouraged to see mRNA shots as interchangeable as more 2nd doses open up

Doctors urge people not to hesitate if offered Moderna after getting Pfizer for their first shot

Most Read