We probably get more questions about hummingbirds than anything else. The most frequent is: Do hummingbirds stay here all year. It’s assumed that when the temperatures rise these wonderful creatures ditch the desert for better climates. Actually, yes, there are hummingbirds in the desert all year – mostly Costa’s and Anna’s. We just spotted one this morning taking some nectar from a blooming Justicia spicigera (Mexican honeysuckle) under the kitchen window.
During the spring and fall, many hummingbird varieties migrate through the state. In fact, Arizona is home to Madera Canyon, the third-best birding destination in the U.S. and up to 15 species of hummingbirds pass through each year.
So we’re pretty protective of hummingbirds and urge folks to pay particular attention to these wonderful creatures. They need lots of nourishment to fuel their big metabolisms, and they are big. An average hummingbird has a metabolism that is 100 times that of an elephant and can eat one-half to eight times their body weight in a day. Wow. Check out these other fun facts on hummingbirds.
As they pass through your landscape take time to stop and admire the grace and beauty of these tiny birds and then offer them some food for their journey. The Costa’s and Anna’s who live here all year need a bit of help from their human friends. It’s important to remember to empty and clean out feeders in the summer frequently. Right now, if your feeder is in the shade, clean and change the nectar every other day. If it’s in the sun, you need to do it daily. It’s one of the reasons we recommend small, easy to fill feeders so there’s no spoiled nectar available to make birds sick.
There are some good hummingbird nectars on the market. We carry Sweet Seed and the birds love it. If you use a pre-made nectar, check the ingredients for natural sugars and no dyes. Contrary to popular belief, dye is not good for the birds. Bit hummingbird nectar is very easy to make, so you can mix up a batch at home and store it in your fridge for a week or so until it is all used up. Here’s a recipe.
1 part sugar
4 parts water
Bring the sugar and water to a boil, just enough to dissolve the granules. Cool and store it in the refrigerator. It should last about two weeks. Never use honey or artificial sweeteners. Also, never use red food dye because it can hurt the birds.
If your birds don’t lap up the nectar in a day or so, replace the food with a fresh supply, especially in hot weather, and wash the feeder with hot water every few days. If you see black spots in the feeder, it needs washing with hot water and mild soap that is easily rinsed out. Black spots mean mold and that can make your birds sick.
Our best advice is to start by filling your feeder only halfway to see how much the birds can eat in two to three days. We love this video showing exactly how a hummingbird’s tongue works.
The Bee Dilemma
Some feeders seem to attract bees more than others – we’re not sure which ones or why. We just know that occasionally we get a call asking how to get bees away from a feeder. The thing to remember is that bees and wasps like the same kind of nectar as hummingbirds.
If you find you have a bee problem it’s probably because hummers lap the nectar, they don’t suck, and in lapping a small amount of nectar ends up on the outside surface of the feeder near the ports. The best thing you can do is wipe off the feeder with a wet cloth. You can also try moving the feeder to a different spot in your yard. Rest assured, the birds will find it.
If and when ants become a problem, invest in an ant moat. A moat is a small, inexpensive vessel that’s easily attached to most feeders. It goes between the feeder and the ant source – usually a tree – and the little pests can’t get across.
Out here in the southwest we have hummingbirds all year round. There are two migratory – Black-chinned and Broad-tailed hummers – and two here all year – Anna’s and Costa’s. All you need to do to attract them is have some tubular shaped flowers in your yard – any color will do.
Shrubs such as (all common names) Arizona yellow bells, valentine bush, fairy duster and butterfly bush are favorites as are the flowers hollyhocks, penstemen, lantana, hibiscus and Mexican honeysuckle plant. Here’s a good list of plants that attract hummingbirds from our colleagues at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson.
Hummingbirds are very territorial, so if you have two or three fighting over a feeder, put a second feeder across the yard. To entice them to a new feeder, pick a flower from one of your landscape plants and insert it in one of the feeder holes. They’ll find it quickly.
Now sit back, near the window of your cool, air conditioned home, and watch these energetic birds enjoy your hospitality. They will dart and buzz and fly backwards and forwards. It’s quite a show. Next thing you know, you’ll recognize them as your birds. And when that happens, come and get a Nectar Dot, and they will feed right out of your hand. Watch this!