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How to feed hummingbirds

Most people can attract hummingbirds to
their backyards with a few simple steps

About a dozen hummingbird species migrate to the United States and Canada each year. Some of them travel more than 2,000 miles - twice each year. Most hummingbirds that you see will be on their way to or from a winter home or summer "vacation spot."

Some hummers are attracted to certain types of flowers; some are attracted to certain colors of flowers. They all must eat every few minutes or so, and in large quantities, to maintain energy levels. These miniature eating machines also help pollinate the flowers from which they feed. While hovering for a quick drink, pollen collects on the hummingbird's head and is delivered to neighboring plants along the bird's flight path. They cannot survive on sugar alone, however, and must consume protein-filled meals consisting of insects and spiders.

If you have red or pink flowers in your garden, you'll probably spot hummingbirds among them. You can also help these little birds by setting up a feeder just for them.

Hummingbirds will not feed at an open birdbath or container. Hummingbirds are attracted to the color red, and most feeders will have red accents. If you want to make sure your hummingbirds can find the feeder, place a red ribbon close to the nectar spout. After they become familiar with the location, you can remove the ribbon.

Hummingbirds are territorial and often require their own feeders to get along.

Most experts discourage using commercial mixes; the packets include red food dye, which may not be good for the birds. This is a recommendation by hummingbird experts, but at this time, no long-term scientific studies exist that prove any harm to the birds or their offspring. It is far worse to let sugar water ferment, which can indeed be harmful, if not fatal.

You can make your own mix; it's not necessary to include red food coloring:

- Mix 1 part table sugar to 4 parts water (never use honey or other substitute)
- Boil to pasteurize
- Feeder must be cleaned every 3 days to prevent fungus
- Wash the feeder with warm water only; no soap or detergents
- Avoid hanging the feeder in direct sunlight or in windy spots.

Most people recommend leaving the feeder out until you no longer see hummingbirds hanging around. Hummers usually head south by the end of September, and some people think this discourages the birds from leaving. In fact, it could hurt the birds to take down the feeder too soon. If they have no last-minute source of food before their trip, they might be too weak to complete their journey.

Hummingbirds have little body fat and must feed often to remain in flight. Nectar, which is loaded with sugar, provides that quick energy boost needed to maintain body weight. That is just what the hummingbird needs: a quick boost to get going. Long, pointed bills allow the birds to dip deep into flowers, sucking up the tasty liquids through a tongue that is in the shape of a tube.

Some hummingbirds can probably withstand a mild winter, but may not survive long cold spells.



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