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Feeder watch: Hummingbirds seem to benefit from higher dose of sugar

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Can sweetening the feeding solution reduce bickering among hummingbirds at a feeder? 

Spokane County birder Greg Falco thinks so. 

The south Spokane County birding enthusiast experimented with solutions and came up with some results that are being debated by birders this week.

"I read someplace not to long ago that anything more than 4-1 (water-sugar solution) can cause hummers to have heart attacks and is NOT recommended!" said Terry Gray, and avid birder from Moscow.

While the discussion goes on, here are Falco's observations (with the possibility that other factors could be influencing the results):

I've been feeding about 50 hummers lately.

I did some research and found if I doubled the sugar in the water, they would feed half as often.

I tried it and found it to be so, after the first day. 

There is less fighting for food and it seems to be a more efficient way of feeding them.


I was feeding 1 part sugar to 4 parts water and going through 8 cups of feed a day.  Five feeders.

Hummers were probably feeding every 3 minutes.

I estimate I have 20 black-chinned (local nesters), 20 migrant rufous, and 10 migrant calliope.


I changed to feed 1 part sugar to 2 parts water and I'm now going thru 4 cups of feed a day.

(The first day on the extra sugar they went crazy with all trying to feed at once all day.  Then they adjusted) 

They are probably now feeding 10 to 12 times an hour.

Calvor Palmateer, who resides part of the year in Victoria, British Columbia, responded:

Regarding hummingbird sugar ratios — on Vancouver Island people began feeding between anywhere from 1/3 cup sugar to 1 cup sugar to 1 cup water twenty years ago. Since most Anna's on the coast do have to winter -10 Celsius at least for some portion of a normal year, it made sense to increase the concentrations during those cold periods. The practice spread to year around. It is a major myth that higher concentrations cause problems. Instead the Anna's population has grown with females raising three and four sets of young.

One researcher in Victoria showed the hummers prefer higher concentrations and move to those feeders. With banders working at some of these higher concentration feeders it shows normal life lengths. Not increased mortality. 

Banding also shows hummingbirds are consistent in their migration dates. Leaving hummingbird feeders up dies not change that but can save a wandering Anna's.

Yet another birder, who pointed out that she was watching hummingbirds at her feeder in a campsite as she responded by mobile phone, offered this:

I read somewhere a couple summers ago that we should take down our feeders in mid-July, July 15th being recommended, so as to not contribute to the hummers lingering around & getting a possibly too-late start with migration. Since we are on the eve of July 15th this seemed like a good time to toss this out there for (educated) opinion.

Mike Denny of Walla Walla says:

I agree the sugar concentration doesn't hurt the hummers. The trouble I have found in our hot valley is that the higher the concentration of sugar the quicker the mixture sours.  I have to change the feeders every three days.

Here's a report based on some science:

More info: hummingbirds.net

Researcher brings program on hummingbird banding project

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A researcher with the Intermountain Bird Observatory at Boise State University will be in Coeur d'Alene to present a program on a hummingbird banding project.

The program is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 14, at Lutheran Church of the Master, 4800 N. Ramsey Rd.

Jessica Pollock, research biologist, will discuss banding these tiny birds and what studies have revealed about their biology and habitat.

Pollock has been banding hummingbirds for 10 years in Idaho and British Columbia.

The program is sponsored by the for the Coeur d'Alene Audubon Society.

Video: How hummingbird tongues function

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Like little jewels in the sky, hummingbirds capture everyone's attention when they "hum" by.

But only recently have scientists been able to study them closely enough to understand how their tongues function while feeding on flower nectar.

The hummer's tongue is about twice as long as it s beak.  The tongue is a unique "nectar trap" with two tubes and rows of flaps attached to a supporting rod that extends and then retracts compactly into the beak.

See how it works!

Campers find creative ways to feed hummingbirds

WILDLIFE WATCHING — People camping and fishing in North Idaho are taking note and enjoying what appears to be a good population of colorful hummingbirds in the region.

The photos above where shot and compiled by Hal Blegen of Spokane, who was in the field for fishing last week, but equally fascinated by the creative ways campers were tending to the hummers.  Here's his report:

The hummingbird population up and down the North Fork of the Clearwater and Kelly Creek was thriving (during my recent fishing trip).  I found that a number of campsites had make-shift feeders. They were made from whiskey bottles,  plastic drink containers, empty fruit trays, and bottle caps,  patched together with tie wraps, duct tape and coat hangers. 

The curious thing was that they all seemed to work just fine.  There was no shortage of ideas or hummers, but finding enough sugar to keep them filled was a challenge. 

Sizing up a hummingbird nest

WILDLIFE WATCHING — How big is a hummingbird nest that held two chicks until fledging?
The chicken egg in the photo above tells the story.
South Hill resident Bill Bender followed the growth of the hummingbird family that nested on a bicycle-parts wind chime off his porch.  Here's his final report:
22 days from hatch to leaving the nest. Just for some perspective, here are pictures of the empty nest. Yes, that is a standard, store bought chicken egg, so that is how big the nest is. And the picture of the empty nest lets you know that the final nest was actually spread out larger, as the chicks got bigger. The original nest into which the eggs were laid was more like a cup, than the final soup bowl shape.
The other photo shows the two hummers at 17 days, filling the nest to overflowing just two weeks after they were so small they could hide at the bottom of the nest. One chick fledged at 21 days; the other a day later.

Hummers nesting in the yard; something to sing about

WILDLIFE — You're living well when hummingbirds chose your yard for their nursery.

This is the second consecutive year Bill Bender has had a nest off the back porch of his South Hill home.

The chicks are seven days old in this photo from the weekend.

Advice sought re: hummingbird feeder

We put one out years and years ago.

And soon the birds arrived. But before long, it turned into a yellow-jacket feeder. So we abandoned the project.

But maybe someone knows how to avoid that outcome. I'm all ears.


Area’s first hummingbirds can arrive in April — hungry

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Hummingbirds have been known to begin trickling into the Spokane-Coeur d'Alene area as mid-April.

If you're gearing up to feed the hummers this season, the Audubon Society, American Bird Conservancy and Cornell Lab of Ornithology offer this advice:
Maintaining a backyard hummingbird feeder can help provide the birds with nectar critical to their survival, especially in early spring when natural food can be in short supply, and during fall when they need to double their body mass before migration.
To ensure your yard is a safe and nutritious stopover for hummingbirds:
  • Fill the feeders with sugar water, made by combining four parts hot water to one part white sugar, boiled for one to two minutes. NEVER use honey, which promotes the growth of harmful bacteria, or artificial sweeteners, which have no nutritional value. Also avoid red food coloring.
  • Clean the feeders with a solution of one part white vinegar to four parts water about once a week. If your feeder has become dirty, try adding some grains of dry rice to the vinegar solution and shake vigorously. The grains act as a good abrasive. Rinse your feeder well with warm water three times before refilling with sugar solution.

Should you be feeding hummingbirds this winter?

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Supposing you could keep it from freezing, would leaving a nectar feeder out in your yard in late fall tempt hummingbirds into staying around when they should head south for winter?
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists say most research on whether feeders of any kind keep birds from migrating indicates that the impact is insignificant.
It's possible that a few individuals might linger longer, maybe even be stranded in winter conditions when they should be someplace else. The photo above shows an Anna's humming bird hanging around this area in December 2011. But for the most part, birds that migrate seasonally will do so, even if feeders are left out.
The agency says biologists agree that a greater long-term impact on bird migration is probably climate change and associated changes in available natural habitat across the landscape. Birds have many triggers that drive them to migrate, not the least of which is changing daylight hours.
Biologists also agree that feeders of any kind are not necessary for any birds, they simply make viewing birds easier for us. For most birds, feeders are bonus food troughs but not necessarily food traps.
"We need to support natural winter processes," said WDFW biologist Chris Anderson of Mill Creek, "and that includes shifts in foraging areas for migrating species like hummingbirds. Taking nectar feeders down at this time of year is probably more natural and avoids the potential for keeping birds dependent on them when they should be moving on. Wild birds are not pets that need to be taken care of through feeding. But if you want to maintain feeders, be responsible and committed to it. Keep those feeders clean, filled, and heated with lights if necessary."

Where’s the love after birds fledge from nests?

BIRD WATCHING —  Bill Bender of Spokane treated his Facebook friends this summer to a 22-day photo documentary of the hatching and fledging of two hummingbird chicks. They were hatched in a nest built on a wind chime on the deck of his South Side home.

One of the birds left the nest on day 21, leaving the second chick to hang around one more day before fledging, with mamma rarely seen, he said.

Do birds form tight families that stick together through winter?  Some do, including the trumpeter swans that hatch at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge.

But species that stick together after the nesting season are rare.

Most young birds are on their own soon after they leave the nest. In fact, in many bird families, the parents migrate south long before their youngsters do, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

In the case of most species of hummingbirds, the female raises her offspring until they are out of the nest and able to feed themselves. A few weeks later, she disappears. The youngsters are left alone to fatten up for their long migratory flight to a place in the tropics where they have never been before, the federation says on its website.

They linger at the natal feeding grounds for several more weeks, sucking up as much nectar, sugar water and tiny insects as possible before heading south.

Hummingbirds show birder new down-under feeding trick

BIRDWATCHING — Inland Northwest birder Nancy Miller of Viola, ID, photographed this hummingbird this week — possibly a sub-adult male Anna's hummingbird, experts say — feeding on her geraniums in a different way than she's noticed before:

"This one does something I’ve not seen them do – sits on the stem of the flower and gets nectar from any buds drooping within reach."

Hummingbirds not above a handout

BIRDWATCHING — Living in a hummingbird migratory route has its benefits for close-up bird observation.

When the activity was peaking at her feeder, Abagail  Alfano of Pine, La., put a sugar-water solution in a red plastic cup and didn't have to wait long before she had a swarm of feathered friends.

She said they lit light as a feather on her hand.

Hummers Return To Priest Lake

At As The Lake Churns, Pecky documents that the hummingbirds have returned to Spirit Lake. She e-mails: “Staring at me thorugh window at Elkins Resort/ Priest Lake.. well - I least I think he was. Welcome back, humms.