Hummingbird Frequently Asked Question
Bird expert, George Harrison, answers questions about hummingbird food recipes and feeding facts about this bird species.
What's the recipe for sugar water?
Mix four parts water to one part sugar. While some people don't boil their water, it's best to boil and then let it cool just to be safe. Be sure to change out the sugar water every few days. You can store extra sugar water in your refrigerator for a week or more.
How do hummingbirds feed their young?
Hummingbirds usually feed tiny insects and spiders to their young. They insert them right into the mouths of their babies. They'll also feed nectar and pollen to the young birds. They do this by holding it in their throats and then squirting it into the mouth of the nestlings. Sometimes this will cause the youngster's throat to swell temporarily, resembling a goiter.
Do hummingbirds sing?
Hummingbirds will often twitter or chatter while resting or when in pursuit of other hummingbirds. These high-pitched calls, which are slightly different for each species, may be considered their songs because the birds use them to establish territories and for courting.
Is it okay to add red food coloring to the sugar-water mixture?
One of the older red food colorings was found to be toxic to birds, but with the new formulations, I don't believe that's still true. However, it isn't necessary to dye sugar water for hummingbirds under most circumstances. The feeders usually have red parts, which provide enough color to attract hummingbirds. Clear sugar water will work just fine.
This hummingbird is in a state of torpor.
Why did I see a hummingbird hanging upside-down at the feeder?
Hummingbirds can shut down their metabolism to conserve energy and may appear to be dead, like the bird in this photo (right) taken by Wally Williams of Pine Knoll Shores, North Carolina. This condition, called torpidity, is employed most often at night. Yet reports of hummingbirds becoming torpid at sugar-water feeders during daylight are common. If you see a hummingbird in such a state, there is no cause for concern.
I saw a yellowish hummingbird at my feeder. Is this common?
Though rare, some bird species will produce a yellow version of themselves. This condition is called xanthochroism, an abnormal yellowing of the plumage. It is thought to be caused by a loss of dark pigment (melanin) in the bird's feathers. If the mystery visitor was much smaller than a hummingbird, it could be a sphinx moth, also called a hummingbird moth. This is a diurnal moth (meaning it's out during daylight), and one variety is yellow in color and common in gardens in the summer.
Do hummingbirds drink by suction?
Hummingbirds can be included in the select group of birds that drink by suction. They are one of the few species of birds that swallow liquid without throwing their head back to allow gravity to help them swallow. This is true of hummingbirds because most of their food comes from flower blooms. The birds thrust their long bills into the flowers to draw out nectar.
How do hummingbirds fly 600 miles nonstop over the Gulf of Mexico during migration?
The simple answer is that hummingbirds store enough fat to allow them to cross the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, they begin this storage before they even leave their nesting grounds. You may notice that in late summer, just before hummingbirds begin to migrate south, they eat more food more often. They stop to feed along the way, too, and store as much energy as possible. That's why it's important to maintain sugar-water feeders at least through September, even after hummingbird activity subsides.
When should I hang my hummingbird feeders for the return of my feathered friends?
Early May is a good time to hang up your hummingbird feeders. In the South, migratory hummingbirds begin tapping sugar-water feeders in backyards in early April. The funny thing about it is that if you don't get them up early enough, the hummingbirds will often remind you by coming to the spot where the feeders were last summer and hover there looking for them.
I've planted a hummingbird garden, but I haven't seen a hummingbird. Why don't they visit?
Try placing a hummingbird nectar feeder (below) close to or among the red flowers in your garden. This should create a target area for hummingbirds passing by.