It’s time to get your hummingbird feeder out. The ruby-throated hummingbirds are here, having flown all the way from Central America in early May. A feeder with sugar water will give you a close look at this busy, tiny bird.
An adult male ruby-throated hummingbird, as its name suggests, has a lovely iridescent red throat. The female has a white throat. Both are a shimmering green on the back and typically weigh a tenth of an ounce. This is the only hummingbird species native to the East Coast, although there a number of other species in the western U.S.
Hummingbird feeder basics
My feeder hangs from a tree branch, about 12 feet from the ground. I got it at the Audubon shop, but they are widely available. Fill the feeder with sugar water – dissolve 1/4 cup ordinary white sugar in one cup hot water. Never use honey or other sugar. And most importantly, keep it clean.
A feeder has to be emptied and cleaned very four or five days, because the sugar water can ferment. I use soap and water, plus a little Clorox if there’s mold.
You may be able to find a way to hang the feeder right outside a window, which makes for exciting viewing. This video shows how hummingbirds feed:
You can learn how other birds behave at the feeder by reading my article about their table manners.
Whether your feeder is in your backyard or on your balcony, a ruby-throated hummingbird will find it after a few days. And then, he/she may put it on a “trap-line.” Many hummingbirds have a route they follow each day – just like a hunter checks his traps. This route changes some as flowers come and go, but it also includes feeders. The birds prefer trumpet-shaped flowers that are red or orange, but right now one comes regularly to a yellow honeysuckle in my yard.
Hummingbirds can be pretty chill, too
If you have flowers and a sunny yard, a hummingbird may simply come to hang out, and you’ll notice one perched quietly in the garden or in a tree. Nectar (sugar) gives hummingbirds the energy for those rapid wing beats (50 per second), but nectar has to be digested, so they spend almost 75 percent of their time sitting.
They need protein too, so they hunt insects and spiders. They are aerial hunters. The bird finds a tree branch or fence with a good view, then it suddenly darts forth to grab an insect on the wing. This is flycatcher behavior (like phoebes). In bird lingo it is called “hawking.”
The ruby-throated hummingbird does not sing, but makes a sharp little clicking sound when annoyed. This may be aimed at you, but often it is directed at another hummingbird to warn that bird off. A hummingbird will defend its feeder from others, though there really seems to be enough sugar water for all.
As entertainment, it’s low cost and highly rewarding. The typical hummingbird feeder costs $15 to $25. Get one, and enjoy the show!
This is a Forest Hills Connection rerun. The original article by the late, great Marjorie Rachlin was published in June 2014.