|This dish-style feeder is easy to clean. Photo by J.J. Meyer|
Hummingbird feeders fly off the shelves at nature stores and garden centers every year before Mother’s Day.
“Watching these little jewels can provide many hours of enjoyment,” said Debbie McGuire, director of wildlife rehabilitation at the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach. “But owning a hummingbird feeder requires a serious commitment, you have to be dedicated.”
Hummingbird feeders need to stay squeaky clean or you may be responsible for giving the birds deadly bacterial and fungal infections, she said.
The rehabilitation center receives between 200 to 400 hummers a year. A significant number of adults and orphaned babies are admitted with infections as a result of dirty feeders, McGuire said.
The center’s printed instructions on how to care for a hummingbird feeder clearly states: “Please do it right or don’t do it all.”
The wildlife experts recommend cleaning the feeder and replacing the sugar solution, or nectar, every two to three days. If you see mold or the solution is cloudy, you're waiting way too long to clean the feeder and replace the nectar, they say.
To clean, take the feeder down and rinse it thoroughly in hot water. White vinegar is good for cleaning, but avoid soap. Hummers may reject a feeder with soap residue.
The care center experts recommend making homemade nectar over purchasing commercial solutions. Make your own by using a 4:1 ratio of water to granulated sugar. Too much sugar is hard on the birds’ liver and kidneys and too little doesn’t provide the calories they need. They also caution against using artificial sweeteners or honey.
To make nectar: measure a little more water than you’ll need. Boil the water for three minutes, then measure the water again because some will have evaporated. Add the sugar and stir. There's no need to boil the sugar and water together. Do not add red dye, which is unnecessary and potentially harmful to the birds. The nectar can then be stored for two weeks in a glass container in the refrigerator.
“When selecting a feeder, choose one without a lot of nooks and crannies that make it hard to clean,” McGuire said. “Bacteria and fungus can get trapped in the spaces.
“It’s also nice if the feeder has a place for the birds to perch so they can stop and eat,” she said.
Hang the feeder in a shady area where the birds will be safe from cats.
If you find a sick, injured or orphaned hummingbird, place it in a shoebox with crumpled Kleenex. Put a pencil size hole in the cover. Keep it warm and quiet.
Call the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center immediately at 714-374-5587. Or bring the bird to the center, which is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily at 21900 Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach.
“Time is of the essence,” Maguire said. Hummingbirds require a specialized diet; they cannot survive on nectar alone.