Aug 2, 2013 | Featured Web Article

Hummer Trouble

Hummingbirds flock around a backyard nectar feeder.
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Any backyard in North America can expect to have hummingbirds during the warmer months of the year (April through late September). But sometimes those hummingbirds don't get along. Other times, uninvited guests help themselves to the sweet nectar in your feeders. Here are some solutions to a few of the most common problems that plague North American hummingbirders.

Bullies. It is very common for an alpha male hummer to claim a feeder as his designated spot, fighting off all others who venture near his turf. The easiest solution is to cluster multiple feeders in the same general area. The bully will become tired and overwhelmed by all the other hummers trying to visit the feeders. Eventually the territoriality will break down, allowing everyone to eat in peace.

Ants. Ants can certainly become a problem for the backyard hummingbirder. Not only is it annoying for you, but also most hummers don't like to eat from a feeder that has more than a few ants on it. Some feeders come with a small basin surrounding the hanger, providing a water hazard preventing the ants—which are terrible swimmers—from accessing the nectar. If a feeder does not have such a feature, you can purchase a simple device called an ant deterrent. Remember never to use pesticides on or around bird feeders.

If you want to see a hummingbird eat insects, leave an old banana out until it begins to draw fruit flies. Place the banana and its band of bugs outside near your hummingbird feeder. If the wind isn't too strong (which blows the flies away) you may get to see a hummingbird snapping up these tiny insects. Hummers eat lots of insects, which are a good source of protein.

Bees, Wasps, and other Pests. Many hummingbird feeders come with detachable bee guards designed to deter these flying freeloaders. Other feeders are designed so that insects are unable to land, and because they cannot hover, the pests are out of luck. If worse comes to worst, take your feeders down for a week or two. The bees and wasps will move on to other food sources, and once your feeders are replaced, it will take awhile for the insects to return.

Cleaning Feeders. One of the most important things you can do as a hummingbirder is to keep your feeders scrupulously clean. They should be thoroughly washed every time you replace the nectar, and during the heat of summer, this should be done at least every two to three days. Spoiled solution can harm hummingbirds. Wash every part of the feeder in hot, soapy water, and rinse well.



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  • I am excited to have my daughter’s tree this year, since my landlord has removed the lovely yew next to my patio, which was the only shelter for birds at my feeder.
    by pmalcpoet, Mon, 20 Dec 2021
  • Goldfinches will continue as long as Swiss chard is available. I'm watching one eating chard right now (mid-November in Vermont).
    by Brian Tremback, Sun, 14 Nov 2021
  • Birds are on the decline though sunflowers are rarely touched and for weeks hardly .eaten. I'll try a few sparing nuts on the table and a fat ball broken for jackdaws and tits but mealworms were a summer favourite being my go to choice
    by Paul Harabaras, Thu, 04 Nov 2021
  • I’ve been enjoying goldfinches eating coneflower/ echinacea seeds in my new pollinator garden! I will leave the plants out all winter for them if the seeds keep that long? Or should I deadhead and put them in a dry area? Im in CT and thought they migrated, but didn’t know they put in winter coats! What do they eat in winter without bird feeders?
    by Anne Sheffield, Sat, 04 Sep 2021
  • Hi Gary, I will pass your question along to Birdsquatch next time I see him. He knows infinitely more about nocturnal wildlife than I do. Where do you live? That's pretty important in figuring out the answer. But the thief could be raccoons, deer, or flying squirrels. Do you live in the woods? Are there trees near your feeder, or must the culprit climb a shepherd's hook or pole? Dawn Hewitt, Watching Backyard Birds
    by Dawn Hewitt, Mon, 30 Aug 2021