From ants and wasps to leaky feeders and wasted nectar… what’s one to do in order to avoid these common hummingbird feeder pitfalls?
Once again we went from Mother’s Day to Father’s Day without posting. Instead of celebrating Dad this year, Happy Father’s Day to All, we’d rather offer some useful hacks pertaining to common problems with hummingbird feeders. By the way, they do make swell gifts for dads who dig birds!
Wasps and Yellow Jackets: Hummingbirds despise them and the secret is in the ports! Since sugar water has no aroma, it’s the feeder itself which may be attracting them, namely the sticky nectar near feeder ports. Keep your hummingbird feeder from swaying because the motion allows nectar to accumulate on the outside of the feeder. This is just one reason we prefer glass hummingbird feeders- for the weight. You can also take the feeder down for a few days until pests dissipate and hang in new location.
Not all plastic feeders are crated equal. Dr. JB’s feeder for example has years of research and testing behind the bee-proof feeder! Specially designed ports actually prevent seeping nectar and bees. It’s received wonderful reviews over the years as well, although after 11 years we’ve just recently started collecting and publishing reviews. Duh! Offered with the red hummer helmet, sprites will surely find this easy to clean hummingbird feeder in no time flat!
The jury’s still out with this hack for wasps around your hummingbird feeder (about 50/50 according to hummingbird groups on social media). A brown crumpled paper bag hung near the feeder may deter wasps. Resembling a hive, wasps will steer clear if not their own digs. Fake or imitation hives are available for purchase online as well.
Ants: They’ll ruin a brand new refill of fresh nectar in seconds. Secreting something that must taste really awful, hummingbirds simply will not drink nectar with even one ant floating inside!
This fix is really simple… use an ant moat with your hummingbird feeder! Some moats use chemicals on the underside, we prefer those using water. Smaller birds may even be spotted drinking from ant moats filled with fresh water. An inexpensive, one-time purchase will spare your nectar and the headache of ants in your feeder simply because ants can’t swim!
Wasted Nectar: Don’t fill your your feeder to the top! Hummingbirds’ tongues are extremely long, wrapping around their skull when fully retracted. Aside from their long beaks, tongues are 1.5 times the length, allowing them to lap nectar from deep within flowers. Nature equipped the sprites accordingly!
In addition, make your own nectar because it really is simple! Once you do for the first time, you’ll scratch your head ask yourself “why didn’t I do this before?”. Now if you ask 3 people- you may get 3 different answers, but the ratio is always 1:4 and cane (not beet) sugar is preferred.
Here’s our take:
1 Cup plain table sugar to 4 Cups water… that’s it and NOTHING ELSE, ever!
No need to boil water, though boiling 1 cup dissolves sugar quickly and effectively. Add 3 Cups of cold water and there’s no cooling time. Store remainder in fridge for up to two weeks. During extreme heat, nectar must be changed every 1 to 2 days as sugar ferments quickly. Should this commitment become a pain or too time consuming, it’s best to take your hummingbird feeder down and concentrate on nectar-producing flowers to feed hummingbirds naturally. Leaving a feeder with old nectar is definitely wasteful as sprites will avoid nasty food. Aside from flowers, leaf misters, solar bubblers, drippers or any feature providing moving water will entice birds, especially during the long and hot dog days of summer… here in Atlanta anyway!
Leaky Feeders: Try a top-fill feeder sans any base. Parasol’s glass hummingbird feeders in blossom, bloom or bouquet styles will not leak or drip… ever! There’s no seams or attachments for nectar to seep through. Aside from being beautiful garden art, they’re handmade in Mexico from recycled glass.
If using the tube style hummingbird feeders and dripping nectar is a problem, move the feeder to shade. Rubber stoppers may contract and expand in heat/full sun. These feeders also work on a vacuum principle, meaning there can be no air inside the vessel. Try filling the feeder completely (in the sink with plain water) to see if this alleviates dripping. You can also opt for replacing the tube itself. Some tubes contain a tiny steel ball-bearing which helps stop leaking.
Flowers: Always plant native for best results to offer birds food and shelter, it’s a win-win situation. Checkout Audubon’s Plant Database for recommendations on your locale, just enter your zip code and the list returns shrubs, trees, vines and the best nectar producing flowers for your area.
When purchasing from big box garden centers, you may want to steer clear of this tag. We’ve removed the store name as a social media post was recently censored (bummer).
The buzz around town is this chemical is harmful to bees- so one must ponder if it’s not equally harmful to all pollinators as well?
Since butterflies, bats, bees and hummingbirds all feed from the same flowers… we’ll let you be the judge.
We hope at least one of the above hummingbird feeder tips might be helpful. Whether you’re novice or advanced back yard birding fanatic… happy summer and birding 🙂
Hard working Moms deserve the best for Mother’s Day… simply because they ARE the best!
Whether human, winged or 4-legged, Mom works harder than anyone else in the family unit. Let’s face it- if it were up to Dad to lay eggs, there would be no babies! The same is widely said of humans too 🙂
Yesterday was National Bird Day and although we may have missed it… we celebrate backyard birds everyday for the sheer joy and calming effect they have when one takes the time to observe. Chaos is lifted, you’re absolutely unplugged, no tracking or pop-up ads (don’t you just despise them?)
While Dad gets all the vivid color and glory in the avian world, Mom is really the superhero… what’s up with that? It’s true of cardinals, bluebirds, grosbeaks, orioles and so many other resident and migratory fliers who visit our yards.
Not all birds use houses, some may never even visit your feeders. That’s not to say you can’t offer the best birdhouse for those who do!
What makes it the best? First and foremost- it’s the one you will maintain! Be it a birdhouse, feeder or birdbath- they must be monitored and kept clean for birds.
A leaky birdhouse sitting with bug-infested rotted nest is of no use at all. A bird feeder with nasty seed only serves to spread mold spores and bacteria which can be fatal to birds in the form of respiratory disease. This is very common among finches, pine siskins and the like.
So what else makes the best birdhouse-bird feeder? Functionality, for sure! Feeders should be easy to clean and they should keep seed dry. Birds should have easy access as well. Houses should have the proper entry size for the birds you’re wanting to host and of course proper ventilation and drainage.
While a chickadee needs only 1-1/8″ hole size, an Eastern bluebird requires 1-1/5″ entry. And so help us- if we find the neighbor who has the birdhouse with gigantic gaping hole… because this is where dreaded starlings have decided to take up residence. And they come to our yard to feed!
Last, handmade designs will always make for timeless and stunning gifts! Crafted by artisans who have a passion for wild birds, the unique birdhouse-bird feeders are more than just objects. Also serving as garden decor, these pieces display one’s talent and soul that went into creating the art. Mediums vary from wood, to copper, pottery and more, some are even one-of-a-kinds and signed/stamped by the artist. All are bird-approved- making them by far, the best birdhouse gift for Mother’s Day… and for the mama birds around her place too!
Happy Easter and Happy Passover!
Things are greening up nicely, the promise of spring and re-birth. It’s a most exciting time in the garden and for backyard birders! Cabin fever prevails and folks are itching to get outside and start digging in the dirt. We’ve even refreshed our age old blog by redesigning for this century… yes, it’s that old, we’ve been around a good while now because the passion for birding still exists.
Rough patch of weather for the nesting birds in our North Georgia yard. The usual suspects; a chickadee nest with 5 eggs, bluebirds with 4 nestlings in the Gilbertson box in back, bluebirds with 5 eggs in front, white breasted nuthatches in back and their smaller cousins- brown headed nuthatches in front.
This is not to mention those who don’t use birdhouses; cardinals definitely have a nest as they’re back and forth from mealworm feeders. Oh yes, we let everybody have some worms…except starlings, the dreaded nuisance birds are back but this too shall pass.
The Boston ferns are up with nest starts in 2 of them. Don’t want birds nesting in your ferns? Simply avoid offering the habitat and forego the ferns this year. Should you enjoy seeing a family of house finches so close to home (as we do), simply take the fern down to water by submersing the bottom in a bucket of water. Take care not to get their nest wet. Everyone’s been very busy staking out territory and claiming birdhouses!
We headed over to the local alpaca farm last week to score tons of fur for our spring “free nesting material promo”. Freshly sheared, the alpacas are so sweet and such a joy to hang around with while chatting with owners of the farm.
After an unusually wet winter in the southeast, nesting activity seemed to get a late start. Warm days of April have been fab, but the last two days have been freezing and wet. If you’ve still got old man winter hanging around… thankfully it won’t be too long!
Goldfinches have turned their drab colors into electric yellow, molting in what seemed to be overnight. Hummingbirds arrived about 2 weeks ago (the only good thing about tax time). And just today, two indigo buntings were spotted at feeders. Migration’s in full swing… and it’s coming to a theater near you soon! Not sure who’s arriving when? Check Journey North.org to track migratory progressions, great website with helpful info!
Are your hummingbirds back yet? Social media is a great place to find birding groups with lots of Q&A’s posted. The info may not always be correct though! Most times, others will chime in to offer their expertise and advice, one could learn much if new to attracting and hosting bluebirds or the first season offering hummingbird feeders. Here’s a general map of when to expect the tiny sprites, but JourneyNorth provides more detailed info.
We’re hoping to catch a few orioles (who isn’t?), so grape jelly and oranges are on the menu. Rose breasted grosbeaks are a sure sign, but this year Cornell Lab reported the birds were spotted pretty far north of normal range during winter. A Baltimore oriole was made famous on social media as he spent his winter in Wisconsin! The host kept the bird fed with oranges and grape jelly, giving general info on his condition since this past January. He hung around all winter and is doing just fine!
Other “outta sorters” were Carolina wrens in Minnesota. This pair actually caught the attention of The Audubon Society for filming and research. Ranges are changing and it’s interesting to see who’s where at different times of the year.
We wish you a happy holiday and happy spring with lots of busy birding activity around your place!
Just when you thought this is it… a family of bluebirds or chickadees- nature might play a most wicked April Fool’s joke! Except it’s not funny and most times fatal to nestlings.
Should you become inquisitive and brave enough to monitor the nest inside your birdhouse (yes, it’s recommended) and spot an egg that’s different in size and/or color- it’s likely the wicked antics of a cowbird.
Talk about shirking responsibilities! Known as parasitic eggs, because Mom will deposit her egg in the nest of another bird, typically with at least 2 eggs already laid. She then flies off leaving full responsibility for upbringing to the unsuspecting parents.
Imagine trying to raise a baby who has grown twice the size of yourself. Just picture that for a moment. Other nestlings in the group barely have a chance at survival as the large cowbird baby hogs most of the food. This actually happens often- to wrens, bluebirds, chickadees, tree swallows and others. Some birds recognize the foreign egg and may abandon the nest or remove the egg. Most birds are unaware an imposter is looming, and end up raising the ridiculously large intruder to the detriment of their own nestlings.
It’s the natural instinct to thrive, though cowbirds won’t be bothered raising their own. Also considered nomadic, they tend to follow livestock herds for the abundant insects, their habitat being open grasslands and meadows which are far away from most nesting spots.
Cowbirds are native (unlike house sparrows or starlings) and are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty, thus it’s illegal in most cases to remove the egg. Sometimes permits are issued to bluebird monitors and others when circumstances warrant. This is just one good reason for using correctly proportioned birdhouses. Nix the houses with really large entries, they do no favors to the birds you’re trying to attract. Avoid feeding birdseed containing millet as the tiny round seed tends to attract cowbirds. Most birds will flick this filler seed out of your feeder and onto the ground anyway.
A bit smaller than blackbirds, cowbirds have brown heads. To view they gray female or juvenile cowbirds- check sialis.org for more informtion.
And should you like to become a really, really good landlord- monitoring nests actually helps backyard birds thrive. Head over to Sialis.org where you’ll find a wealth of information and any question answered on hosting bluebirds and all native cavity nesting birds (those who use birdhouses).
Photos courtesy of Sialis.org
Sure you can save your egg shells, then you can sterilize the egg shells, then you can crush the egg shells and them to bird food, suet or mealworms. Or you can save a ton of time and shake-shake calcium powder right into meal worms just prior to feeding.
Some birds will actually eat the shells straight-up when sprinkled on a deck rail or on the ground below bird feeders. And some adult birds are known to eat their hatchlings’ shells as a means of keeping the nest clean and gaining calcium.
Why add calcium to meal worms?
So you’re trying/or have finally attracted bluebirds to you yard, Maybe you’re lucky enough have them stick around all year? Feeding lots of mealworms is calcium-depleting because they’re so high in protein. Similar to a sugar overdose for kids, too many worms can be too much of a good thing for bluebirds and others. We’re guilty on this charge!
Babies need strong bones to form properly, it’s critical for first flight. Lack of calcium (via parents feeding a disproportionate amount worms vs. natural food like insects or berries) can contribute to deformities. In breeding females, lack of calcium may cause her eggs to form with thin or weak shells. This makes passing the soft eggs difficult and exhausting- sometimes even fatal. Called egg bonding, it can also happen in nature to birds who’ve never eaten from mealworm feeders.
What’s the easiest way to add calcium?
A simple “shake-shake” from a spice jar does it! Calcium carbonate is a powder supplement readily available at most health food stores and online. Fairly inexpensive, one pound will likely last for a few years. Save one of your spice bottles and clean thoroughly.
Fill the jar with powder and store the bag for future use. Two shakes into the worms and toss gently to lightly coat/dust the worms. That’s all there is to ensuring your bluebirds are getting enough calcium!
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