July 18, 2005
Hummingbirds, which artist John J. Audubon called "glittering fragments of
the rainbow," are once again darting around flowers and feeders in South
Carolina, say state natural resources officials.
"Hummingbirds are as fascinating to study as they are beautiful to watch,"
said Laurel Barnhill, wildlife biologist with the South Carolina Department
of Natural Resources (DNR) in Columbia. Barnhill encourages South Carolina
residents to landscape with flowers, hang out a feeder and invite
hummingbirds to lunch: "In return, they'll entertain you with their antics
and add a little color to your life."
Thousands of South Carolina residents enrich their summers by feeding
ruby-throated hummingbirds, which feature the characteristic metallic
blood-red throat bib, began showing up in South Carolina in late March,
with their white-throated mates arriving from the tropics about a week
later. Most hummingbird activity around feeders, however, does not really
pick up until midsummer. Do not despair if you had hummers at your feeder
early during the migration period and now there are none. Some of those
birds continued flying north and others stayed here but are busy raising
young and taking advantage of plentiful natural food sources.
Under natural conditions, hummingbirds obtain sugar by eating the nectar of
flowers and the sap of trees. Homeowners can duplicate this part of a
hummer's diet by placing a sugar solution in a hummingbird feeder, with the
added attraction of getting to witness the antics of one of nature's most
delightful and colorful birds. "Hummingbirds consume 50 percent of their
body weight daily in sugar, which makes it one of the most important food
items in a hummer's diet," Barnhill said.
A wide variety of hummingbird feeders are now available on the market. If
you have used the feeders in previous seasons, Barnhill said, be sure to
wash the hummingbird feeder with hot water and vinegar or hot water and
bleach to destroy all mildew and mold left over from last year, then rinse
thoroughly with clean water. This is the most important thing to do to make
these birds stay in the Palmetto State more enjoyable.
The sugar-water mixture for the feeders should be a ratio of four parts
water to one part sugar; an easy-to-remember mixture is one cup of sugar
per quart of water. This solution closely approximates the sugar content of
nectar. Red dye is unnecessary-the red coloring on the feeder will suffice.
Honey should not be used as a sweetener because honey-water solutions often
harbor a fungus that can be harmful to the hummer.
When making the sugar-water mixture, Barnhill advises boiling the sugar and
water solution for about three minutes-this will help retard fermentation.
Store all unused solution in the refrigerator, and keep the feeder
mold-free by keeping fresh nectar in it at all times. As soon as the
solution becomes cloudy, discard it.
"If you are putting a feeder up for the first time, don't be discouraged if
hummingbirds don't come right away," Barnhill said. "It may take a while
for them to find it and establish a visitation routine." Be sure to keep
the solution fresh especially as the days get warmer, birds will not be
attracted to a fermented solution.
Hummingbirds are attracted to tubular red flowers like red salvia, bee
balm, trumpet creeper, cypress vine, crossvine, firecracker vine, red
buckeye, native azaleas (Oconee, flame and plumleaf) and woodbine, and they
will readily seek out others such as hibiscus, hollyhock, petunia and
impatiens. Hummingbirds also feed on small insects.
Feeders can be left up well into the fall season, and this will not cause
the hummers to delay their migration. Migratory birds base their departure
date primarily on the changing day length, not on the availability of food.
Actually, leaving feeders up into the fall will help the late migrants that
stop for a rest on their way back to Mexico and Central America as their
natural food sources will be limited at that time.
For more information on ruby-throated hummingbirds, write Hummingbirds, DNR
Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, PO Box 167, Columbia, SC
29202-0167 or call (803) 734-3893 in Columbia.
- Written by Greg Lucas -