Hummingbirds may be some of the tiniest creatures in the avian world, but the little birds must consume twice their weight in food every day because they burn so many calories keeping warm and flying around. The World of Hummingbirds website reports approximately 356 different kinds of hummingbird species flitting around the world, with 51 species considered endangered. If you contribute to the health of these little “bird helicopters” with hummingbird feeders, make sure they’re getting the freshest diet possible by refreshing their food regularly.
While there are a variety of styles for hummingbird feeders, most have one thing in common — a blazing red color. Like a neon sign blinking “Vacancy” at the side of a highway, the color red captures the hummingbirds’ interest and beckons them over to feast. Most feeders feature a perchlike setup so the birds can rest while they eat. Inside each feeder is an area to pour the hummingbirds' food, plus tiny gratelike holes where the birds come to suck out the liquid.
Unlike their other feathered relatives, hummingbirds don’t eat the traditional birdseed sold in sacks at the grocery store. Instead, hummingbirds enjoy a liquid diet of nectar. Hummingbirds have quite a sweet tooth, preferring sugary items such as tree sap and flower nectar. Putting together your own menu for the hummingbirds requires just a mix of sugar and water, with four parts water to one part sugar (no artificial sweeteners), boiled and stored in a container such as a two-liter soda bottle. If creating custom meals isn’t of interest, bird stores, pet centers and some grocery stores sell premixed hummingbird food.
Authorities such as the Wild Bird Shop encourage hummingbird enthusiasts to pay careful attention to their birds' safety. Depending on the climate and temperature, hummingbird food must be changed to prevent the sugar in the water from fermenting and turning into yeast, which can harm the birds. The website recommends changing the nectar once per week in temperatures under 70 degrees and more frequent changes in higher temperatures, such as every six days for 71 to 75 degrees, three days for 85 to 88 degrees and daily in temperatures above 93 degrees.
How long to continue feeding hummingbirds depends on where you live. Birds that spend summers in most of the U.S. typically migrate to Mexico for the winter. The last of the migrating birds typically leave by October and begin returning to warmer parts of the U.S. in February. Southern California hummingbird watchers have year-round feathered visitors, with Allen’s hummingbirds arriving in the winter (flying up to southern Oregon in February).