Here are a bunch of hummers happily feeding at a feeder that has colorless sugar water in it. The red of the base is sufficient to attract the attention of the birds, and once they figure it is a food source, you could replace the red with any color at all, and they will return. Read on about some myths that surround these cool creatures…..
“Hummingbirds will only come to a feeder if it has red sugar water”
This is absolute nonsense, and in fact, some of the commercial red hummingbird nectar powders that you find at DIY and garden stores has been proven to be carcinogenic to the birds. Avoid this stuff at all costs. While it is true that most hummers generally exhibit a preference for the color red, they will quickly return to anything that is providing a good supply of sugar water.
“Hummingbirds become dependent upon feeders”
Again, utter nonsense. We have a summer population of somewhere between 100 and 160 birds, and they could all choose to feed only at our feeders. Truth is, you can put a feeder in the garden in amongst some flowers, and the birds will visit the flowers almost as much as the feeder. They (like us) choose the lowest hanging fruit. If you take down feeders for a day or two, they will hang around for a while wondering what has happened, then return less and less frequently to see if the feeder has been put up again. After a day or two, they hardly visit, meaning it takes a good few days for them to reappear once the feeder has been replenished.
“Hummingbirds only drink nectar”
Not true. Hummingbirds eat a lot of insects, particularly around dusk when there are ‘clouds’ of bugs like gnats and midges. The hummers will fly through these clouds of insects repeatedly, snapping them out of the air. This is not a common observation, but definitely occurs. The structure of the beak prevents it opening very wide to catch large insects, but they are remarkably adept at nabbing small ones.
“Hummingbirds are timid”
Definitely not so! Hummingbirds are feisty, especially for their size, and fight vigorously over their territories at certain times of the year. I have witnessed countless mid-air strikes, and yes the birds will even try to impale each other with their beaks. I have seen them buzz my dog (a standard poodle), overly-curious squirrels, crows, mockingbirds and even me! When very hungry, they will actually land on the feeder that I am replenishing, as I am hanging it up on the hook. Once while shooting, I made the mistake of wearing red framed sunglasses. While peering through the viewfinder of my camera, I experienced a strong breeze above my right ear, accompanied by a loud hum, then some pecking at my sunglasses, as a male Anna’s hummingbird attempted to extract nectar from it!
“Hummingbirds don’t sleep”
We all need to sleep! In fact, hummingbirds take it a step further and go into a deep torpor every night. They slow their metabolism right down, and drop their core temperature to conserve energy. They perch/roost in a protected area/branch just after dusk, and awaken (very slowly) at sunrise. If you spot a hummer at night while it is sleeping in a torpor, do your best not to disturb it, as awakening it during the cold night without it having visible access to food can be enough to kill it.