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Here's help with feeding southbound hummers

For the Journal-Constitution
Published on: 09/09/07

September is prime time for ruby-throated hummingbirds at backyard feeders in Georgia. Hordes of the tiny, southbound birds are stopping at feeders to sip their weight in nectar and store enough energy to fuel their perilous journeys to winter grounds in Mexico and Central America.

So, it's not surprising that we get many questions this time of year about feeding these little flying jewels. Here are some recent reader questions and the answers from various experts:

Q: What is the best food to put in hummingbird feeders?

A: The tried-and-true solution is four parts water to one part sugar. If you're using regular granulated sugar, bring the mixture to a boil so that the sugar melts in the water. Let it cool before putting it in the feeders. Superfine sugar will dissolve easily in cold water. There's no need to add a red dye -- the red color of the feeders is enough to attract the little birds.

Q: How do you keep house finches and other birds away from hummingbird feeders?

A: The best way is to use a feeder without perches and flared bases.

Q: How far apart should hummingbird feeders be placed?

A: Some say group your feeders together; others say place them several feet apart. But perhaps the best answer is to try one strategy, and if that doesn't work, try another -- especially if you have an aggressive male that's chasing away other birds. One expert recommends hanging three feeders -- one on the west, one on the south and one on the east side of the house. Others say the best setup is one feeder in the front yard and one in the backyard.

Try to locate your feeder in shade or partial shade. Direct sunlight can make the nectar go bad or even ferment. The best spot for a feeder is on a pole in a flower bed or hung on a porch or deck near flowers that the birds are attracted to.

Q: How do I keep ants out of my hummingbird feeders?

A: Perhaps the best way is to buy an ant trap that prevents the pesky insects from getting into the feeders. An ant trap, or "ant moat," is simply a little cup that holds water and is hung from the bottom of the feeder. Ant traps are usually sold where hummingbird feeders are sold. Of course, you have to make sure the trap is filled with water.

Q: What about wasps, hornets and bees at the feeders?

A: One solution: Trap them. Wasp/bee traps, which also can be purchased in stores, are plastic, globe-shaped, covered reservoirs that can be baited with sugar water or kitchen scraps and hung near feeders to lure the stinging insects inside.

Most nature stores also have wasp-proof hummingbird feeders for sale.

In addition, some say you can simply fool the insects by moving your feeder only a few feet away. The insects will think their food source has disappeared, but the hummingbirds will hardly notice the change. If that doesn't work, take the feeder down for a couple of days. The hummingbirds will return long before the insects rediscover it, if they ever do.

Q: How often should I clean my feeder?

A: Here's what the Georgia Hummers organization says: Flush out your feeders with hot water once a week. If it's very hot outside, clean it twice a week. Do not use any soap or cleaner -- just hot water. Use a bottle brush to scrub the inside if needed. Every month, soak the feeder in a very weak bleach solution for about an hour. The solution should be 1/4 cup of bleach to a gallon of water.

Q: Does feeding hummingbirds deter them from migrating?

A: No. The instinct to migrate is much stronger than your offer of free nectar.

Q: When should I take down my feeder?

A: Nearly all of the ruby-throats, the only hummingbirds that nest in Georgia, will be gone by late October. However, experts advise that you leave one feeder up and full all winter because several hummingbird species, most notably the rufous hummingbird, may visit Georgia during the cold months.

You can reach writer Charles Seabrook at

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