No, I’m not talking about that ridiculous SUV. I’m talking about birds. Hummingbirds.
Some of Wickenburg’s tiniest treasurers are its hummingbirds. These birds, which may be the size of your thumb — or smaller! — are miracles of nature. They beat their wings hundreds of times per second and are the only birds in nature who have the ability to hover in no-wind conditions. Because of their high metabolisms, they must eat throughout the day. But at night, they have the ability to slow their breathing rate by more than 50% and drop their body temperatures by 50° to slow their metabolisms for rest.
How do I know all this? Just the other day I watched an episode of Nature, the PBS series, called “Extraordinary Birds,” which covered several different types of birds, including hummingbirds. The show reminded me of the time when I used to keep the hummingbird feeders in my yard filled with “nectar” and how the birds used to buzz around me when I sat on the patio.
It also reminded me of the day I found a hummingbird “trapped” in my garage. We’d left the door open and it had flown in. But it couldn’t figure out how to get out. It kept trying to fly through the window, which was closed. I saw it hover up to the window and tap its little pointy beak against it. Then it would land on a shelf below the window, exhausted. I don’t know how many times it did this before I found it. I cautiously walked up to it, put my hand beneath it, and let it land, after one attempt, on my finger. It’s tiny feet held on. I put my other hand around it gently and walked it to the gaping garage door. Then I removed my hand and watched it fly away.
Over the past few months, I’ve been spending too much time away from home to keep the feeders filled. And, to make matters worse, the sun had done its work on the cheap plastic feeders Ihad so they were difficult to clean and they leaked. I decided to buy some new feeders and make an effort to keep them filled. I took care of all this yesterday evening and look forward to going home and watching the fruits of my labor today.
If you’ve never had a hummingbird feeder, you really ought to get one. You can buy one at any of the local hardware stores — Ace or Stewart — or at Alco and probably even Osco. I recommend the glass ones; they last longer and are easier to clean. You might also consider the kind that stick to the outside of your window with a suction cup. These are plastic and they do tend to leak and attract ants, but it’s quite a treat to have a hummingbird feed just a few feet from your face when you’re washing dishes at the kitchen sink. Although you can buy a fancy one with brass or copper or some other kind of metal, I recommend getting one that has some red on it. Hummingbirds are attracted to the color red.
When it comes time to fill the feeders, don’t use that red powder stuff you mix with water. It’s expensive and it isn’t any better than what you can mix yourself. Do what I do: take a 1 quart container (I use an old juice bottle from Trader Joe’s) and pour one cup of plain old sugar into it. Run the hot water tap until it’s very hot and fill the bottle with it. Cap it and shake it. Let it sit and shake it again. When the sugar is dissolved, you can let it sit on the counter or in the fridge for a while to cool. Then pour it into the hummingbird feeder, hang the feeder outside, and wait for your new friends to find it. Store the excess “nectar” in your fridge for refills.
You may be surprised at how quickly the hummingbirds appear! I know I always am. It’s as if they’re watching the feeders, waiting for me to fill them. And the feeders attract another interesting bird: the Gila Woodpecker. They occasinally hang upside down from my feeders, attempting to extract the liquid.
One thing to remember, though: the “nectar” you mix will ferment after some time in the sun. So you’ll need to clean the feeders out and refill them at least once a week. If the hummingbirds aren’t drinking everything you put out every week, just put out a little less. You may want to put the feeders in the shade of a tree (if you’re lucky enough to have one big enough!) or on the shady side of your home. I find that the nectar lasts longer that way, especially in the autumn and winter when the nights get cool.
I’ll try to get some photos of the hummingbirds that visit my feeders. If I do, I’ll put them here. If you follow these instructions — or have your own technique for attracting and feeding hummingbirds — please don’t keep it to yourself. Drop us an e-mail message with your comments so we can post them here. I’m sure other Wickenburg residents would love to read more about our tiny treasures.