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  • SC Sexton

Attracting Hummingbirds to your Southern Arizona home

Updated: May 4, 2019

Arizona and Hummingbirds

When I moved to Southern Arizona several years ago, I knew 3 things about the Sonoran Desert area: cactus, dry heat and mild winters. What I didn’t know was that there were as many as sixteen different types of Hummingbirds documented by the University of Arizona in the urban Tucson area. Six of those hummingbirds: Anna’s, Black-chinned, Costas, Broad-billed, Broad-tailed and Rufous are regulars in urban Tucson. In north Tucson, I also have regular Calliope hummers and have recorded sightings of Magnificent, White-eared and Allen’s hummingbirds in late winter-early spring. These are likely birds that are migrating to their breeding grounds to the north and used our feeders to stop and refuel for several days before moving on.

(Google the Tucson Hummingbird Project for more information and photos on urban hummingbird populations.)

Sightings of all these beautiful birds increased my curiosity and my desire to keep these winged jewels around our property. Thus, began my quest for Hummingbird feeders and I quickly discovered that not all feeders are created equal. For one, I found out that bees, wasps, flies, ants, other birds, bats and even Ring tail Cats like sugar water. The desert, it turns out, is hungry and thirsty and creatures are willing to go to great lengths to get the sweet stuff in the hummingbird feeders. Second, I found that some bird feeders did not fare well in terms of materials: non UV resistant plastics get brittle and crack in the heat and large glass containers fall and break with our windy conditions. Third, the yellow color used for the flower-port hole on some feeders serves as an advertisement to bees. Bees, apparently, are drawn to the color yellow and once they know where the feeder is, they are impossible to deter, especially during Southern Arizona's mild winters and before the spring flowers. In short, the type of feeder used will determine how successful one is in keeping hummingbirds around.with a good supply of sugar water or nectar.

There are several very good feeders on the market and here are some basic must haves:

1) All red ports or clear and red. Yellow attracts bees.

2) Clear Plastic that is UV resistant and that has a perch slightly above the port hole. We have also found that small glass containers work well too and add a bit more weight.

3) Port holes that feature small holes or holes with valves to prevent ants and flies from getting inside the feeder. These small holes, about 3 millimeters or 1/64 of an inch, will also deter, finches and most other birds. Woodpeckers and Bats require holes smaller than 5/64 of an inch.

4 ) An ant moat that can be attached above the feeder or is built into the feeder itself

5) A design that is not gravity fed, meaning the liquid is in the bottom of the container and the bird sips it out from the top. Feeder designs that are gravity fed have a bottle/container on the the top and the feeder base at the bottom, tend to lose the vacuum and the liquid seeps out with changes in temperature and barometric pressure. This attracts bees, wasps, ants and flies and the feeder will be draining and dripping constantly. In my experience, containers that hang sideways tend to leak in the same fashion.

6) A hook that is large enough to accommodate a small branch in case you want to put your feeder in a tree.

7) A feeder that has a clear reservoir so one can see the level of nectar and can be disassembled for easy cleaning. Note that the reservoir with the port holes should be shallow and not be deeper than 2.5 inches at the most. Young hummers have shorter beaks and cannot reach beyond about an inch to feed. Also, adult birds will become discouraged and stop going to the feeder if they can't reach the nectar.

8) A feeder that is easy to clean and where one can see the nectar. Nectar goes bad quickly in the sun and summer heat. Bacteria builds up and mold grows in a matter of days. A Bottle brush is a good tool to use and there are many of them on the market. Whichever style you choose, be sure it's one you can clean fairly easy and keep clean.

Once you have purchased your feeder, fill with a nectar solution of 1 part white sugar (cane or beet--never use honey, brown sugar or sugar replacements) to 4 parts water. I use 1 cup of white sugar in 4 cups of water and boil in the microwave for 4 minutes. The boiling action causes the sugar molecules to dissolve more completely in the water and it will also kill any mold hiding in the sugar. Cool the mixture and fill your feeder to just below the top of the container. You can refrigerate the remaining mixture for up to a week. Fill and hang your feeder in a shady place. If outdoor temperatures exceed ninety degrees, it is recommended by most experts to replace the unused mixture every day. The heat causes the nectar to degrade, grow bacteria and become unhealthy for the hummers. Lastly, sit back and enjoy the sights and sounds of your flying jewels!

Note, that it might take a couple of days for the hummingbirds to find your feeder. You can help advertise your feeder with bright red ribbons, red plastic flowers or red Christmas ornaments.

In my next article, I'll discuss what types of flowering plants work well to attract and feed Hummingbirds.

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