Thousands of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and a lesser number of Black-chinned Hummingbirds are making their way through South Texas on their way to their wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America.
September is the premier time to see large numbers of hummers in the Valley. They are attracted to anything red and can actually spot red-colored feeders and flowers from hundreds of feet in the air. Iíve even read accounts of people placing small red flags in open areas to draw the hummers down to earth.
Hummingbirds are very aggressive and will actively defend feeders and flowers. Their diminutive size is misleading. Anytime there is a feeder or flowers conflicts will soon occur. These hummer wars can become vicious, and Iíve actually seen two hummers with beaks locked fall to the ground and into the clutches of the neighborís cats.
If you put up one or two feeders, a single bird can easily guard each of them running off all competitors. However, if you put up lots of feeders fairly close to each other, the job of feeder defense becomes impossible and the defender gives up allowing LOTS more hummers to come to the feeders.
Each fall I put up at least two dozen feeders ó about half of them in a tree in the front yard and the other half in the side yard, and I have scads of hummers. In the past we have estimated as many as 250 hummers at a time in the yard. It is a grand sight and quite a spectacle. I keep extra chairs in the front yard during September so that people can come and sit and enjoy the birds. At times is seems that there are almost as many people watching as there are birds flying.
Maintaining feeders is a job. They must be kept clean at all times and the sugar water must be kept free of fungi and other microbes which readily grow in the nectar water. It isnít necessary to fill the feeders all the way full unless they are being emptied often. During the peak of migration, most of my feeders have to be filled more than once a day. All feeders are emptied, washed with soapy water, thoroughly rinsed, and refilled every two days if the weather is warm.
Hereís the recipe for artificial nectar (syrup):
ē Use one part ordinary white cane sugar to four parts water and NO red food coloring.
ē Itís not necessary to boil the water. The microorganisms that cause fermentation donít come from the water; they are transported to the feeder on hummingbird bills.
ē Store unused syrup in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Once the honey bees find a feeder, they can become a real nuisance. Smearing large quantities of petroleum jelly all around the opening into the feeder helps. The bees slide right off when they land.
Put out lots of feeders. The hummers will thank you and you will be in for a treat.