Twice over the years I have held a live hummingbird in my hand. As thrills go, that may not be up there with sighting Elvis, but it’s a high point in my life. (Which shows you what kind of life I lead.)
For years I’ve hung feeders for them, and they drop by for drinks with a frequency that makes me wonder if they’re relatives. It’s one of the few ventures I’ve tried that has been totally successful.
But I know there are those who try to attract hummers and fail. I suspect these people do nothing but hang the feeder and wait. Attracting hummingbirds may be easy, but it’s not that easy. Not quite.
The feeding solution is easy enough. Just buy a package of hummingbird nectar and add cold water. You can make your own with sugar and food coloring, but that’s more trouble than it’s worth.
I used to mix a couple of ounces at a time, but I found it easier to mix up the whole package at once and keep it in the fridge. I mark the bottle conspicuously so no one thinks it’s Kool-Aid.
A note for the PETA set: Don’t try to fancy the diet up. Hummingbirds will fill their minimal protein and trace element quotas by catching small insects in flight. They don’t need broccoli and tofu, they need raw sugar, the infamous “empty calories.” These tiny creatures use huge amounts of energy. If a normal adult male were to burn calories at the same rate, he would need 155,000 calories a day! (A tip for those who want to lose some weight: Try hovering in midair for a few minutes.)
Placing the feeder is also easy. Put it where you can see it. Hummingbirds don’t hang out, they eat and run. Many people think they don’t get birds at their feeder simply because they don’t have it in a place they watch. Just outside the window where you eat breakfast or on the patio where you have evening libations is perfect.
My feeder hangs on a hook right outside my study window. It’s six feet from the chair where I sit to read and write. They don’t seem to be afraid of being close to people at all. Even the TV set that sits on the windowsill, two feet from the feeder, doesn’t deter them; they especially like The Five.
I got my first hummer in hand at that very window. Perhaps wanting to get a close look at Jasper, or maybe just disoriented, he flew toward the TV and impaled himself in the window screen. I ran out and extricated him, and though I wanted to take a close look, I knew I had to let him go instantly. In seconds he was three back yards away.
Another time I found one just lying on the patio, seemingly dead. Occasionally when they run out of fuel they just fall to the ground. I picked him up and got a really close look at this jewel of the bird kingdom. (It’s a rule that you have to use that phrase in any piece about hummingbirds.) After a couple of minutes he recovered and flew off.
Anyway, I’ve told you the easy parts. Now for the clincher, the way to make sure you get hummingbirds, and even that’s not hard. Wherever you put the feeder, plant all the red or blue flowers you can, either in the ground or in pots. They love petunias, nicotiana, trumpet vine. The more flowers the better.
In April I Google “hummingbird migration map” and check every day or two. They are in my area right now, though I haven’t personally seen one, not yet. They generally arrive up north about the same time as the retirees.
Keep an eye out for them and your life can be as exciting as mine.