For the Birds Radio Program: Feeder Notes

Original Air Date: May 15, 1996

Today Laura Erickson gives some hints for successful spring feeders. (3:23) Date confirmed.

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Now that spring is really here, it’s time to get cracking on those oriole and hummingbird feeders. Here are a few tips to make sure your feeders are as nutritious and helpful to the birds as possible.

When making hummingbird nectar, always use one-quarter cup of sugar to one cup of water. Stronger solutions are more tasty and appealing to the hummers, but don’t provide enough water for the birds to metabolize the sugar, so they may get dehydrated. Sometimes photographers offer more concentrated solutions to attract heavy hummingbird activity at a particular feeder or flower, but this should be done sparingly.

Change hummingbird water frequently—at least every three or four days, and more often during hot spells. Sugar water ferments, slowly changing the sugar to alcohol. In the South, sugar water has been shown to cause liver damage when only two days old! Here, where the weather is cooler, the process is much slower, but still occurs.

Don’t offer hummingbirds honey or honey-water. Honey seems so much more natural and healthy than processed sugar, but a fungus that grows naturally in honey and doesn’t affect humans at all causes a tongue disease in hummingbird similar to “thrush” in human infants.

Don’t use food coloring in sugar water. Virtually every sugar water feeder has bright red parts which hummers and orioles easily notice, so red water is unnecessary for attracting the birds and may cause cancer and other diseases. When I’ve rehabilitated hummers that had been fed red sugar water, it’s taken several days to clear their systems of the dyes.

If you feed seeds during the summer, make sure you keep the feeders clean and dry, and rake beneath the feeders every few weeks. Bacterial and fungal diseases multiply at frightening rates during summer.

If you offer suet during summer, only use rendered suet. Those square suet packs prepared with peanuts, seeds, or dried insects have been rendered. If you buy raw suet at a grocery store, you can render it yourself. Simply cook until it melts, and skim and discard the impurities floating on the top. Raw suet becomes rancid quickly during summer.

During summer, many female birds use up their stored calcium in egg production. You can help some of them to replenish this essential mineral by crushing eggshells and mixing them with your rendered suet, or just piling some up with the sunflower seeds on a feeder. After boiling eggs, use the cooled water to fill your bird bath.

Following these simple rules, your spring and summer feeders will provide wonderful dining experiences for birds, and rewarding visual treats for you.