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hummingbird watching in the garden

Anna's hummingbird at the nectar feeder in our backyard

Every time I observe a hummingbird I always feel like I'm seeing one for the first time. They are just so delightful to watch. So tiny and beautiful and quick! I have only seen Anna's hummingbirds in our neighborhood, no Rufous or Allen hummingbirds. They are native to the North American West Coast. Like bees, they pollinate our plants while feeding on nectar. Females have a white tip on their black tails while males have solid gray tail feathers.

This photo was taken in our backyard last weekend. For the past several months we constantly have hummers at our nectar feeder, an average of 1 bird every 4 minutes. From July through September, when we experience our driest months in Northern California, these little creatures tend to have less flower nectar sources and seem to depend more on nectar feeders for additional sustenance.

Yes, they still feed from our salvia plants and geraniums in addition to small flies, gnats, aphids, beetles and spiders. Sometimes they even eat mosquitoes! But they REALLY love their nectar and are very territorial about it. Very rarely do we see more than 1 hummer at our feeder, at a time.


Anna's hummingbird approaching geranium blossoms.


It's fairly easy to set out a nectar feeder for hummers. We happened to find an old birdcage stand while cleaning up our backyard, some years ago. And it serves as the perfect stand to hang this particular nectar feeder, a Hummzinger. As you see, it resembles a flying saucer, and is very easy to keep clean and doesn't drip any nectar which could attract wasps. To the hummers it probably looks like a huge red flower. And they can sit and rest while drinking. It's a spa! You can get the Hummzinger at many garden nursery stores or order it online. I HIGHLY recommend it! You can hang it from a hook under roof eaves, balcony or porch. And remember, get a feeder that is red in color. That is what attracts the hummers.

Our neighbors in an apartment building have a cylindrical nectar feeder hanging under the eaves at the edge of their balcony, and they have hummers visiting there too.

It is very easy to prepare the nectar yourself, which is better for the hummers, too. It's simply a combination of sugar (cane sugar, not beet sugar) and water. The ratio is 1 part regular granulated white cane sugar and 4 parts water (filtered water). DO NOT ADD RED DYE!!! Pour the sugar into a pot, stir in the water making sure you don't have any sugar lumps, and bring to a boil, stirring to make sure the sugar crystals are melted. When the nectar comes to a boil, let boil for at least a minute more. This will prevent the nectar from getting moldy or spoil. Let the nectar cool in the pot and pour into the nectar feeder. You can also store the nectar in a clean glass jar in the refrigerator for about a week.

I tend to cook a smaller amount at a time - 1/4 cup sugar to 1 cup of water, because when I cooked a larger portion, and stored the nectar in a tightly closed jar in the fridge, the nectar still developed a little bit of mold.

Be sure to keep your nectar feeder clean so the hummers don't get sick, or ignore your feeder because the nectar developed mold. You'll often read that you use a little bleach in water to clean the feeder. But you can just use household vinegar (wine or apple cider vinegar) instead of bleach. Mix about 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water to clean and rinse out well. I prefer using the vinegar and water option.

BE PATIENT! The hummers probably will not go near your nectar feeder for several days. They want to make sure they know what the feeder is, if it is safe from predators, etc. I noticed that they prefer the feeder next to some shrub hanging high enough (at least 5 feet from the ground, and not out in the open - definitely not appealing to them.

They will come!

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