MY HUMMINGBIRDS

My dad gave me my first feeder. He bought it  to attract the ruby throated hummingbird, the only hummer native to Iowa. We never saw a single one.  Sometimes we would see sphinx moths (they look just like hummingbirds) hovering at the peonies, but never a hummingbird.  After he gave me his feeder, I used to torment him with stories about the numerous hummers here in California.  My favorite torment was when I told him that I had thrown out my back, shoveling the hummingbird dung that kept accumulating beneath his hummingbird feeder, now located here in Pacifica. I sent him pictures. 

These little critters are some of the most interesting birds ever designed.  After the nudibranch, they are my favorite animal. At up to 100 beats per second, their wings beat so fast you can barely see them.  They are fearless and  hover and fly backwards, straight up and upside down.. Their metabolism is 50 times faster than our metabolism.  Our California hummingbirds, weighing about 3 or 4 grams (a penny weighs 3 grams), consume about 1400 calories*  per kilogram per day. A typical human consumes about 2000 calories per day or only about 26 calories per kilogram per day.  Hummers are the SUVs of energy in-efficiency in the animal world. If we consumed as much energy as a hummingbird, we would catch on fire.  They need this energy just to keep from starving.  If they don't get enough to eat, they actually go into hibernation (torpor) overnight to conserve energy in an attempt to survive.  And to burn that much sugar, they have to breathe like crazy - up to a couple of hundred breaths per minute, taking in a little more than a gram of oxygen to burn their gram/day of sugar and producing about one and a half grams of carbon dioxide. Yes, hummers are proud contributors to global warming, but in a renewable sort of way.

 

To power my little machines in the fall and winter, I  have to refill my small feeders almost every day. In the spring and summer, when there are lots of flowers, my hummers prefer pear, rose and apple nectar. I've added more and bigger feeders, but the small ones still seem to be emptied every day.  The one in the HummerCam is a 32 oz one from tejashummer.com and I have two  128 oz feeders for when I'm traveling and can't keep the Tejas filled. ( I think that the 128 oz feeders are actually modified chicken waterers, but, they work pretty well. I've hung one along side the Tejas, so you can see which the hummers prefer.)  When the Tejas feeders are empty, my little greenbacks drink from the larger feeders, but they clearly prefer the Tejas. Maybe it's that their feet have something  to grab onto with the Tejas. I got a new bottom for one of my 128 oz feeders  that has little perches cut into it.  I'll put it up when the competition from flowers starts to decrease in the fall. In the spring, my hummers prefer to drink from the tastier flowers in my yard. I can't compete against pair and apple juice with my sugar water. But my buddies do reappear at sunrise and sunset.

Hummers like to have open access to the sky. They know that only they can fly straight up. My most popular feeders are located under very short overhangs, so the hummers know that they can get out fast.  My less popular feeders have large overhangs with restricted access to the sky. Keep this in mind if you want to attract a large number.  I never get more than a couple of hummers at a time to my restricted feeders.  At the open sky feeders, I've seen as many as 25 or 30 hummers at a time at the three feeders, located in sight of and close to each other..

These still shots were taken in January of 2008 - eat your hearts out you poor eastern folks. Here's some movie footage (or on YouTube.com) from October 2008 of my little greenback buddies swarming and here's a closeup with some more (5mB) or on YouTube.com. We've got hummers year around.  As you can see, they get along pretty well at dusk and dawn when they're topping up for the night or refilling after a long night. Often, there are more hummers humming than there are holes in the feeders, two hummers sharing the same hole in the feeder. God only knows what their tongues are doing down there.  The rest of the day they are pretty pugnacious. Check my web cam around dusk and dawn and you'll see them swarming like bees (and sometimes with the bees). 

My growing army  burns 10 or more lbs of sugar a month in the fall and winter, only a little during the spring and increasing amounts as summer dries up the flower supply.  I use 1 part (by volume) normal sugar to 2 parts water.  Yes, I know the people that "know" about hummers say you should use 1 to 4, to match the nectar in flowers. "They" say that this way you match nature and the hummers will need to visit your feeder more often.   I've done the experiment - my hummers prefer higher concentrations.  Maybe, the same hummer comes back less frequently, but I have to refill more often at the higher concentration, so I'm either feeding more hummers or the same hummer more often. Sounds like win-win to me.  And, at low sugar concentration, the mixture will start to ferment or mold. I add eight heaping tablespoons of sugar directly to my 10 ounce feeders using a funnel, add hot water to half fill, shake to dissolve, and then fill with cold water so they won't burn their tongues. Now that I have a wholesale feeding site, I mix a gallon at a time with 4 heaping large coffee cups of sugar and 8 or 9 cups of hot water in a stainless steel bowl.  After it dissolves, I store in a gallon jug.  The sugar concentration is so high that the water is a little discolored.  Rinse the feeders every time with hot water and use a little Clorox if it starts to look grungy. I have a brush that fits in the bottles to clean off the mold that can accumulate.  Don't make your hummers drink out of anything you wouldn't drink from yourself.

"They" also say you should color the water with some synthetic red dye - it doesn't matter to my hummers.  You can color the water if you like, to more easily see the level, but my hummers don't need the dye - they're smart enough to find the feeders without it.  They say that hummers don't need or like perches - trust me, my hummers like perches. The hummers you'll see in the HummerCam are nearly all sitting on the perches. So just use regular sugar at at-least 1:3, don't worry about the color (unless you want to more easily see the level), don't add anything else (they'll get it from the insects they eat), and don't even think about using honey.  Hummers hate bees and would starve before drinking bee spit.

"They" also say that, like other wild animals, we shouldn't feed hummingbirds because it will stop them from migrating and disturb the natural order. My Anna's hummers don't migrate. They move around a little, but they don't migrate. And other hummingbirds don't migrate because food is short; they migrate when it's time to migrate, based probably on the length of the days.  So, fill your feeders year around, at least here on the California coast; your hummers are counting on you.  I don't know who these "they" are but they're probably the same people who think they know better what's good for us and how to spend our money. I think that "they" should get a life and leave me and my hummers alone.

 

Enjoy my HummerCam. It updates about every 2 minutes and a hummer or nine is captured by it about every 12 snaps, more in the fall and winter, less in the spring and summer.  They stay for 15 or 45 seconds and suck down 10 or so ounces of 30+% sugar per day from each of my  feeders.  Since the average meal is 1% of their body weight, that's a few thousand  visits per day.  with each hummer needing a gram or two of sugar per day, I'm feeding the equivalent of about 300 hummers at a cost of $0.30 per day or just $0.001 per hummer-day equivalent.  The numbers are pretty consistent with my 12 shot HummerCam page showing an average of one to ten hummingbirds in the latest 12 shots or about three every minute or so. Look at it around dusk and you may see 5 or sometimes 10 hummers or more feeding at the same time in the last twelve shots.  They are struggling with the fact that they can either sleep or go into torpor overnight, depending on how much food they can store up.  During torpor, their body temperature drops from 105 F to 65 F or so and their heart rate decreases from a maximum of about 1000 beats per minute to 50 - 100 during torpor. Torpor is pretty dangerous for them if any other critter stumbles across them. As a result, there is usually a hummingbird formation around the feeders at sunset, waiting their turn to stoke up for the long night..

I think that most of my hummers are Anna's hummingbirds (Calypte anna).   Here are some great Anna's pictures and text from www.laspilitas.com. I think I occasionally get a Black Chinned, Allens or Rufus, but I think most are Anna's.  There are also a few orioles that think that they are hummers.  One, in particular, is starting to hover and fly upside down. My Anna's are pretty aggressive. One of my males may have had his way with the oriole's mother.

So, go to your local hardware store and buy a hummingbird feeder for your dad.  I bought mine from Linda Mar Hardware for about 10 bucks, here on Pedro Point.  (Larger ones are available on the internet, but start out with a regular sized one you can buy locally.) Make sure he keeps it filled and make sure he gives it to you if he can't attract any hummingbirds. And try to pay less attention to what "they" have to say; they don't have your interests or your hummingbirds interests at heart.

 

* For some reason, the food geeks have defined food calories to be what real scientists call kilocalories.   A real calorie is the amount of heat (energy) it takes to raise one gram of water by one degree Celsius, just like a BTU is the amount of heat it takes to raise 1 pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. A food calorie is a thousand times greater, i.e. a thousand grams of water one degree Celsius or one gram by 1000 degrees Celsius if all things were equal, which of course they are not. A food calorie is so much energy that a human has to run a mile just to burn 100 of them - that's 300 miles of running per gallon of gasoline equivalent or 3000 miles of bicycling per gallon. Every potato chip that you eat contains 7.5 food calories. No wonder I can't lose weight!

 

Back to (almost) live HummerCam or the twelve shot page.

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Last modified 10/13/2008