A recipe for success

Use lots of sugar, but avoid dye when feeding hummingbirds

Posted: Sunday, June 17, 2001

Throughout the day 50 to 100 different hummingbirds stop by Bob Armstrong's diner. The secret is in the strong nectar he brews for them, which is 40 percent sugar. The flower nectar hummingbirds drink in the wild is usually about 25 percent sugar, said hummingbird expert Bill Calder.

"When people ask me, 'I'm not getting any hummingbirds and my neighbor's getting it all,' I tell them to up the sugar," Armstrong said.

Armstrong mixes 3 to 4 cups of boiling water with 2 cups sugar, then mixes it until it's clear. The liquid needs to cool before it's poured into the feeder, but if he's in a hurry Armstrong uses less water and replaces it with ice, stirring until the cubes are thoroughly melted.

Hummingbird food can be up to 65 percent sugar, Calder said. After that it becomes too thick for the birds to drink. They need the pure sugar to fuel their intense metabolism. For protein and minerals needed to lay eggs, the females gobble insects.

Some people add red dye to the hummingbird food, but Calder discourages that practice. Red dye is unnecessary and could even be harmful to the birds, Calder said. The red on the hummingbird feeder is enough to attract hummingbirds initially, and after that they remember where the best food is. Some people also tie pieces of red or orange surveyor's tape on the feeder to catch the eye of passing hummingbirds.

Planting hummingbird-friendly flowers, such as columbine, lupine, blueberry, iris, snap dragon, nasturtium and fuschia, also attracts hummingbirds.

It is crucial to clean the feeder regularly to prevent mold from growing inside. Don't use honey because it spoils and change the solution in the feeder every few days. Armstrong boils his regularly.

Rufous hummingbirds are about to start their migration south again and will need to refuel before the long flight. They usually return to Juneau in early April.

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