LOVELY: Hummingbirds are one of nature's most beautiful, and delicate, creatures. (Photo: hart_curt/Flickr)
Though many other parts of the country are experiencing record levels of snowfall and freezing temperatures, here in Los Angeles we've been pretty lucky of late. Sunny days and mild nights have made it seem like winter is already a thing of the past.
In this summer-like atmosphere, the hummingbird feeder just outside our front door has experienced an explosion of activity. All day long, crowds of the tiny birds chase each other around the sugar water hot spot, putting on a show with their territorial dives and chattering.
The majority of birds that frequent our feeder are Calypte anna, or Anna's hummingbirds. Common on the West Coast, and well-adapted to urban areas, the Anna's hummingbird "makes itself conspicuous by its behavior as well as its choice of habitat," according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. "The male sings frequently from exposed perches, and makes elaborate dive displays at other hummingbirds and sometimes at people." I myself have been the object of such dives — especially if I cross by the feeder during high-traffic hours.
Creating an environment attractive to hummingbirds provides some excellent opportunities to observe these gorgeous creatures in action, so here are a few pointers:
Select a variety of plants that flower at successively later dates, for a food source that will last throughout the season. Some suggestions: azalea, lantana, manzanita, mimosa, bee balm (Monarda), foxglove, yucca and various salvia species.
Hummingbirds.net, created and operated by graphic designer and hummingbird enthusiast Lanny Chambers, points out that the birds have virtually no sense of smell, and flowers that attract them tend to have little or no fragrance, but loads of color and nectar. Also, wild strains of flowers, bushes and trees contain more nectar, the essential fuel for hummingbirds' high energy demands, than cultivated strains.
Hummingbirds learn to use feeders by observing other hummers, and through their own curiosity. Feeders come in several styles, so choose one that is easy to clean and refill. It is important to know that once you put a feeder out, your little feathered friends will rely on it to support their extraordinarily high metabolisms. Making sure your feeder is filled with clean, fresh sugar water is critical to keeping the birds coming back, and to keeping them healthy.
As for the sugar water itself, the general recommendation is a solution of one part sugar to four parts water. Use cane sugar, not brown or raw (turbinado) sugar, which Chambers says is less pure and contains high levels of iron, a rarity in the hummingbird diet that can be lethal to them if ingested even in moderate amounts. Also, honey and red food coloring have no place in feeders: honey can be toxic to the birds, and red sugar water is no more attractive to them than plain.
Placement of your feeder is worth careful consideration. A location that provides easy viewing for you, but that avoids hazards to the birds, such as windows or screen doors, is ideal.
Hummingbirds require a variety of perching areas, which they use both for resting and for guarding their territory. Hummers spend the majority of their time perched, conserving energy. Also, because they are aggressive territory defenders, they like to have spots where they can sit and keep an eye out for intruders.
Avoid or limit use of pesticides, which threaten the health of hummingbirds on a couple of levels. Besides being potentially harmful to the tiny birds, pesticides eliminate insects, which are hummers' main source of protein.
For further guidance in establishing a hummer-friendly habitat, hummingbirds.net is an excellent resource. And for a taste of the enjoyment a hummingbird feeder has to offer, here's a short video of ours:
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