Archive for the ‘bird feeding’ Category

Dealing With Hummingbird Feeder Wars

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011
Immature Ruby-throated Hummingbird on Pineapple Sage

Immature Ruby-throated Hummingbird on Pineapple Sage

The question I get asked the most regarding hummingbirds is “How do I keep the bully hummingbird from dominating my feeder?”   Unfortunately, hummingbirds do not have the “share gene” like we humans are  typically taught by our parents and teachers.  When they find a reliable source of food, they want it and are usually not willing to share with other hummingbirds.

Years ago the theory was to put out more feeders on the other side of your house so the birds couldn’t see each other.  But if you have a square or rectangular-shaped house, that means you probably would only have 4-8 birds fighting over those feeders.  I don’t know about you, but I’m greedy too and I want LOTS of hummers in my yard!

I planted dozens of nectar flowers for them and for many years we saw maybe 10-20 hummingbirds each summer.  When I was doing research for my book, The Wildlife Gardener’s Guide to Hummingbirds & Songbirds From the Tropics, back in 2000, I interviewed about 100 people and asked them questions about their birds.  I used that info in the book to share with others what worked for these folks.

One guy I interviewed was Bob Sargent, a long-time bird bander, founder of the Hummer/Bird Study Group, and author of Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, a Wild Bird Guide published by Stackpole Books.  Bob and his wife, Martha have been studying and banding hummingbirds for many years.  When Richard and I were speakers at the Rockport-Fulton Texas Hummer/Bird Celebration many years ago, we met the Sargents, and have since become good friends.

Bob & Martha Sargent banding hummingbird at Rockport TX Hummer-Bird Celebration

Bob & Martha Sargent banding hummingbird at Rockport TX Hummer-Bird Celebration

Now according to Bob, the way to attract more hummingbirds is to put out more feeders.  And rather than separate them as I used to, he says they should be clustered together.  When the birds all feed in a central area at numerous feeders, a dominant bird cannot hog a feeder.

Bander measuring Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Bander measuring Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Bob and Martha Sargent not only band hummingbirds themselves, but they also train future banders in late summer and fall.  Bob says that at all of their training locations, the hummer hosts maintain as many as 75 feeders in roughly a 30’ x 30’ area.  He suggests clustering feeders in close proximity to each other and using as many feeders as you can afford and maintain.  “Start increasing the numbers of feeders about the 4th of July which is when the first southbound migrants start to arrive in ever increasing numbers.”

Bander putting band on Ruby-throated Hummingbird's leg

Bander putting band on Ruby-throated Hummingbird's leg

He adds that it’s not necessary to completely fill the feeders until you start seeing empty feeders.  “It’s important to not wait until you see more hummers in your yard to begin putting out more feeders.”  He stresses, “The feeding and fighting sounds of many hummers at feeders will attract more and more hummers into your feeding area.”

So a few years ago I decided to take Bob’s advice and every year I’d add 10-12 more feeders.  And you know what?  Bob is absolutely right!  Each year our numbers have increased, and this year we have more hummingbirds than ever.

We now have 12 bottle feeders hanging from hooks under the eaves around our enclosed back porch where Richard and I eat all our meals.  People have asked if birds fly into the windows with feeders so close to the house and it has not been a problem.  We spend time on our gazebo that overlooks our hummingbird gardens and have 24 feeders hanging in the shade there as well.  Another cluster is beneath our redbud tree near the gazebo, and we have others on another deck near our living room.  All are in partially or fully shaded areas because this is what hummers prefer, and it also keeps the nectar from spoiling as quickly as in full sun.  Hang them about head high, if possible, so you don’t need a ladder when refilling. This also keeps predators, such as cats, from having access to hummingbirds on feeders.

Richard on our back porch looking at hummingbird feeders

Richard on our back porch looking at hummingbird feeders

This past week has been amazing with more birds than we’ve ever seen in our yard!  Sunday Richard replaced 6 of the 8-ounce feeders around our back porch with 6 32-ounce ones because we were filling the 8-ouncers every day!  We used to see one bird at a feeder at a time—at least briefly until another one chased it away.  Now it’s common to see 2-3 birds sharing a feeder and that is really really neat to watch!

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Dropmore Scarlet Honeysuckle

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Dropmore Scarlet Honeysuckle

How to Choose a Hummingbird Feeder

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

I’m often asked what types of hummingbird feeders are the best?  Well, it depends on who you talk to.

There are basically 2 styles—the vertical bottle style and the horizontal basin style.  Bottle feeders are just that, a gravity-fill bottle with ports on the bottom where the birds can access the nectar.  Basin style feeders, sometimes called flying saucers, are like covered bowls with holes on top for the birds to drink from.  Hummingbirds will use either type.

The Best 1 Hummingbird Feeder is a bottle style that's easy to clean with a bottle brush

The Best 1 Hummingbird Feeder is a bottle style that's easy to clean with a bottle brush

Dr. JB's Hummingbird Feeder--a bottle style feeder that disassembles easily to clean in dishwasher

Dr. JB's Hummingbird Feeder--a bottle style feeder that disassembles easily to clean in dishwasher


No matter which style or brand you use, it’s a good idea to examine a feeder in the store before making a purchase.  I prefer feeders with clear glass or plastic reservoirs so I can monitor nectar levels.

Take it apart and put it back together to see how it works.  If you’re lucky and attract swarms of hummingbirds to your yard, you’ll be doing this every few days all summer.

While you’re at it, check for loose parts or potentially tough spots to keep clean when the feeder gets dirty.  Pretend you’re filling it and carrying it outside—is it awkward to disassemble and reassemble?  Will you lose half the juice (and have a sticky floor to clean later) before you get it out of the kitchen?

Perky Pets Four Fountains bottle feeder--a classic feeder recommended by many, but I find them harder to clean than otherbrands

Perky Pets Four Fountains bottle feeder--a classic feeder recommended by many, but I find them harder to clean than other brands

Feeder manufacturers are constantly improving their designs, and shopping for a hummer feeder can be like searching for the perfect mouse trap.  Choose a size that’s appropriate for the number of birds you have.  If you’re just starting out and haven’t seen many birds, start with a small feeder or one that you can regulate the capacity to the numbers of birds you have and not waste nectar.  Remember, however, that the more feeders you have out, the more birds you’ll attract.

HummZinger Excel basin style feeder by Aspects. 2-pieces that snap apart and are very easy to clean.

HummZinger Excel basin style feeder by Aspects. 2-pieces that snap apart and are very easy to clean.


At Daybreak Imagery we use a variety of different hummingbird feeder styles including some from Droll Yankees, Aspects,  and Dr JB’s.   Our primary feeders are Best 1 because they are easy to fill and clean, are inexpensive, and they don’t leak when the wind blows them—which it does all summer in Illinois, the prairie state.


We have Jewel Box Window Feeders made by Aspects on our office windows.  I don’t have a photo of them, but they slip onto a window with little suction cups—and it sure brings a smile to my face to have hummingbirds just a few feet away from me as I work on my computer!


Sources for hummingbird feeders

Duncraft is a large mail-order company specializing in bird products


Hummer/Bird Study Group offers a large variety of hummingbird feeders, including Dr JB’s, plus spare parts for Perky Pets feeders.


Nottawa Wildbird Supply is where I buy Best 1 feeders

Droll Yankees Little Flyer 2 basin or saucer style feeder. A little more expensive but all feeders come with a lifetime guarantee. Those model can be hung from a hook or mounted on a pole (see black fitting on bottom of feeder)

Droll Yankees Little Flyer 2 basin or saucer style feeder. A little more expensive but all feeders come with a lifetime guarantee. Those model can be hung from a hook or mounted on a pole (see black fitting on bottom of feeder)

Our next blog post will cover where to put your feeders and what to do when the birds fight over your feeders.  Stay tuned!  And be sure to let us know when the hummers arrive at your place!

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Migration is underway

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

The spring migration of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds is underway and they’re almost to Illinois now.  Lanny Chambers in St Louis hosts a website where people can post and track their spring migration.  Check it out!

Now is a perfect time to clean your feeders, stock up on sugar for the season,  replace old feeders, and add new ones.  The more feeders you put out, the more hummers you’ll attract—so you can’t have too many!

Here at Daybreak, we try to have our feeders up and ready by April 15, but watch the migration map to know when they’ll be in your area.

Susan Day filling hummingbird feeders at Daybreak Imagery

Susan Day filling hummingbird feeders at Daybreak Imagery

Recipe for Hummingbird Juice:

According to The Hummingbird Society, tests have shown that hummingbirds prefer sucrose in flower nectar over other sugars such as fructose and glucose, so your feeder using the proper ratio of table sugar (sucrose), becomes a good approximation to the flowers hummers like best.   Do not use honey, artificial sweeteners, sugar substitutes, turbinado, brown sugar, or anything except white table sugar because it can harm the birds.  Hummingbirds are attracted to red, however it is not necessary to add red food coloring to their nectar.  Most feeders have red parts and the food coloring adds no nutrition and could be harmful to the birds.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at Dr. JB's Hummingbird Feeder at Daybreak Imagery

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at Dr. JB's Hummingbird Feeder at Daybreak Imagery

Experts recommend mixing a 1:4 ratio of sugar and water solution for hummingbird nectar.  Bob Sargent, founder of the Hummer/Bird Study Group suggests the use of an open hand as a reminder of the sugar/water ratio.

“The thumb represents one part sugar, “explains Bob, “and the four fingers represent the four parts water.”  One cup of sugar to four cups of water is a good sized recipe to start with.  If you have extra, you can store it in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

How you mix that solution is a matter of personal preference.  Some people just stir it all together and pour into their feeders.  Others claim that mixtures do not spoil as quickly if you boil the water first, add sugar, stir, cool, and then fill feeders.  However you do it, make sure your feeders are clean before refilling—a quick rinse each time you refill is usually all it takes.

In early spring you don’t need to fill feeders completely full.  Put out a bunch of feeders and gradually add more “juice” as more birds arrive.

Our next blog will explain how to shop for a hummingbird feeder.

Best Suet Recipe!

Monday, February 7th, 2011

We’ve been fans of Bob and Martha Sargent and the Hummer/Bird Study Group for many years.  They are hummingbird and bird banders from Alabama, and we’ve been on the speaker line-up with them at the Rockport-Fulton Texas HummerBird Celebration several times.  They truly love birds and have dedicated many years to training banders and helping birds through their research.  Besides that, they’re also fun people to hang out with and talk about birds!

Here at Daybreak Imagery, we’ve been feeding Martha’s Super Suet Recipe to our birds this winter and it’s been a huge hit.  Martha has graciously given us permission to share it with you.

Martha’s Super Suet

1 Cup of Crunchy Peanut Butter

2 Cups of Quick Cook Oats

2 Cups of Cornmeal

1 Cup of Lard (not shortening)

1 Cup of regular white flour

Melt lard and peanut butter in the microwave or over low heat.  Stir in remaining ingredients and pour (or spoon) into square freezer containers about ½” thick to fit into your suet basket.  Store in freezer or refrigerator until ready to use.  This makes 6-8 cakes.

You can also freeze it into thicker “logs” and slice later into sizes to fit your suet baskets.  We’ve been crumbling it into bits and putting them on tray feeders for the birds during the ice/snow lately.

Let us know if you’d like a recipe for a larger batch that makes 32 cakes, and we’ll post that on our blog later.

We’re members of the Hummer/Bird Study Group and enjoy reading about their fascinating research in their newsletter.  You can learn more about the Hummer/Bird Study Group here:

Bad Hair Day Continues…

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

Here’s another Bad Hair Day for the birds from Richard Day’s recent photo sessions in our backyard.   What do you think of this Cardinal gal’s “hair-do”?

Bad Hair Day Cardinal

Winter Bird Feeding at Daybreak Imagery, Part 2

Friday, January 7th, 2011

Bird Feeders in snow outside Daybreak Imagery office windows

It’s snowing again today as I write this, and the birds are busy seeking out food that’s being quickly covered by the fluffy white stuff.  Richard’s in his photography blind again out by the juniper trees behind the birdbath.  With high gas prices, it’s nice that he doesn’t have a long commute to work.

We have several feeding stations around the yard with just about every type of feeder there is.  Some birds like to eat from the hanging tube style feeders and others prefer to sit on tray or hopper feeders.  Still others  eat the seeds we scatter on the ground for them or that fall below the hanging feeders.

About ten years ago when Richard was gone somewhere on a photo trip, I got frustrated with the squirrels eating more bird seeds than the birds.  I went to the Wild Birds Unlimited store in Swansea, Illinois and came home with two of their fancy feeder pole systems complete with squirrel baffles.  They did the trick!  Through the years, we’ve purchased several more of these pole systems so now most of our feeders are safe from squirrels and other nighttime feeder thieves like skunks, opossums, cats, and raccoons.  They seemed expensive at the time but probably not in the long run with the money we’ve saved from feeding small mammals—and from replacing the feeders that they damaged or destroyed!

Water in Winter

Eastern Bluebirds at bird bath in winter

Water is just as important to birds in winter as in summer because birds need to keep their feathers clean and groomed in order to fly.  We have an in-ground water feature (see photo at left) with a floating cattle tank heater to keep the water from freezing.

Northern Mockingbird drinking at heated bird bath in winter

We also use special bird bath heaters, such as in this  mockingbird photo, for standard pedestal bird baths.

Surprisingly, these baths are just as popular on the coldest day of the year as on the hottest one in summer!  When everything else is frozen, our bird baths are the only open water around and the birds know it.

Shelter in Winter

Birdfeeding area near evergreen trees

After Christmas each year, Richard takes our tree outside and uses it for shelter for the birds from cold winds and storms.  He places it on the south side of the cedar and spruce trees south of our office.

This offers additional winter cover for the birds and also shields the feeders from winds so the birds have a sheltered area to eat.  The tree in the foreground on the right side of this photo is a recycled Christmas tree propped up with rebar.  In a few months we’ll take it to Stephen A. Forbes State Park where it will be placed in the lake to enhance fish habitat.

Female Northern Cardinal in winter

Evergreens also provide winter shelter for birds to roost at night or just to get out of the cold.

Plus birds look pretty sitting in them when it snows!