In my opinion there’s nothing more beautiful than some of the patterns on the ducks that loaf here. Here are some of my favorites from last week:
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We had a mild winter here in south-central Illinois, and spring arrived early! Redbuds, dogwoods, and spring wildflowers are 2-3 weeks ahead of a “normal” year. The birds must know something, because the hummingbird and waterfowl migration is well under way. Our nectar feeders are ready but we haven’t seen a hummingbird yet– we heard reports of sightings 50 miles away in Olney. The Brown Thrashers are back and building their nest in the holly bush right outside our living room window—as usual. Some of my favorite ducks have been loafing on our wetlands: Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, and Mallards.
Here are some recent images from my blind at the Daybreak Wetland:
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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
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!
At Daybreak Imagery we offer exclusive bird photography opportunities for 1-4 people. We provide blinds and you can photograph orioles, bluebirds, catbirds, cardinals, indigo buntings, goldfinches, and other backyard birds in our flower gardens, at water, or at feeders.
We will customize your photo adventure, and we offer day rates with or without photo instruction. We block off a couple of weeks each June when the colorful birds are most active, and these dates fill quickly. We still have a few left for 2011—so call 618-547-3522 or email to reserve yours now!
Our blinds are portable and can be moved to where the birds are. We provide several locations on our property to take advantage of the best bird photography opportunities in the best light so you can get the best photos possible.
Two people can sit comfortably in our photo blinds.
We limit our groups to only 4 people in 2 blinds so you will have better photo opportunities –and there is less stress on the birds with fewer people.
You can use fill flash or Project-a-flash units with our photo blinds, if you prefer.
Here are a few bird photographs taken from blinds at our gardens:
Besides photographing at flower gardens, you can also shoot from blinds at our water features. You can get great photos of birds bathing or sitting in the plants around the water as they wait their turn to bathe or drink.
Daybreak Imagery is located in south central Illinois, approximately 90 miles east of St Louis, MO (the nearest airport). Lodging and food are available in Salem, IL. Why not plan a little road trip this June and bring a friend along to photograph some Daybreak birds?
The spring migration of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds is underway and they’re almost to Illinois now. Lanny Chambers in St Louis hosts a website hummingbirds.net 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.
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.
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.
Late January at Daybreak Imagery is typically a rather slow time for bird photography. If it snows, we enjoy the birds in our yard in snowy trees and at feeders. But with no snow, the scenery in south central Illinois in winter is brown and boring, to say the least. But we do watch for migrating species, and Richard is out in the field as much as possible searching for and photographing what he can find.
In January of 2010, Richard spent a lot of time photographing short-eared owls at Prairie Ridge State Natural Area, which is located approximately 7 miles from our home. He took some amazing flight shots during a 10-day period when the owls were hunting voles on the prairie habitat. But on January 28, when he drove to the sanctuary to photograph short-ears, he didn’t find any. He did find Snow Geese and here’s his story behind this photo.
“I had struck out on short-eared owls at Prairie Ridge and was feeling a little bummed when I heard snow geese in the distance. For some reason their squeaking calls always bring a smile to my face so I packed up my gear and drove north on the country roads to get closer to them. Canada geese fly in orderly V-formations and are somewhat predictable in their behavior—but not snow geese! They are constantly on the move—always rising, then sitting, continually going up and down, zigzagging about like a platoon of disorderly soldiers with a poor leader. They make me laugh when I watch them and are a challenge to figure out where to be to take their picture! But that day, I managed to follow them over by Armstrong Road where I set up my tripod beside my car and took one photo before they moved on.
It was a very dark, gloomy day with extremely low light so I decided to use a slow shutter speed to blur the action of the birds moving in a group. This photo was taken with a Canon EOS 50D camera body, Canon 500mm f4 IS lens, shot at 1/160th of a second, F4, ISO 400. “
Yesterday, when I was working in the yard cleaning up downed tree branches from our recent ice storms, I smiled again as I heard Snow Geese flying overhead. Thousands poured in from the sky and landed in a field across the road from our house. I dropped my chain saw and grabbed my camera gear and took the photo below.
Snow Goose Fast Facts:
Scientific Name: Chen caerulescens
Medium sized goose 26-33” with wingspan of 52-55”
Adults are primarily white with some brown on back with black patch on wings.
Two color morphs: White-morph is white all over except black on wings. Immature is gray on top with a dark bill. Blue-Morph has dark brownish gray body with white head and neck.
Breeds in the arctic and subarctic.
Winters in wet (freshwater and saltwater) areas, marshes, and fields.
Behavior: Migrates in large flocks that feed together in fields and wet habitats.
Diet: Vegetarian. Plant material, seeds, leaves, grasses, roots, aquatic plants, waste grain in agricultural fields.
The ice storm at Daybreak Imagery showed us what Mother Nature can do in winter. We received ¾” of ice followed by blustery winds that toppled trees, knocked downed power lines, and more. We live just 70 miles east of St Louis where record blizzards conditions occurred. Nearly 200 miles of I-70 between St. Louis and Kansas City, MO shut down because of record amounts of snowfall and blizzard conditions. In our neck of the woods, we just received ice…and lots of it! Many trees and limbs fell down throughout south central Illinois which also caused power outages. Richard Day has posted some photos from our yard and a video of why power lines don’t like ice!
The winner of the BEST Bad Hair Day Bird photo is the Blue Jay. Thank you all for commenting on Facebook and voting.