White Mountains Online

Attracting Hummingbirds in Arizona's White Mountains!


Jewels of the Bird World!

Hummingbirds are fascinating, to an extent far disproportionate to their size. Darting from flower to flower, sunlight flashing on their brightly colored throats and crowns, hummingbirds are widely known as the jewels of the bird world. It's hard to believe, but very true: all that dazzling color is produced by feather structure, and not by pigment.

More than 340 species of hummingbirds are known today, but all of them occur only in the Americas. It is Arizona's good fortune to have had recorded within its boundaries 16 species, more than any other state. In fact, of all the species regularly found in the United States, only two, the buff-bellied and ruby-throated, have not been recorded in Arizona. At least, not yet!

Attracting hummingbirds is easy almost anywhere in Arizona. Just landscape your yard with brightly flowering shrubs, trees and wildflowers. Among the many southwestern plants with the tubular flowers that attract hummingbirds are penstemon, paintbrush, ocotillo, honeysuckle, chuparosa, coral bean, gilia, cardinal flower, sage, columbine and bouvardia. Aside from bright colors, these flowers all have one thing in common: they produce a 20 to 30 percent sucrose solution. Plants such as ocotillo, mesquite and desert willow offer twice the benefit, because they also provide nest sites for hummers. A little creative landscaping with some of these low-maintenance plants is all that is needed, but a "nectar" feeder (or several!) will add immeasurable to your fun by attracting even more hummers, as well as other native birds, such as orioles and house finches.

Selecting a feeder

There are probably as many kinds of hummingbird feeders as there are hummingbirds, and almost any feeder will do, whether it is made of plastic, glass or ceramic. Even so, some are better than others, because they are easier to clean, spill less easily, or discourage bees and wasps. Remember, though, a feeder that bees and wasps can't use will probably not be accessible to orioles and house finches, either. So why not use several kinds, and enjoy watching these other birds, too?

Regardless of which type you use, place the feeder out of direct sunlight and fairly close to shrubs or trees, so visiting hummers can perch nearby. Besides offering a rest stop, such perches offer hummers a convenient location from which to watch "their" feeder, and protect it from intruders. These pugnacious little warriors will make lightning-like attacks on their competitors at the drop of a hat, and the extended fight-chases are a sight to be seen.

There is only one solution

Regardless of the type of feeder or the species attracted, the solution should always be four to five cups of water to one cup of cane or table sugar (it's sucrose, just like flowers produce). Never use sugar substitutes, and honey spoils quickly and grows fungus that may be lethal to hummers. There is no need to use dye in the solution. Red plastic, paint or tape on the feeder is just as effective.

Preparing the solution is simple. For the best results, boil the water, add the sugar and let the mix cool. Fill the feeder with only as much solution as will be used in a day. This causes a bit more work for you, but will assure the hummers a fresh food supply. Extra mix can be kept refrigerated for a week or two, while it is used for daily refills.

Maintenance is important

Feeders should always be kept at least partially filled and very clean, or else they should be taken down. Clean your feeders at least every five to seven days, using baby-bottle brushes or pipe cleaners and hot water. A small dose of vinegar will help remove any mold, but rinse the feeder very well afterward! And never use detergent or soap.

Finally, don't worry about taking your feeder down in the winter. Just be extra sure to keep it filled. The hummers will leave if the weather turns cold. Not even a full feeder will keep them from heading south if they want to leave.

A few facts

It takes a fantastic amount of energy for hummingbirds to keep their wings beating, at 40 or more beats per second. Ounce for ounce, their metabolic rate is about 300 times that of a human! Their natural diet includes tiny insects, spiders and other invertebrates, as well as flower nectar. That's why injured and orphaned hummingbirds that are rehabilitated for release to the wild through the Department's Adobe Mountain Wildlife Center, in Phoenix, are fed a special three-phase commercially prepared high-protein diet that is more nutritionally complete than sugar water.

Landscaping with desert plants and avoiding the use of insecticides will help give the hummingbirds in your area a balanced diet. Add a feeder or two and you will enjoy countless hours of fast-action birdwatching, even in the winter. Anna's hummingbird nests in Arizona in the winter, and a few individuals of other species also linger here occasionally, whether or not feeders are available.

Problem Solving

Uh oh: ants and bees, the bane of picnics and hummingbird feeders. To keep ants away, spread liberal amounts of petroleum jelly or mineral oil on the wire from which your feeder hangs. Double-sided sticky tape wrapped around the wire also works pretty well. As for bees, just spread a little petroleum jelly around the feeder openings. The odor of the petroleum jelly will not bother any birds, since most species (including all hummingbirds) have a very poorly developed sense of smell.

There is also a gentler, kinder approach. Accept the ants and bees as a natural consequence of feeding hummers. Or plant a garden with non-hummingbird flowers to distract the bees.

Written by: Terry B. Johnson, Manager, Nongame & Endangered Wildlife Program, Arizona Game and Fish Department.

For more information about this project or to make a donation, write: Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program, Arizona Game and Fish Department, 2221 West Greenway Road, Phoenix, Arizona 85023-4312

Published with permission of Suzanne Trachy, Information and Education Coordinator, Arizona Game and Fish Department, Region 1, HC 62 Box 7201, Pinetop, Arizona