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Why do hummingbirds hum?

May 1st(ish) typically heralds the springtime return of hummingbirds and orioles from their southern wintering grounds. They fly far and hard to get here and benefit from whatever energetic support they can get. If you don’t already have them or want more, we carry a nice selection of oriole and hummingbird feeders.

Hummingbird feeder set-up and care
Hummingbirds have super-high metabolic rates and need to feed on high-sugar-content food, the natural source for which is flowers. There are few flowers in bloom when they arrive in early spring, so they often use the sap (and insects that get trapped in) from Yellow-bellied Sapsucker drilling.

To support hummingbirds in early spring, set up a red feeder with a 1:4 sugar:water mix (add the sugar to boiling water to keep the sugar in solution, and don’t add red food colouring; make extra and keep it in the fridge). To support hummers throughout the summer, in addition to maintaining a feeder, consider planting red flowers such as hanging geraniums, fuchsia, and bee balm.

It’s crucial to keep hummingbird feeders clean, not just because of avian influenza but also because the sugar mixture can ferment in the sun and make the birds sick. Be sure to clean your feeder every 3-4 days. On top of that, hummers may not return to feeders that are dirty or filled with ants. Our saucer-style feeders don’t leak and have moats to keep ants out and nectar guards to keep wasps out.

This link will bring you to 9 Garden Gate segments about feeding hummingbirds and orioles (and another on cleaning feeders if you scroll down).

Oriole feeder set-up and care
Orioles have broader diets than do hummingbirds, but they prefer grape jelly, sweet oranges, and nectar. Cleaning and feeding with nectar are the same as for hummingbirds. If you’re offering jelly, be sure it doesn’t have preservatives or fake sugars, which is easy with the specially formulated bird berry jelly for orioles that we carry.

So, why DO hummingbirds hum?
It’s an old and common joke, but just in case…

…because they don’t know the words!


Photo credits
Baltimore Oriole: Tracy Wazny
Ruby-throated Hummingbird: Len Cotton