On hummingbird feeder design

It’s not as simple as it may seem at first.

The goal is to give hummingbirds, and only hummingbirds, of all sizes, a steady supply of clean nectar to lap up, in a manner safe and convenient for them.

There are tradeoffs for every design I’ve tried.

Like most, I started off with the standard four-flower Perky-Pet hummingbird feeders found almost everywhere.  Pluses are, it seems to be convenient for all hummingbirds to drink from.  It holds up fairly steady in wind, perhaps due to it’s hyperboloid glass bottle.  It’s very easy to see how full it is.  A contrasting shade other than yellow might be better for the insect screen, as yellow more quickly attracts wasps.  Minuses are, it’s very awkward to clean.  You develop a routine, and it’s not that bad, but the bottle is very hard to clean.  It’s probably also the drippiest feeder when shaken by wind or hummer landings/takeoffs.  Held steady, it’s fine.

I never let nectar sit in a feeder for more than 48 hours, and it cools off nicely here in the mountains at night.  That certainly keeps any feeder easy to clean, but you’ll still get some stuff building up no matter what, which is why it’s essential you can easily get to every part of the feeder.

I was getting way too many wasps, so I tried out the bowl-type Hummzinger.  It is undoubtedly the easiest to clean.  It does not drip, period.  Hummers with larger beaks have no trouble drinking from it.  It’s main downfall is the inconsistent nectar distance.  It may be the case that, eventually, most hummers can eventually completely drain the thing, but it becomes sub-optimal. 

Hummers sort of lap/wick up the nectar with their tongues into their mouths, so the greater the amount of tongue they can get into the nectar, the faster they can drink. You might not think speed is an issue, but for less-dominant hummers, or where wasps still skulk petulantly about your feeder(even if they can’t get to the nectar), they’d prefer to eat as quickly as possible.

Smaller hummers just seem kind of annoyed by the 12oz Hummzinger when it gets below about 6-8oz.  I think they still can, but they prefer the bottle ones.  When I have tons of hummers out in mid-summer, I’ll often see the largest-beaked hummers perching triumphantly on the Hummzinger, like they’re thinking, “yeah… may be too difficult for lesser hummers, but it’s no match for my awesomeness.”

Then recently at Zamzow’s I discovered Dr. JB’s hummingbird feeder.  It’s about the best compromise I’ve met so far.  Very easy to clean, except for one narrow spot in the base between the baffle and the bottle tube.  Doesn’t drip once in place.  No yellow parts.  Perch is a little too high; perhaps a limitation of their injection molding process.  An add-on perch ring that goes lower would be a nice addition. 

The trick with Dr JB’s is getting it flipped over after filling it, without nectar splashing out.  Rotate quickly(not too quickly) and smoothly usually works.  If you have issues with bugs, I recommend flipping it inside over the sink in case you need to clean it up a bit before hanging it outside.  The baffle does a pretty good job of stopping this initial dribble, but it isn’t perfect.  Still, better to have one initial leak than to have it dribble in operation.  Also, is a little tricky to tell when it’s almost empty, but it’s a minor issue.  You don’t want your feeders to run out, ever.

So that seems to be the state of hummingbird feeder affairs.  Not perfect, but getting better. 

And just in case you’re new to hummers, 1 part cane sugar to 4 parts water is the way to go.  Hummers don’t give a crap what color the nectar is as long as the feeder’s red, food coloring and preservatives probably aren’t good for them, and all they need or want from nectar is the sucrose and water(maybe the trace minerals in the water too).  They get their other nutrients from bugs.

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