The importance of cleaning your hummingbird feeder

Feeders need to be thoroughly cleaned at least every three days in hot weather

By Dennis Leonard

Are you possibly loving your hummingbirds to death? Recent mention on some hummingbirds being found elsewhere in the province with their tongues hanging out may be caused by dirty hummingbird feeders.

If the nectar is left too long fermentation begins and black mold can develop, which can lead to a fungal infection in the hummingbirds. This can result in their tongue swelling to the point that they cannot eat and unfortunately starve to death. Any sign of cloudiness means fermentation has begun and the feeder must be cleaned. Hummingbird feeders need to be thoroughly cleaned at least every three days in hot weather, close to 30°C or higher, but can go about five days in cooler temperatures.

Thorough cleaning means using a bottle brush and fairly hot water to scrub all nooks and crannies of the feeder then rinsing well. Use a tiny brush to clean the ports. If some black mold is evident, some vinegar needs to be included, then finish with a thorough rinsing with water. Do not use soap as it leaves a film in the feeder.

Hummingbirds: the forgotten pollinator

Before mixing one part white sugar (no other kind) to four parts water without any colouring, it is suggested to boil the water to kill any pathogens. Still, the birds may introduce some pathogens while feeding. Only fill the feeder with as much nectar as the birds will consume in three to five days.

If you are going to be away too long, have someone properly look after the feeder, otherwise take the feeder down.

Now that your feeder is all set to hang, how about weighing it in grams, then weigh it again in 24 hours to get the difference and divide that by 5.16 g/bird to get the approximate number of hummingbirds you have. Or it could be more days in between and then do an average, just be certain to do it close to the same time as the original weighing.

In my previous article, my appeal for others to do the weighing and report it did not garner one phone call to (250) 674-2518. Of course, I don’t expect people to weigh feeders every day, but once a week, two weeks, or a month should be doable. Years ago the community rallied to lead all of Canada for checklists in the Great Backyard Bird Count. Perhaps the community could now lead all of North America to get an indication of the hummer numbers.

The data for one day over the years could result in a chart like the one for June 3 at my home, which indicates a concerning decline.

Kudos to the community for becoming a Bee City, but maybe hummingbirds should have their City, too.

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