Tuesday, August 2, 2011

An order of sugar water--hold the red dye please


No dye, please!
Photo by Mr. T in DC
 Lucky Americans--both North and South Americans--we have hummingbirds. I was surprised to learn that these zippy little birds are not found elsewhere in the world.

The birdfeeders I most often see hanging outside homes here in the US are those for hummingbirds. And most often the feeders contain an unnecessary side order of red dye. The hummers who feed there end up processing a lot of red dye; whether this is directly harmful to the birds is under debate, but it's clear that this chemical is not needed in their diet. The feeders themselves are nearly always colored red, and this is enough of an attractant without the addition of a potentially harmful chemical. Likewise, there's no need to buy commercial products that contain preservatives as well as the dye--a homemade syrup of table sugar and water is better for the little beasties. (Recipe/instructions are easily found online.)

In addition to nectar, hummers feed on insects and spiders. They procure these on the wing, or pluck them out of webs or from inside plants.

But helping them out with sugar water is a lovely gift to the wild things--just hold the dye.

12 comments:

  1. I had dyed some fleece with red Kool-Aide (Makes a great fiber dye.  What's it do to your  innards?) and was spinning in the shade of the apple tree when I heard a peculiar buzz.  Looking around, I found myself eye to eye with a hummer who was vastly interested in all that yummy red stuff I had.  It was like talking to a kid.  "There is no food value here.  Go eat something nutritious. No, you can't have any.  It's not good for you."

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  2. Indeed, hummers are something only we folks in the Americas get to enjoy. When I was working with European researchers in Australia, the birders in the group were very jealous of all the hummingbird species on my life list. To them they seemed incredibly exotic.

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  3. Also, don't think that just because you're in the city, you can't have a hummingbird feeder too. Just on a lark (har har), I bought a tiny $3 feeder and stuck it to the outside of my fifth story downtown dorm-room window. Within five days, I had a regular customer. I eventually had to replace the tiny feeder with a much larger one, and soon had two male and one female rufous hummingbirds whizzing by my window all day.

    The Russian who lived next door said that he was amazed to see them flying by- he thought they only lived in jungles. :-)

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  4. I should add that I love the suction-cup feeders. My guys would eventually let me sit with my face inches from the window so I could admire them up close. Some say happiness is a warm puppy- I say it's also a chance to see a humminbird's tongue.

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  5. We added hummingbird feeders to our balcony at the park's visitor center and people love them! Our visitors come from around the world and get to sit outside watching the hummers come and go.

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  6. Wow, I didn't realize they were only found in North and South America, either.

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  7. Hey Ranger Kim--do you know about Lake Hope State Park in Ohio? They've gotten the hummingbirds used to feeding from hand and are now using it as a way to draw in visitors--inviting them to come feed the hummingbirds.  I'm not entirely sure what I think about it...but you can check it out at http://www.lakehopestatepark.com/hummingbirds.html  Whaddya think?

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  8. Oh yeah, they've got those crazy little slivers for tongues! Look up hand feeding hummingbirds online. People are holding little capfuls of sugar water and getting hummers to land on their hands to feed!

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  9. Yeah, s.I was reading an article online by an Australian who said that seeing hummingbirds was as exotic to her as seeing kangaroos is to American.

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  10. Thanks for the heads up, Pat.  No more commercial crap in our humming bird feeders.

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  11. The nearest we have is the sunbird of northern Queensland. They hover and are beautifully coloured, too.

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  12. Feeding birds and animals is controversial here (Australia), although many people still do it. We love to feel we are doing good for the animals.

    It's a complicated issue (see http://www.wildlife.org.au/wildlife/livingwithwildlife/feeding_wildlife.html). Wildlife rehabilitators are concerned because often people feed birds bread (the worst) or other foods that do not have the right nutrients, and the carers get to mop up the results - baby magpies, for instance, that have not grown strong bones or real feathers as the parents have been stopping off at the fast-food back porch in preference to browsing on all the different foods (insects, flowers, lizards, a wide variety) that produce healthy offspring.

    Feeding by humans also encourages dependence, so if the person feeding moves out or goes away on holidays, the animal is then at a loss.

    We're discouraged, for instance, from putting out sugar water for bees, as bacterial infections can be transmitted very easily among their populations.

    There's also the question of whether feeding the big birds (kookaburras, butcherbirds, magpies) increases their numbers so that the birds they prey on become less abundant.

    But as most of the evidence is anecdotal and proper studies have not been done, it's hard to say what is really happening. But I'm convinced enough that I only put out a birdbath and don't feed the animals.

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