Hummingbird feeders can bring a great deal of joy to those who like to get up close to these colourful little birds. However, there are some downsides, including spreading disease, which need to be mitigated for when using a feeder.
What is a hummingbird feeder?
Bird feeders are an ever popular addition to any wildlife garden. While we may think of all feeders as being much of a muchness, you can select certain styles or foods to attract in particular species.
For those of us that are lucky enough to live in regions where hummingbirds live, feeders specifically designed for hummingbirds are a particularly attractive prospect, with these colourful birds regularly visiting to feed when one is available.
Most bird feeders are designed to hold nuts and seeds, and often have a metal grid holding in the food but allowing the birds to reach in and pick out the tasty morsels. Hummingbirds, however, eat mostly nectar, which is a syrupy liquid.
This means a hummingbird feeder is more of an upside-down bottle, often with small tubular holes to allow the hummingbirds to reach in with their beaks and slurp up the tasty nectar.
Often, hummingbird feeders will have areas that are coloured red. This is because red flowers have been found to attract in hummingbirds. Some will also have perches for the hummingbirds to sit and rest.
Also read: Food and Feeding Habits of Hummingbirds?
Are hummingbird feeders bad?
We tend to think of feeding the birds as being a good deed. We are providing easily accessible nutrition to hungry wild animals, and therefore helping them to thrive. However, there can be many downsides to conventional feeders.
Seed and nut-based feeders attract in rodents such as rats, helping to boost their local populations. High rat numbers can be detrimental to birds, as they will eat any eggs or chicks they find. Studies have also found that not all birds visit bird feeders, meaning we are boosting one proportion of the bird population and not others.
While these problems do not always apply to nectar feeders, there are a range of other problems that can come with feeding your hummingbirds.
Just like us, birds can pass diseases between each other. This happens most readily when they come into contact with each other or with each other’s bodily fluids. If you have a feeder, then you may have dozens or even hundreds of hummingbirds visiting per hour. The risk can be that one sick bird can cause the rest to become ill. It’s therefore important to regularly clean your feeder to prevent the spread of disease.
Sugary water is a great place for molds to grow, which can themselves make our hummingbirds ill. Keeping the feeder somewhere shady can help to reduce the growth of things like molds, however, once again regular cleaning, ideally twice or three times a week is best.
Controversial red colouring
A fashion has developed for adding red food colouring to syrups, both to create a more attractive feeder and to call in more hummingbirds. While the jury is still out, some critics think this red colouring may be harmful to the hummingbirds, meaning it should be avoided.
More than nectar
Many people put up a feeder and feel they can rest on their laurels in terms of giving the hummingbirds a helping hand. However, these tiny birds need more than just sugar water to power them along.
As well as nectar, they also feed on small insects and sometimes drink water on a hot day. Hummingbirds also require places to roost and build their nests. Therefore, while you can still enjoy putting out your feeder, if you really want to give hummingbirds what they need you should also be planting wildlife-friendly plants, and providing places to shelter.
Attracting birds close to your house can be a wonderful way to see them up close, but our glass windows can be a hazard for flying birds. Birds will often collide with windows, as they do not see the glass is there. These collisions can cause serious injury or death. Putting feeders close to the house can prevent birds from flying into the windows at high speeds. Or alternatively, placing it far away can prevent them from flying towards the windows.
Also read: 8 Plants that Attract Hummingbirds & Why!
To feed or not to feed?
For nature, the best option is always the natural one. Feeders, and the food we put in them, have an environmental footprint in terms of the production and disposal of these items. Natural alternatives such as plants and natural habitats have fewer downsides and more additional benefits.
However, feeding is an important way for us as humans to connect with wildlife. We are more like to care and protect nature if we feel we have a relationship with it. And the hummingbirds themselves do love the free and easy nectar that we make available to them.
So, as long as you remember to keep your feeder safe for your avian visitors, and provide some natural food and shelter alongside this, then there’s nothing wrong with enjoying watching these speedy little birds coming in for a drink.