She came to me as they all do, over the phone, with a worried, uncertain voice describing her predicament. She’d blundered into a chemical plant and was found, disabled, around 11 at night. Who knows how long she’d been there, circling the ceiling, bumping her tiny head until she fell senseless at someone’s feet? Repeated efforts to get her to drink nectar had failed, and she was fading fast. I met the caller in town, he on his lunch break, and he opened a makeshift containment system that consisted of two Chinet bowls, lined with tissues and taped together. She was lying on her side, curled in a C, as I would be were I a hummingbird who had been without food for 18 hours. I took the syringe of bright red nectar and inserted her bill into it, as he had repeatedly tried. I held her until she began to struggle, and in struggling her bill opened slightly. Some nectar flowed in and her tongue at last began to flicker, then lash, and red nectar poured out of the corners of her mouth as she took sustenance for the first time. Poor little thing. I smiled at the man. “The key is to piss them off enough so they cuss at you, and their bill opens, and then they get what you’re trying to do.”
He told me that she’d been able to fly when they first found her, as high as 12 feet in the air, but only in a tight spiral. That’s OK, as long as she can fly and get altitude, I thought. As long as her wings work, she has a chance at being a hummingbird again, instead of a sad little scrap of feathers like she is now.
I took her home and made a place for her in a ten-gallon tank, lined with paper towels and fitted with low perches and a feeder.
I filled it with Nektar-Plus, a hummingbird maintenance diet that includes proteins and vital nutrients—a far cry from the dyed commercial “hummingbird food” she’d been offered. I don’t fault people for buying it; the labeling makes it seem so much better than simple table sugar and water, but it’s not. It’s horrid. If you didn’t have doubts about feeding commercial preparations, check this out. She’d last had commercial nectar around 2 pm on Tuesday. At 2 pm on Wednesday, her droppings still were dyed vivid red.
**Thanks to Stacy Jon Peterson, author of the original piece from which these calculations come. And to Sheri Williamson, for alerting me. If you'd like to learn more, go here.
This post has gone through the roof, with almost 20,000 unique views since I posted it! I've been asked how to clean hummingbird feeders. I'll write the answer here for your convenience.
I can tell you what I do. First, I avoid any feeder that can't be completely disassembled for washing. Second, I take the entire feeder apart and wash every part in very hot water with a little dish soap. Yep, soap. I rinse thoroughly, allow to dry, and refill. I use brushes and Q-tips around nectar ports.
If you've got mold problems, you're putting too much solution in and letting it sit too long. Put out only as much solution as will be taken in two or three days. If that means going to a smaller feeder, so be it.
The other thing that really helps, I've found, is to use filtered water for nectar solutions. Since I got a water filter for our home (it has four filters and a UV finisher) I used only that water for nectar, and I never have mold. But then again, I never let it sit for longer than five days in cool weather and three in warm weather, whether they're drinking it or not.
I also boil up 1:1 sugar-water concentrate (one cup white table sugar to one cup water) and store that in a jar in my fridge. When it's time to make up solution, I add one part concentrate to three parts filtered water. Much, much easier than mixing the 1 part sugar, 4 parts water solution every time. If I make several cups of concentrate, I've got nectar fixings for a long time. And I'm not taking up a bunch of room in my fridge with dilute solution. Been there, done that!
Hope this helps.