When the going gets chilly, the chill get crafty

hand-crocheted humingbird feeder cozy

My hand-crocheted hummingbird feeder cozy

After posting a bunch of second-hand/theoretical advice for keeping hummingbird feeders from freezing, I found myself and my clientele (several Anna’s and a Violet-crowned or two) facing a forecast low of 13º F. (-10º C.). My northern friends will smirk (and rightly so), but this is southern Arizona for peeps‘ sake.

Since temperatures this low are such a rare event here, insulating the feeder seemed like the most sensible (and cheapest) approach. Besides, my crochet hooks had been collecting dust since last fall, and this was a good excuse to get back to hooking. So to speak.

After a quick stop to shop for appropriately colored yarn and about two hours of hooking, unraveling, and rehooking, I had a crocheted feeder cozy for an 8-oz. Nature’s Best (my all-time favorite bottle feeder that’s no longer available, sadly).

Before calling it a night, I filled a clean feeder with hot 3:1 solution, slipped on the cozy, and stumbled across the starlit yard to hang it in one of the more popular spots. Another Nature’s Best that had been out all day had frozen beyond the Squishee stage already, with a band of syrup trapped between solid layers of ice.

When I finally got around to checking the feeder this morning (about an hour and a half after sunrise), there was no ice in the bottle at all, but swirls of denser syrup indicated that at least some of the solution had frozen. Interestingly, the HummZinger Mini hanging in front of the poorly insulated living room window showed no signs of having frozen, despite containing a smaller volume of solution with larger surface area and getting very little morning sun to warm it up (it’s on the north side of the house).

I was a little worried about how the hummingbirds would respond to the weird appearance of their feeder. The female Violet-crowned Hummingbird didn’t seem the least bit put off by the bright red “sweater,” but then she didn’t have to wear it.

Related posts:

Keeping hummingbird feeders from freezing

Helping hummingbirds through winter weather

Gotta love those disquisitive, aberrant hummingbirds

Another gem of mangled translation turned up by Google Alerts:

One of the disquisitive,ugg australia fascinating birds not hidden are hummingbirds, and for that, a bird house definitely designed to their species is a expert way to attract that limited, aberrant creature to one’s yard.

Keeping hummingbird feeders from freezing

Two winters ago I posted some suggestions for helping hummingbirds through winter weather, including boosting the sugar content of the feeder solution, taking advantage of heat radiating from windows, creating shelters, and using heat lamps. A lot of people are dealing with frozen feeders already this season, so here are a few more suggestions gleaned from the winter hummingbird community:

  • Make a “feeder cozy” to help fresh solution retain its warmth longer. It can be as fancy as you like—knitted, crocheted, quilted, down-filled—but pipe insulation (fiberglass wrap or foam tube) or a section cut from a discarded blanket or sweater will do the job. If it’s roomy enough, you may even be able to tuck handwarmer packs inside. [A commenter on BirdForum mentioned using stockings; if your feeder bottle is small enough, a heavy wool sock would make a quick and easy cozy.]
  • Wrap your feeder in outdoor-rated incandescent Christmas lights (the old style, not energy-efficient LEDs). The bulbs should produce enough heat to keep the sugar water slightly above air temperature, especially if you add an outer layer of aluminum foil to reflect heat and block wind.
  • Wrap your feeder in pipe heating tape under a layer of insulation. Thermostatically controlled models will save energy by turning on as necessary to keep the solution just above freezing.
  • Invert your sugars. The freezing point of a solution depends on the number of molecules present. More solute (sugar) molecules make it harder for the solvent (water) molecules to link up. Inverting your sugar, which breaks each sucrose molecule into one of fructose and one of glucose, doubles the number of molecules and depresses the freezing point by a few additional degrees without adding additional sugar.

To invert ordinary table sugar, combine 2 cups sugar with 1 cup water, adding 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice or 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar to speed up the reaction. Heat the solution to a low boil on the stovetop in a heavy saucepan, washing down the sides of the pan with a little additional water to dissolve any stray sugar crystals. Use a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature, which will rise above the boiling point of water as the water in it boils away. Once it reaches 230° F., remove the pan from the heat and allow the syrup to cool, then pour it into a clean jar, pop on the lid, and store in the refrigerator. Substitute invert syrup for no more than half of the sugar in your feeder solution and reduce the water slightly (by about 2 tablespoons per cup) to compensate for the water in the syrup.

Safety first! Lights and heating tape present fire and electrocution hazards. Use only products that are rated for outdoor use, including extension cords. Do not use electric heating pads outdoors! Don’t enclose Christmas lights inside a cozy or place a cozy-covered feeder too close to a heat lamp—it could start a fire. Heat lamps or Christmas lights may melt the flimsy plastic of discount-store feeders.

Useful links:

Feeding hummingbirds in winter in Indiana

Hummingbird feeder heater using Christmas lights

More on making and using invert sugar from Not So Humble Pie

Related posts:

Helping hummingbirds through winter weather

When the going gets chilly, the chilly get crafty

“Out the Window” preview: March/April 2011

Here’s a teaser from my “Out the Window” column in the March/April 2011 issue of WildBird magazine:

Cactus Wren. Say’s Phoebe. Cassin’s Kingbird. Western Tanager. Killdeer. Curve-billed Thrasher. American Kestrel. Bullock’s Oriole.

Dawn was barely breaking, and it sounded like someone was playing A Field Guide to Western Bird Songs at top volume outside our bedroom window.

Ordinarily I enjoy birding by ear, but after working on a project into the wee hours of the morning I needed a little more face time with my pillow. Rolling over, I pulled back the curtain and squinted up at the slim form silhouetted atop the mesquite tree…

Not a WildBird subscriber yet? This link to Amazon.com will get you six colorful, information-packed issues (a full year), and your purchase will also benefit the conservation and education programs of the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory. Single copies of Wildbird are also available at newsstands and bookstores.

You’ll find WildBird and other birding magazines plus field guides, feeders and accessories, seeds for hummingbird-friendly plants, and more at SABO’s online shop, The Trogon’s Nest, powered by Amazon.com.

“Out the Window” preview

Here’s a teaser from my “Out the Window” column in the January/February 2011 issue of WildBird magazine:

Hi, my name is Sheri, and I’m a sparrow-phobic. I used to get queasy at the mere thought of identifying those “little brown jobs.” For the first three decades of my birding career, the sparrow section of my life list would have been almost blank if not for towhees, juncos, and the “skunkheads” (White-crowned and White-throated).

I was finally forced to admit that I had a problem when I moved from the relatively sparrow-free Huachuca Mountains to the sparrow-infested desert…

Not a WildBird subscriber yet? This link to Amazon.com will get you six colorful, information-packed issues (a full year), and your purchase will also benefit the conservation and education programs of the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory. Single copies of Wildbird are also available at newsstands and bookstores.

You’ll find WildBird and other birding magazines plus field guides, feeders and accessories, seeds for hummingbird-friendly plants, and more at SABO’s online shop, The Trogon’s Nest, powered by Amazon.com.

I hate Bank of America

Apologies for digging this deep into the “everything” category, but I need to vent.

I’ve been wrangling with Bank of America since Saturday over a screw-up in their system that caused my checking account to be overdrawn. I had set up my checking account to pay my credit card bill automatically, with e-mail alerts telling me 1) when these payments had been scheduled and 2) when they were posted. Money has been tight and cash flow erratic, so I tried to cancel the automatic payments to pay manually as finances permit. Turns out I only canceled the auto-payment for October.

Saturday at 1:26 PM an e-mail arrived that said an automatic payment had been posted the day before. meaning that it was too late to cancel the payment. Knowing that this had overdrawn my account, I immediately logged into online banking to transfer money from another account to cover it. The system wouldn’t let me, something about maintenance. After several tries and failures, I started calling customer service numbers. After 20+ minutes, I finally selected a random menu item that seemed most likely to get me a real human being.

The rep that answered couldn’t help me because of the system maintenance issue, but he said that final processing of automatic payments doesn’t take place until the end of the day. If I made a transfer into the account the same day as the payment was deducted from it, I should be able to avoid the overdraft charge. That’s a problem, I explained, because the transaction was yesterday, but I didn’t receive the alert until today. And I never did receive the payment-scheduled alert or I could have taken care of it days ago. The alerts go out the same day as the transaction, he said, so I should contact my ISP about why my messages are coming through late. Oh, it’s my ISP’s fault? Really?? That’s not what the message headers say.

I returned to the Web site to register a complaint, triggering a pop-up window inviting me to chat with a support representative. I cut and pasted the rant I had just written into the chat window. The rep, who might actually have been a real person and not software, told me that the system would be down for another hour and a half but that I should be able to log in after that. He couldn’t help me otherwise, so he provided a direct number to another support department. I was so mad by then I decided to deal with it on Monday and not ruin the rest of the weekend (but I did log on later and successfully made the transfer).

My memory was jogged this afternoon by an e-mail alert that my account was overdrawn (approximately 46 hours after the transfer that brought it back into the black), so I called the support number provided by the chat rep. The first rep I talked to was not very helpful. She did assure me that the automatic bill pay had been canceled, but things got a bit heated when she kept insisting that e-mail alerts were available only if I made payments through e-Bills, not Bill Pay. Total BS, since I had been receiving alerts from Bill Pay for almost two years. She also contradicted Saturday’s rep, saying that alerts go out within one to three business days of the transaction. Business days?? “Computers don’t take weekends off,” I snarled. “But the bank does,” she insisted, as though the absence of humans from a building would affect an automated process.

With no suggestions for how I could avoid penalties if the Bank of America computer system doesn’t send alerts in a timely fashion, she transferred me to another rep. After a long conversation that included me restating my problem, telling her repeatedly that a $.99 online debit card transaction on a different account was not the issue, and ranting about how her employer was screwing its customers at every possible opportunity (“I’m yelling, but I’m not angry at you“), she finally gave up and said she would refund the overdraft charge, because that seemed to be the issue I was most upset about. It hadn’t been a stroll in the park up to that point, but that remark really got to me.

Yeah, I said, thirty-five bucks is a lot of money to me right now, but I’d still be pissed on principle. What I was angriest about was being exploited at every turn by a soulless financial giant that my tax dollars had bailed out. All the stress and inconvenience dealing with this issue cost me far more than $35, so it really was the principle of the thing. By the time I hung up the phone, I was a wreck.

This incident followed repeated mailings from Bank of America threatening to “escalate” on our second mortgage, even after my husband made a payment by phone and received assurances from a rep that our account was current. He paid a visit to the local branch this afternoon to make sure that BoA wasn’t about to illegitimately foreclose on our home (as happened to Angela Iannelli—the bastards even took her parrot) and let the staff there know that we would be taking our business elsewhere. No reflection on them—they’ve always treated us very well.

There aren’t a lot of banking options in our little town if you want a local branch, but with online banking and ubiquitous ATMs that’s not as much of a problem as it used to be. If our new bank will take over our loans and transfer balances to new credit cards, we might never have to give the greedy bastards at Bank of America another penny. And that would make me very, very happy.

SourceWatch: Bank of America

Consumerist: Bank of America

Anarkhos: Bank of America Sucks

Bank of America Sucks

At least BoA has paid back its $45 billion bailout.

Search of the Week: “care for feral cats”

Two simple steps:

  1. Trap them. Animal control agencies often have cat-sized traps to loan. Canned cat food and sardines make good baits where you’re not likely to catch a skunk or other wild animal; otherwise, try catnip.
  2. Take them to the nearest shelter that will rehome or permanently house them, or euthanize them if all else fails.

Alternatively, have them neutered and vaccinated and confine them to your own property in a predator- and escape-proof enclosure.

Do not leave them out on their own. Cats are domestic animals, and prolonging their homelessness to the detriment of your neighbors, other pets, and wildlife is almost as irresponsible as abandoning them in the first place.

Fawn-breasted Brilliants in combat

Here’s an interesting observation of an unusually prolonged battle between two large tropical hummingbirds, posted by Dennis Arendt, Lelis Navarete, Kit Larsen, Roger Robb, and Leon Esthleman to NEOORN-L, a listserv for ornithologists working in the Neotropics, and cross-posted to HUMNET (reformatted for ease of reading):

A male Fawn-breasted Brilliant photographed on my December 2009 trip to Ecuador

A male Fawn-breasted Brilliant photographed on my December 2009 trip to Ecuador

On 5 October, 2010, at the hummingbird feeding station at Cabañas San Isidro east of Quito, Ecuador, two male Fawn-breasted Brilliants fell to the ground together. They appeared to have their feet intertwined and their bills were jabbing each other. It was 15:31 and a light rain had begun.

They stayed quiet in the wet grass with one bird on top of the other. Both birds had their wings extended fully. The bird on top had its long bill stuck into the neck feathers of the bird underneath. The bird dominating the other would move its bill from the neck to the wing, probing and sometimes grabbing feathers.

After about ten minutes, the bird underneath would fight to release himself from the bird above. They flopped sideways and moved a few centimeters, but the dominating bird stayed on top. They would stay quietly in the grass for several minutes, then the struggle would be repeated with the same results.

The rain grew heavy and this struggle continued for one hour and forty minutes. At 17:11 the dominating bird flew up to a sugar water feeder and sat on top, not on the perch, and drank for half a minute. Then it flew away.

The other hummingbird was picked up from the wet grass. It was thoroughly wet, but alive, and showed no indications that its flesh had been pierced by the other bird’s bill. The defeated bird would surely have died without help. It was taken back to the kitchen at Cabañas San Isidro where it was warmed and fed sugar water. It too flew off after about fifteen minutes.

Emphasis added to highlight additional evidence of the inadequacy of a hummingbird’s bill as a weapon. Poking? Yes. Grabbing? That too. Piercing? Not so much.

Related posts on this topic:

Killer hummingbirds?
Search of the Week: “hummingbird attack eyes”