Search of the Week: “what can I feed hummingbirds to get them protein”

salvia-flowers

Sugar water is a substitute for the nectars of hummingbird-pollinated flowers, which provide the birds with energy-rich sugars, water, some electrolyte salts, and little else. Almost everything else their bodies need, including protein, comes from eating insects, spiders, and other small arthropods. (Salvia sp. in my garden, copyright S. L. Williamson)

Hummingbirds do need extra protein in their diets during the nesting and molting seasons. Here are some tips for helping them meet their protein needs:

  • Don’t use broad-spectrum pesticides in your yard: Many common yard and garden pests, including aphids, whiteflies, and various annoying gnats and midges, are just the right size for hummingbirds to eat. Even if the birds don’t sicken and die from eating poisoned prey, spraying pesticides destroys an essential source of natural nutrition and makes your yard less attractive to them. Switch to targeted, low-risk remedies for specific pests, such as a hard spray of water under leaves for aphids and various forms of the natural pest pathogen “Bt” (Bacillus thuringiensis) for caterpillars and mosquitoes. Also, beware of purchasing hummingbird flowers from mainstream garden centers. Many of these plants have been unnecessarily treated with the same neonicotinoid pesticides that have been implicated in the terrifying declines of honeybees, native pollinators, and native insect-eating birds.
  • Cultivate a compost pile: Fruit flies are attracted to decaying vegetable matter, including fruit rinds and scraps. Garden experts often advise against adding fruit to compost piles/bins in part to discourage fruit flies, but these tiny insects provide excellent hummingbird food while aiding the composting process.
  • Grow your own fruit flies: There are lots of recipes on the Web. When a culture matures, just set the container in your garden and open it so the flies can escape.

The one thing you absolutely, positively should never, ever do is add protein supplements to your feeder solution. It’s unnatural, the solution will spoil much faster, and the birds will not like the taste. (Captive hummingbirds drink protein-rich liquid diets, but only because they have no choice. They’d much prefer flower nectar or sugar water for energy and water and a variety of insects and spiders for protein, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, etc.)

More on what to put (and not put) in your hummingbird feeder:

Feeder Solution Evolution, Part I: The Basics
Search of the Week: “is molasses ok to feed hummingbirds”
Feeding Hummingbirds: The dangers of red dye
Beet juice in hummingbird feeders: NO!
Search of the Week: “hummingbirds won’t eat instant nectar”
Search Roundup: Feeding hummingbirds
Keeping hummingbird feeders clean

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New post at my Web site

Wire-crested Thorntail, Ecuador

Wire-crested Thorntail, Ecuador

As work progresses on the revision of A Field Guide to Hummingbirds of North America, I’ll be using the News page at my Web site to post updates, previews, and other items of interest to users of the guide and other fans of hummingbirds. The first post is about providing nesting material for hummingbirds, one of many new and expanded topics covered in the second edition of the guide.

The Life, Birds, and Everything blog will remain here at wordpress.com, at least for the time being, so please enjoy the archives. Thanks for following along!

“Dawn swift” illuminates origins of swifts and hummingbirds

dawnswiftFrom the spectacular Green River Formation of Wyoming comes a tiny fossil that researchers have identified as a possible relative of both hummingbirds and swifts.

When Eocypselus rowei, whose genus name is Greek for “dawn swift,” died approximately 50 million years ago, it fell into shallow, oxygen-poor water and was covered with fine layers of mud that preserved minute details of its body and plumage. Except for its long wings, the fossil shows few hummingbird-like characteristics. Its stubby bill is more like those of swifts and suggests that, like them, it fed on flying insects. Though about the length of a Magnificent Hummingbird (12 cm, 4 3/4″), its short bill, proportionally larger skull, and longer wing and leg bones would have made it heavier. “Shadows” in the stone surrounding its bones are fossilized pigment structures that would likely have given it a glossy, possibly iridescent black color like many modern swifts.

Though hummingbird fossils have been found so far only in Europe, Eocypselus shows that possible distant hummingbird ancestors did occur in the Americas.

Read the full text of the article here:

Fossil evidence of wing shape in a stem relative of swifts and hummingbirds (Aves, Pan-Apodiformes)

Read more at:

ScienceDaily

AAAS Science Now

Science 2.0

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

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

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”

It doesn’t

Just a quick response to whoever is searching for information on whether the sugar water in feeders causes diabetes in hummingbirds. Sugar doesn’t cause diabetes in people, either, but most of us eat way more of it than big sluggish mammals should. This contributes to obesity, which is a significant risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes.

Related post:

Search of the Week: Why don’t hummingbirds get diabetes?