Roxann Hayes was outside her Castle Rock home a few Saturdays ago when she first heard the sound that symbolizes spring’s arrival in Colorado: the distinct trill of a broad-tailed hummingbird, back from its journey south for the winter.
She put up a feeder in her backyard and awoke the next morning to see a familiar tiny bird taking a much-needed drink of sugar water.
“It’s always neat to see them,” said Hayes, an engineering professor at the University of Colorado Denver. “For me, it’s springtime — hope and renewal. I just like to see them and know that they’re surviving and that I can provide them with something right now.”
Here’s a bit of good news amid all the doom and gloom: Hummingbirds are back on the Front Range and you can easily watch them zoom around in your backyard, all while respecting stay-at-home orders to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
Since many of us are spending more time at home than usual, there’s never been a better time to start birdwatching.
“We have wildlife right in our own backyards,” said Sue Cass, a volunteer naturalist with Boulder County Parks and Open Space and the president of the Boulder County Nature Association. “When we’re confined the way we are, the one thing we can still access is nature in our backyards. If you put out a feeder, you’re going to attract birds. That’s something I have always done and encourage people to do for their own sanity and well-being.”
Like many birds, hummingbirds travel thousands of miles to warmer climates during the winter months. In the spring, they return to Colorado (and other states in the West and Southwest) for breeding.
Hummingbirds typically begin arriving on the Front Range around April 15, though this year they were first spotted a little earlier.
Males typically arrive first to establish their breeding territory, Cass said. Females are responsible for locating a nest site, building a nest, incubating the eggs and protecting the young until they’re fledged, she said.
Now that you know they’re here, you’re likely to spot broad-tailed hummingbirds, as they’re the most common species along the Front Range. Males have glistening, reddish-pink feathers covering their throats and iridescent green feathers along their backs, while females tend to have duller colors (but are still equally as fun to watch).
Three other species — black-chinned, rufous and calliope — also spend some time in Colorado, but they’re typically just passing through during migration.
One of the best ways to attract hummingbirds to your yard, aside from planting hummingbird-friendly flowers, is to put up a feeder and fill it with sugar water.
To make this faux nectar, combine four parts water with one part sugar, mixing until the sugar is completely dissolved. Though you’ve probably spotted bright red hummingbird food at the store, there’s really no reason for you to add red food coloring to your solution. It’s not necessary and, in fact, may actually be harmful to the birds.
Feeders come in varying shapes and sizes, but they’re typically made of glass or plastic with red accents. They’re designed to hang from tree limbs, gardening poles or any other object in your yard that will help suspend them in air. You can find them online or at any home improvement store (I’ve also had good luck finding them at thrift shops).
If you’re following social distancing guidelines and avoiding retail stores except when absolutely necessary (as you should), you can also try making your own hummingbird feeder with items found around the house.
There are dozens of online tutorials that show how to make DIY hummingbird feeders using recycled bottles, Tupperware containers, baby food jars and more. (Or, see below for a simple method.)
You’ll want to dump any remaining sugar water and thoroughly wash your hummingbird feeder every few days to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and mold. This is especially important when temperatures start to spike during the summer months.
“Depending on how hot it is, it could be almost every day,” said Karl Brummert, executive director of Denver Audubon. “You don’t want the birds to get sick.”
Since hummingbirds are attracted to the color red, it can also help to strategically place red objects around your yard or along your fence line — fake flowers, lawn furniture, a piece of fabric.
You’ll often hear a hummingbird before you see it. Hummingbirds have a distinctive call, and even their wings make an audible buzzing noise.
And don’t be surprised if you see a hummingbird bullying others around and chasing them off. That’s most likely a male, defending his territory (which includes your feeder).
Hummingbirds typically aren’t shy, so you’ll likely be able to see and hear them with just your eyes and ears. But a pair of binoculars can also be helpful for taking a closer look at these tiny creatures.
“If you watch really closely, you might actually be able to see their really long tongue at the feeder,” Brummert said.
How to make a hummingbird feeder
- An easy method involves an empty water bottle (or, if you’re feeling really fancy, a wine bottle) and a plastic food storage container with a lid, preferably red. A square container that’s about two inches tall should do the trick.
- Start by cutting a hole in the center of the plastic container’s lid that’s just wide enough to accommodate the neck of your bottle; also drill or cut several smaller holes around the top of the lid (these are where the hummingbird will stick his beak to get a drink).
- Next, cut or drill a hole in the center of the bottle cap. With the cap off, fill the bottle with your homemade sugar-water solution. Turn the plastic container lid upside down and place the hole down onto the neck of the bottle. Screw the bottle cap on, with the lid sandwiched in place.
- Turn the plastic container upside down and affix it to its lid, taking care to fully snap the lid and container together. Flip the whole thing over and you’ve got a hummingbird feeder.
- If you’re using a sturdy plastic food storage container with a snug-fitting lid, you can use a piece of wire or string to hang the feeder from something in your yard. If the plastic container is flimsy, it’s best to set the feeder on the ledge of your deck or some other place that’s off the ground.
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