“Hummingbirds Trust Us!

Here they come again, our jewels of the sky! Tiny hummingbirds, the smallest of all birds, who migrate from their winter stay in Central America or the Caribbean are easily attracted to backyard feeders and gardens. Most bird enthusiasts agree they are a joy to watch, and these little buzzers become easy to love! They are called hummingbirds because they generate a humming sound when they beat their wings up to 80 flaps per second. They are also extremely fast flyers that shoot through the sky like a dart. They have been clocked at 34 mph while flying and 49 mph while diving. Ruby-Throated and Rufous hummingbirds, which are the types of HBs that frequent North Carolina, generally return to territories where they were born and raised and where food is not difficult to find. Most hummers are 3 to 5 inches in length and weigh less than .07 of an ounce. Flying in the rain is a big deal and can be dangerous when you consider the weight of rain drops relative to a light weight hummingbird. Collectively, rain drops may weigh 38% of the bird’s total body weight causing them to shift their bodies and tails horizontally, beat their wings even faster than normal and reduce their wings’ angle of motion when flying in heavy rain. Scientists have videoed hummingbirds shaking their heads like a dog to shed rain water while flying. Hummingbirds have the greatest mass-specific metabolic rate of any homeothermic animal. To conserve energy when food is scarce and during the night when they are not foraging, they can go into torpor a physical state similar to hibernation. Torpor slows their metabolic rate to 1/15th of its normal rate. This will prevent them from starving to death. If we humans choose, and many of us do, to take on the responsibility of providing supplemental nutrition and fuel for hummingbirds, we must be diligent about keeping their feeder clean and scrubbed free of bacteria or mold and ensure the nectar or sugar solution is replaced routinely, especially in warm weather because the solution has the tendency to spoil. When hummingbirds are enticed by feeders we provide, they trust us and will return time and time again to the opportunity of supplemental fuel you have provided. BUT dirty feeders and rancid nectar will kill hummingbirds. So, you see, there is a significant commitment of time, energy and attention to detail we must make to ensure “we are not loving them to death.” Hummingbirds will succumb to a fatal fungal infection when exposed to dirty feeders. If you have hummingbirds feeding on your deck, there’s a good chance the females have babies in a tiny cup of a nest somewhere close by. They can easily carry bacteria and fungus to their hatchlings if picked up from your feeder. Always inspect your feeder carefully for black mold or fungus and take them completely apart to check every nook and cranny where mold can hide. Wash the feeder parts thoroughly with bleach or a vinegar and water solution. Then rinse with clear, hot tap water. It is best not to use soap because soap leaves a residue. Lots of folks hang hummingbird feeders in the Spring, so it would be a good idea to pass the word to your neighbors to ensure they are paying attention to the cleanliness of their feeder as well. If you are providing artificial nectar, white granulated sugar and water is best in a solution of one-part sugar to four parts water. There is no need to add food coloring. It’s best to boil the mixture, then let it cool to room temperature before filling your feeder. Boiling the water helps prevent fermentation of the solution. Do not use organic or raw sugars which contain harmful iron. Brown sugar, agave syrup, molasses, artificial sweeteners and honey are also on the Do-Not-Use list as they are breeding grounds for microorganisms that cause rapid spoilage. A hummingbird has a very long, forked tongue equipped with tubes that engage in a pump action when nectar is reached. Nectar is a mixture of glucose, fructose and sucrose and is not the best source of nutrients required to live a healthy hummingbird life, so hummingbirds also eat many insects, including mosquitoes, fruit flies, gnats, aphids and spiders to meet their nutritional needs. Their flexible beak can bend 25 degrees, enabling them to catch insects with ease. On occasion, hummingbirds will hover within insect swarms to facilitate feeding. This method is called “hover-hawking.” Flowers provide a sweet liquid nectar too, but hummingbirds are very particular and will reject flowers that produce nectar that is less than 10 percent sugar and prefer those with a higher sugar content. They love their sweets! However, we do not want to exceed the one to four parts solution we provide them, because two much sugar can cause their internal organs to shut down. It appears that only the female is involved in building a nest and raising baby hummers. A tiny hummingbird nest is constructed in a crook of a tree with materials such as spider silk and lichen. This combination allows the nest to expand as the youngsters grow. Usually, only two white eggs are laid. Incubation occurs for 14 to 23 days and after hatching, momma hummingbird will conscientiously attend to the feeding needs and warmth required of the little ones. Two hatchlings is a low count for a bird, but the theory is because the female is on her own to care for her brood, two is all she can manage to feed and keep warm at one time. Lives are on the line out there, so we must do what we can to ensure Mom and those babies stay well and healthy. Hummingbirds trust that the nectar we provide them is good stuff! These little summer sparklers thank us daily for our gifts of fuel and care with their beauty, charm, remarkable aerial displays and quirky antics. Let’s not let them down! Keep those hummingbird feeders clean!

Best Always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them ALL”

“The Tiniest Need Our Help!!”

Blog_CSMag_BabyBirds_The incubators are filling up at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter (OWLS) in Newport, NC because the tiniest need our help! Baby birds aren’t the cutest little critters to come through the doors of the shelter, but they are the most fragile and definitely will not make it on their own if abandoned or displaced. If they are newborns, we might not be able to make the call on what they are until they develop a little more because many baby birds start life looking quite similar and the smaller the bird species the more similar they look at birth; a skin blob of a body with no feathers, a limp neck trying to hold up a tiny head with a beak that shoots straight up to let Mom or Dad know when it’s hungry. When we admit newborn birds, we might even refer to them as UBBs (unidentified baby birds) until we hear a sound we recognize, the shape and coloring of their beak becomes more pronounced or they start to feather. Then we will know for sure!Blog_CSMag_BabyBird_
Larger song bird babies are easier to identify. When the nursery is full of baby birds, it becomes a full time job for baby bird feeders because these little creatures eat every 30 minutes because their metabolism is so fast and they develop much more quickly than mammals do. Also keep in mind, their meals don’t stop, this is seven days a week! Most people outside the shelter probably do not have the time to devote to this strict feeding schedule. If you add “day olds” or newborns to the mix, the feeding schedule for them is adjusted to every 15 minutes! We also need three shifts (morning, afternoon and evening until the sun goes down) to get the job done because that’s the way their parents would do it! There is no down time for the nursery workers. By the time you finish one round of feeding, it’s time to start all over again. Along with feeding, of course, is cleaning, because just like human babies, baby birds spend all their time eating, sleeping and pooping. Mom and Dad would be cleaning their nest area continually, so wildlife rehabilitators will do that as well. Recently, a nest of five House Finches were displaced when their nest gourd fell apart and the babies found themselves on the ground, four infant Carolina Wrens were discovered in a propane tank, a featherless baby Grackle was found sitting in the road (how that happened is anybody’s guess) and two Nuthatch babies were sighted inside a screen door with no Mom around. When you don’t see how it happened, it’s all speculation and pure wonderment on our part. There will be more baby bird calls and more to join the nursery this summer. Blog_CSMag_I7Z1049__Of course, when someone calls the shelter to tell us they have found baby birds on the ground or their nest is in a dangerous or precarious location, we initially give instructions on how to re-nest the little ones because that would be best for the whole bird family, but when that is impossible, we ask them to bring the youngins in for the care and safety they will need to survive. Wildlife rehabilitators are so important in the equation of raising and giving songbirds the second chance that they definitely deserve because, quite frankly, it’s usually human interference that displaces the little ones and causes a perilous situation for birds that are so important to our ecosystem, and as we are all aware, songbird numbers are on the decline. Blog_BabyBirds In NestWildlife rehabilitators are well trained and licensed, so they possess the “know-how” to provide appropriate species specific diets and habitat, as well as, anticipate and monitor species unique behaviors that when evaluated will let us know when bird youngsters are ready to spend the time needed in an outside enclosure to perfect perching, flight and eating on their own, which is one step away from a wild release. The Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter raises them all! We are not bias on which species to accept. Need is the key word!!! So, in our nursery in any given Spring, we house the tiniest of our feathered friends from Hummingbirds (although rare) to Finches, Wrens, Nuthatches, Titmouse, Warblers and Sparrows and the larger songbirds (who are usually the easier babies to raise because one: they are bigger and two: aren’t as ‘flitty.’) Larger nursery birds would include Eastern Blue Birds, Northern Mockingbirds, Robins, Blue Jays, Brown Thrashers, Cardinals, Gray Cat Birds, Starlings, Grackles, Boat Tailed Grackles, Chimney Swifts, Purple Martins, Fly Catchers, Barn Swallows, Red-Winged Blackbirds and the biggest nursery babies; a variety of Wood Peckers or Flickers, Mourning Doves and Pigeons. They are all so different, and they all have special needs!Blog_CSMag_I7Z1054__ Some are bugs and worm eaters (and we go through thousands of meal worms per week!), while others prefer seeds and berries, then again, some are omnivores and will include all the choices in their diet, but yes, we proudly raise them all!

Please enjoy your Memorial Day and always remember the reason this day has been set aside to be honored by those of us who owe so much to sacrifices made by others.

Best Always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

Happy Hummer!

BlogSep2014_LP1A9605XI hope everyone has been enjoying the increased number of Hummingbirds visiting our coastal region this season. The wild Hummingbirds at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport can’t get enough of the sweet nectar substitute we provide them in our extra wide, bottom feeder that we replenish constantly to accommodate their demands and keep them happy! We love their presence and are used to them buzzing around us at 30 miles per hour while we clean kennel cabs and hose out soaking pools on the deck, but with the welcomed co-habitation comes a duty on our part to keep the hummingbird feeder clean. Many people don’t think about that as they generously supplement a wild bird’s diet with feeders stationed at homes or businesses, but neglecting maintenance could unintentionally and unknowingly put the lives of the birds we love to watch so much in danger. Hanging a hummingbird feeder means assuming a certain amount of responsibility for the well-being of a fragile and trusting animal who weighs less than a nickel. If you are not prepared to follow a rigorous maintenance routine to rid the feeder of life threatening bacteria or mold, you should consider planting a hummingbird garden instead. BlogSep2014_LP1A9413XClean your feeder thoroughly at least once a month or as necessary. If the sugar solution in your feeder turns cloudy, it’s spoiled and needs to be replaced. This can happen in as little as two days depending upon hot and humid weather. It’s best not to use soap as soap residue is hard to remove, and hummingbirds don’t like the taste of soap. Who does? Use a solution of 1/4 cup bleach to one gallon of water. Soak the feeder in this solution for about an hour, then clean with a scrub or bottle brush. Rinse well with hot running water and refill with store bought hummingbird nectar or a 4 parts tap or well water to 1 part sugar solution is just as good, if not better. All they really need from our feeders is the quick energy they get from ordinary white cane sugar. It’s fuel for chasing the bugs that make up a huge portion of their natural diet, and the sugar causes no known health problems in hummingbirds, as long as the sugar does not exceed the 1 to 4 parts ratio. It’s tough on their liver if you bump up the sugar.  BlogSep2014X__LT_1141USEIf you are concerned about any remaining traces of bleach after cleaning, it will be neutralized by reacting with the fresh syrup. There’s also no need to air dry the feeder before refilling. Although bleach is a very effective disinfectant, you can use white vinegar if you don’t like bleach. Some people have chosen to bolster their homemade nectar with additives such as honey, Jell-O, brown sugar, fruit or red food coloring. They DO NOT need any of that, so DO NOT do that! Honey ferments rapidly when diluted with water and can kill hummingbirds. The effects of food coloring have not been scientifically tested, but there are reports, although unverified, that red dye can cause tumors in hummingbirds, so why take the chance? Besides, it’s not necessary to color the water to attract birds to your feeder. Hummingbirds will feed 5–10 times per hour for 30-60 seconds during daylight hours. There is also the debate as to whether to provide a feeder with or without a perch. Hummingbirds always live on the edge of their energy limits, so why not provide a feeder with a circular perch to save calories. Hovering is more tiring and uses way more calories, so that tiny bar to rest on will be appreciated. It’s interesting to note that the flight muscles of a hummingbird make up 25% of their total weight compared to only 5% pectoral weight in humans. Also, although their heart is only 2.5% of their total body weight, that happy wee heart beats about 250 times per minute at rest and 1,220 per minute while flying. Some attitudinal hummingbirds don’t like to share their feeder with other hummingbirds and will furiously run them off, demanding a “take your turn when I’m not around” process of feeding. Hummingbirds also don’t enjoy the presence of ants, bees or wasps, which are other opportunistic feeders, another reason to check your feeder often. Bees or wasps will crawl inside and be unable to get back out, die and decompose in the liquid. That process will turn the sugar solution rancid and unappealing to the hummers. To keep bees and wasps away, choose hummingbird feeders that are not decorated with yellow flowers, plastic or painted on. It has been tested and proven that these insects are attracted to the color yellow and bees, especially, will communicate with each other about the discovery of nectar sources. If you wake up each day noticing your hummingbird feeder is bone dry, even though you know you just filled it the day before, you may be experiencing nocturnal visitors such as raccoons or bats who love the sweet stuff too. If you bring your feeder in at night, just remember hummingbirds start feeding about 45 minutes before sunrise, and they will need a boost of energy after a long cool night. It won’t be long before most of our hummingbirds will be on their way to winter in Central America or on a Caribbean island, however, some will remain with us and challenge our mild winter. Mammals develop a thicker coat for winter, but these tiny, tropical birds will depend upon a hibernation-like state known as torpor during cold spells to conserve energy, so we need to keep our little forward, downward, upward and even, upside-down flyers happy and healthy by timely attending to their feeder no matter what time of year. Those who do migrate will return to our area March through May, so keep an eye out, get those feeders ready and continue to maintain them throughout their stay. A hummingbird’s life span, if they make it past the first uncertain year, is five to ten years, so your returnees may have been part of your wildlife family for years and look forward to meeting up with you again! BlogSep2014_7Z2048XX_edited-1Hummingbirds are a joy to most people and with your choice to provide them a few supplemental calories, they will choose your yard to guard against unwanted insects. Happy for us and Happy for them!!!



author of

Save Them All

Linda Bergman-Althouse


“Hummin’ South”

Temperatures are cooling along the coast and that corresponds with the end of blooming season for food plants, so some of the tiniest among us have made a very big decision about whether to stay and tough out our modestly, mild winter or pack it in and head south. My hummingbird feeder has hung without visits since mid-September in Jacksonville. North Carolina’s Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds usually begin migrating south in late summer. Guess it’s time to take the feeder down, clean it up and put it away until next Spring now that all the northern hummers have passed through on their way to winter in Central America or on a Caribbean island. However, the feeder at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, North Carolina still has to be replenished often because it remains visited and will be throughout the winter. Even though ruby-throats, the only hummingbirds that breed in the eastern United States during the summer, aren’t well adapted to cold temperatures especially below the mid-20’sF, some choose to stay. It’s amazing that a distance of only thirty-five miles from my house can make such a difference, but they, usually males, have been toughing it out at our shelter for years now. Why? They’re not talking, so we can only guess they don’t want to give up their territory. These little birds are definitely not wimps! Unlike mammals, that “fur up” for winter, these tiny, tropical birds do not grow extra feathering for warmth. However, hummingbirds are capable of entering a hibernation-like state known as torpor during cold spells to conserve energy.
Our shelter sees very few of these wee birds, but when they make it in for treatment, it’s usually something quite serious such as a broken wing or a displaced baby, orphaned by high winds or predator disruption of the nest in which the female is the only guardian because hummingbirds do not mate for life. Every once in a blue moon, we’ll receive a minor injury, such as a sprained wing or a “stunning” which occurs when a hummer has accidently smacked into a window or patio door. The latter injuries are what we hope for at OWLS when a hummingbird is admitted. Then, much needed quiet, recovery time and a healthy diet sprinkled with a wildlife rehabilitator’s TLC is all that’s required before they will soon be zooming their favorite backyard again.

Ruby-throats are quite inquisitive and easily attracted to feeders. Males, who sport the bright red ornamented throat, in particular are typically, territorially aggressive toward rival hummers who want to chow down at “their” feeder, as well as, other birds like the Common House Finch, and even insects such as bees, butterflies and moths. They often spend much of the day perched nearby, guarding their food source against perceived intruders and dutifully running off any encroachers. Hummers quickly become accustomed to people and will feed at flowers while you are gardening or swoop down to investigate red articles of clothing, possibly as potential food sources. Feeders hung at windows attract as many visitors as ones farther from structures. Hummingbird watchers, including those of us at the shelter, find “Hummer Wars” very entertaining, although the chases are obviously serious business to the hungry birds. For a short period immediately after fledging, a female hummingbird encourages and tolerates the presence of her own young at the feeder, but they are soon treated the same as any other adult bird; a rival in pursuit of food necessary to prepare for fall migration.
Everything about a hummingbird is fast. Wing beats are anywhere from forty to eighty beats per second depending upon what they are doing. Flight speed is normally thirty mph, but they shift to fifty mph to escape and have been clocked at 63 mph in a dive. Respiration is 250 breaths per minute. Their resting heart rate measures 250 also and accelerates to 1200 beats per minute while feeding. They are the race horses of birds, but extremely more agile. They fly forward, backward, downward, upward and even upside-down!
They will return to our area March through May, so keep an eye out and get those feeders ready. Their life span, if they make it past the first uncertain year, is five to ten years, so your returnees may have been part of your wildlife family for years! White granulated sugar is the best sweetener to use in hummingbird feeders with a ratio of one part sugar to four parts water. Hummingbirds like very sweet nectar, so anything less than twenty percent will probably be snubbed, and they will move in with your sweeter neighbor. Most feeders have some red decorative element on them somewhere, so there is no need to add red food coloring to the nectar you have prepared. Insects are also a big part of their diet. The presence of hummingbirds is a win-win situation. For just a little payment of sugar water, they will wreck havoc on your pesky, flying bug population, and that’s what the buzz is all about! Until next Spring, I Hope they’re having fun in the tropics.

Linda Bergman-Althouse
Wildlife Rehabilitator
Author of “Save Them All”