On Loving Hummingbirds and Feeding Them Safely

We don’t have our feeders out yet. I’m running behind, but yesterday, my youngest son called, “Mama, come here! Fast!” To my delight, a hummingbird was drinking nectar from one of the flowers on the shrub in our front yard by the window. That stocky little ruby-throated bird brought joy to my heart.

hummingbird
Public domain photo, Pixabay

To me, the hummingbirds bring hope back to Maine. I love winter until about the end of February, and then, I’ve just about had enough. By the end of March, I’m getting pretty anxious for spring, but, of course, it’s often well into May before it arrives.

Sometimes, like this year, it can be a little hard to tell when spring has finally made its way to Maine. It’s been a bit dreary, a bit chilly, and a bit rainy. I should mention that, like many here in Maine, I also struggle with vitamin D deficiencies.

But, yesterday, I saw my hope that things are about to get better, my hope that, soon, we’ll be in the middle of one of the most beautiful times of year here in Maine—summer.

Every summer for the last few years, I’ve been feeding our hummingbirds with a couple of feeders, and every summer, I do a little more research and learn a few more things about these amazing birds who visit us each summer and how to provide safe nectar for them.

  • Hummingbirds eat bugs. They don’t live in the nectar alone, so you don’t need to purchase those packets for hummingbird nutrition to add to your nectar. I made that mistake after reading on the package about how hummingbirds do not get complete nutrition from sugar water. That made sense to me. I mean, who can live on sugar water? Turn outs, hummingbirds don’t. They eat bugs. They get their nutrition there, and the nectar just keeps those busy little bodies going. Hummingbirds eat everything from weevils to flies, gnats, and mosquitos. They’re pretty awesome like that.
  • Although there’s some debate about this and the hummingbird feeder companies say the red dye is fine, most experts agree that you should not put food coloring in the nectar. Although the chemical dye is supposedly safe for humans, no testing that I can find has been done on hummingbirds, and scientists say to assume something that’s safe for us is also safe for hummingbirds is a mistake. And, since the feeders have color on them, the birds will be attracted to your feeder anyway. I’ve never used food coloring in my nectar and have always had hummingbirds move in for the summer.
  • Keep your feeders clean, and this may mean you need to purchase a feeder that really comes apart and can be cleaned easily. The mold that will grow in and around your feeder (that icky black stuff) is not good for the birds. You’ll want to keep those feeders clean, and since most of them say they can’t be placed in the dishwasher, you need to be able to take that feeder apart and scrub it with water and vinegar.
  • All you need to do to make your own nectar is boil water and add sugar. The ratio for the syrup is 4 to 1, so 4 cups of water for 1 cup of sugar. Mix while the water is hot, let it cool, and you’ve got hummingbird nectar ready for those little birds to enjoy.

If you haven’t seen a hummingbird yet, you can track them to see if they are in your area by using this site that tracks sightings of ruby-throated hummingbirds. We use it every year, and I love seeing the path the birds take.

And, if you haven’t yet decided whether or not you want to do the necessary work to provide a clean, safe feeder for the hummingbirds, just check out this video I took from our deck a couple of years ago. It was near the end of summer, and the male hummingbird was about to leave. Those birds put on a show that brought tears to my eyes and touched my heart with the beauty of it. I hope you enjoy.

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On Dandelions: They’re Good for You, Me, and the Bees

When I was growing up, I was taught that dandelions were dreadful “weeds.” I remember picking the beautiful yellow flowers only to learn from adults that they were “just weeds,” and I remember getting into some trouble for blowing on the dandelion seeds because I was spreading them in the yard, which was definitely frowned upon. I remember learning to spray chemicals on the dandelions as a child, and this was something that I carried into my adult life—and then I learned better.

I don’t know when Americans started to hate the dandelion, but according to my research, it was sometime in the 20th century with the invention of lawns. Apparently, someone wrote a book about the “perfect” lawn and identified dandelions as the enemy.

However, dandelions have a long history of being important to human culture, and we definitely need to let go of those notions of the “perfect” lawn. I just can’t see that those notions do anyone any good—not us and certainly not Nature.

My own epiphany about the usefulness of the dandelions came one day when I was making a salad from a giant container of mixed greens I had purchased at the grocery store. I look at the greens and realized there were dandelion leaves in the mix. I checked the ingredients list and found out that, indeed, I had just paid money for leaves that I could easily go get from my back yard.

Then, I learned that bees need the dandelions. They are the bees’ first food, and goodness knows the bees need every little bit of help we can give them. It’s a wonder of the world to me that humans can be so short sighted, and our history with bees is a prime example of this. However, that’s another story for another day.

dandelion
Photo credit: Stefan Steinbaur, Unsplash

So instead of working against Nature, let’s embrace it and embrace those little yellow flowers. There are many helpful uses for dandelions, so let’s try one of these options instead.

1. Leave the flowers for the bees and make or get your kiddos to help make a “Bees are welcome here” sign. After all, we really need those bees to be happy because what’s good for the bees is good for us in the long term. Then, you can just let the dandelions do their work of loosening the soil and fertilizing your lawn. It turns out that dandelions are actually good for your lawns.

2. Pick the dandelion leaves for your salad. This is the simplest use I can think of. Instead paying for those dandelion leaves, make a salad from your backyard instead. It turns out that dandelions are healthier than many of the veggies we grow in our garden. According to this article from the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, dandelions have more Vitamin A than spinach and more Vitamin C than tomatoes.

3. Make dandelion tea. Apparently, you can make tea from the roots or the flowers, but I found this flower recipe that looks really yummy. Just be sure to read this short piece on the health benefits and risks of drinking dandelion tea.

4. Finally, you can also make dandelion wine, though it takes a few months for the wine to ferment of course. But there are, apparently, a wide variety of ways you can use the dandelions for food, from jams to baking. Check out this article from Mother Earth News about some of the many ways you can take advantage of those little yellow flowers.

So think of the bees and what’s good for the planet and for you. Let those dandelions grow free in your yard this year!