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.

On Summertime Sadness: Saying Goodbye to the Maine Summer

It turned chilly outside this week. After a very long and very hot summer, you would think I would be thankful. I am, after all, a Texas girl who moved to Maine, in part, to escape the heat. But, today, I feel the melancholy—the melancholy for summer that I feel in Maine more than anywhere I’ve ever lived.

I love all of the seasons in Maine, maybe even mud season because I know what’s coming next. Well, the season after black fly season. Yes, that one. Summer.

Growing up in Texas, we didn’t have seasons like we have here in Maine. It went from long hot summer to like two weeks of fall right into a messy, icy, windy winter. Fall is the best, right? I hated not having fall growing up. In Maine, fall is heavenly, magical, but thinking about fall leads me to a melancholy for summer.

Summer in Maine is like nowhere else. Even though my husband and I work way too much in the summers, the culture here reminds us to take breaks. Swimming is important. Hikes are important. Enjoy the water. Cook out. Watch the fireflies—and the stars. These things are valued here, and this makes summer extra special to me.

The summer is winding down. My oldest son is going back to college. I will begin longer homeschool days with my youngest son soon. And, pretty soon, the beautiful fall will be here.

But, for now, I feel melancholy that summer is passing. Though I enjoyed it, I always feel as if I never enjoy it enough. I want to do more, to take more of Maine in, to spend more time relaxing in the sun, watching the chicky girls eat watermelon, and listening as the hummingbirds zip by to the feeder.

A couple of years ago, at the end of summer, I heard a hummingbird commotion one evening on our back deck. We had two hummingbirds who had been visiting our feeder and our hearts all summer—a male and female we named Mack and Clara. We could tell them apart from the other hummingbirds because Mack was particularly short and stocky, and Clara had an unusual shape to the back of her head. They hung around a lot and seemed to have a nest in a nearby tree.

We loved watching those beautiful birds.

One evening in late August, I heard Mack and Clara making a lot more noise than usual. When I looked out the door, I was mesmerized by the beautiful dance and play Mack and Clara were engaged in. I had never seen them play like that and for so long—and with me so near with the camera.

It turns out that Mack was saying goodbye. It seems the male hummingbird will head south early to find a place for the couple. We never saw Mack again, and, after about another week or so, we never saw Clara again.

I had hoped that Mack and Clara would find us again the next year, but it was not to be. We had more adorable hummingbirds, but they definitely weren’t Mack and Clara.

When I think of those beautiful birds and the summer and how soon both the birds and the summer will be gone, I definitely feel the melancholy. I start to feel regret for the things I have wanted to do all summer but didn’t.

But, in writing this post, I have decided that it’s not too late. We bought a canoe this summer but haven’t taken it out on the water yet. This must be done. I’m also determined to make it to the Blue Hill Fair another year to mark the end of my summer with a James McMurtry concert. But, most of all, I want to take an afternoon nap in the warm air with the wind blowing through the leaves in the trees, making that magical whishy-rustly sound.

And I want to hang out with my husband and boys just a little more, just doing nothing, just visiting. We are always so busy with work, the chickens, the house, the garden, running to activities. For a bit, I want to stop time with my family and just do nothing. Surely, that’s possible in the summer time, right?

These are my goals. I don’t want too many summer regrets this year. What are your goals for the end of summer? How can you avoid summer regrets?

Let’s make a deal to say goodbye to this beautiful Maine summer (or summer wherever you are) with meaningfulness, and share your thoughts on summer in the comments below. I really want to hear them!