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Hummingbird Feeders

Here's the buzz on some favorite feeders.

By Gibbs Milliken

Texas is hummingbird country, with the greatest diversity of these tiny birds - 18 species - of any state in the United States. Hummingbirds are primarily attracted to proper habitat with environmental landscaping (see "10 Plants to Attract Wildlife," March issue), but hanging feeders can be a good supplementary food source.

Hummers will visit almost any red-based feeder filled with sugar water. Some feeders, however, are better than others. Reliable designs are available from specialty shops, garden centers, discount stores or ordered directly online.

When you buy a feeder, look for a unit that is easy to take apart and clean, since you will need to clean it and replace the sugar solution every two to three days, especially in warm weather. Although gravity feeders are popular, some pan feeders are less likely to drip. One of the best is the HummZinger Excel ($19.95, Aspects, (888) 277-3287), with six feeding ports and a 16-oz. basin container that is easy to pop open and clean. A smaller, 8-oz. version, the HummZinger Mini ($15.95, Aspects), has three feeding ports. These feeders are made of durable, thick plastic and tend to be more ant-, bee- and wasp-resistant than other models.

For more than 50 years, one type of hummingbird feeder has been made and sold by Central Texas cottage industries. The original design, developed by Prentiss Swayze in Kerrville, was made out of an inverted, empty glass medical I.V. bottle. Today this same red-painted metal design with improvements is manufactured in Frio Canyon and sold as the Tejas Hummingbird Feeder ($16.95 for 16-oz., 4-port "Frio" model; $18.95 for 32-oz., 8-port "Tejas" model; or $35 for 48-oz., 16-port "Humm-ongous" model, H &M Enterprises, www.tejashummer.com).

Less expensive is the popular glass Pinch-Waist Feeder ($11.79 for 16-oz. model 210P, Perky-Pet Brand, www.perky-pet.com) with red and yellow plastic parts. This unit has a hardened glass bottle, no-drip base with four feeding stations, removable perches and screw-off hanger cap. Another plastic-and-glass design, the Best-1 ($10.95, 32 oz., Best Feeders, (830) 742-3604) is a serviceable derivative of the hand-built Tejas Feeder.

Hand-blown glass hummingbird feeders, imported in a variety of decorative shapes and colors, are often more aesthetically pleasing than plastic, although harder to keep clean. These single-opening units can be hung from rustic chains or long metal rod hooks. Two bulb-shaped models are the Dew Drop ($39.99, Wild Birds Unlimited, www.wbu.com) and the Brilliant Whisper ($14.99, PETsMART, (888) 839-9638) with a twisted glass reservoir and thick metal hanger ring. Keep in mind, though, that these inverted demand feeders can drip unless they are completely filled and the stopper securely sealed. All feeders require regular or weekly cleaning with a bottle brush to remove any mold or syrup residue.

Fill your feeder with a mixture of one part white cane sugar to four parts water. (Don't substitute honey and don't add food coloring - both can be harmful to hummers.) Boil the water for two to three minutes before mixing to delay fermentation. Allow the solution to cool and fill the feeder, storing the remainder in the refrigerator.

Hang the feeder in a shaded location with a clear view to the sky - and give hummers time to find it. Once they do, they are likely to be back every year. Leave the feeders up year-round. Contrary to popular belief, leaving the feeders up will not keep the birds from migrating. Their migratory instinct is strong, and they will faithfully head south as far as southern Mexico each winter. But, when flowers and their primary diet of tiny insects are scarce, your feeder will help these tiny but hardy birds get through tough times.

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