What is a Plastic Hummingbird Feeder?

R. Kayne

A plastic hummingbird feeder is a red-colored container that holds sugar water, allowing hummingbirds to feed either from a drip spout or, depending on the design, through tiny holes in the lid.

Hummingbirds flap their wings at a rate of 80 times per second, and as fast as 200 time per second during courtship.
Hummingbirds flap their wings at a rate of 80 times per second, and as fast as 200 time per second during courtship.

There are two basic models of plastic hummingbird feeders. One resembles a vertical tube capped at both ends with a drip-spout extending from the bottom cap. The caps and the plastic tube are red as hummingbirds are naturally attracted to that color. The feeder is filled with sugar water or nectar, and normally hung in a location where it is visible from the house.

The second type of plastic hummingbird feeder is bowl-shaped and might be clear plastic but will have a red, flat removable lid or top. Three or more tiny drinking holes are spaced evenly around the lid. Encircling it is a thin ring or rail connected to the top by three arms. The rail allows the hummingbirds to rest while they drink, making this type of feeder especially attractive. It also does not drip nectar, is less prone to attract bees, and is much easier to clean.

If the plastic hummingbird feeder is a hanging type, the top will have a metal hanger. Deluxe models come with a little cup that acts as a moat at the base of the hanger. Filled with water, this prevents ants from filing down the hanger to get to the nectar. Some models come with a rod that screws into the base of the dish rather than the top, and can be stuck in the ground enabling the feeder to be placed in a flowerbed or by a birdbath.

Making your own nectar is preferable to buying it, as nectar sold in stores is usually red from dye and often contains extra ingredients like preservatives or "protein" additives. Hummingbirds do not require anything but sugar water, as they get all the protein and vitamins they need from eating insects. The red dye is also considered unhealthy for the birds. The best thing you can do for your hummers is to follow a simple recipe:

Boil 4 parts water to 1 part white, granulated pure cane sugar. Let it boil for 5 minutes.

For example, if you used 2 cups of water, you'd add ½ cup of sugar. Filtered water is good but don't substitute syrup, brown sugar, or white sugar that is not "pure cane." This recipe comes closest to actual flower nectar and should not be altered. Boiling the mixture will make it last longer, but let the nectar cool before putting it in the feeder! Store extra nectar in the refrigerator, and try to avoid making more than you'll use in a week.

Change the nectar in your plastic hummingbird feeder every 2 — 3 days, even if it's not empty. Hummers have good memories and will eventually cease returning if the nectar is repeatedly stale. When refilling, take the feeder apart and thoroughly wash it with hot water. (This is why choosing a model that is easy to clean is smart.) If you use dish detergent be sure to rinse the feeder well.

It can take awhile for the little birds to initially discover your plastic hummingbird feeder, but once they do, they will return frequently. During the period of waiting continue to change the nectar regularly even if it is not being drunk. To hasten its discovery you can place a large red bow on the hanger.

Hummingbirds are beautiful to watch and are extremely unique animals. They are the only birds that can hover, fly backward, straight up, or straight down. Their wings flap at a rate of 80 times per second, and as fast as 200 time per second during courtship. This requires a fast metabolism that is always using energy, hence their proclivity for sugar which they will seek out about every ten minutes during their waking hours. Hummers burn anywhere between 7,000 — 12,000 calories a day. To put this in perspective, a man in good physical condition will only consume and burn about 2,500 calories a day!

There are many species of hummingbirds and California is lucky enough to have hummers all year long, though in other states they appear only seasonally during spring migration. Many websites are dedicated to tracking the yearly migration across the U.S. and invite public participation in sightings.

Plastic hummingbird feeders are sold in most do-it-yourself stores, department stores and pet stores; they can also be purchased online. They are an inexpensive way to enjoy the unparalleled magic of hummingbirds. Once hooked, you will likely never be without one again.

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