Every year, about this time, we hear reports that sound something like this: “Where did all my hummers go?”
First, know that hummingbird activity in the Santa Fe area has been very strong this spring. So, even though we have plenty of black-chinned and broad-tailed hummingbirds in the region right now, they are busy nesting. Mama hummers stick close to the nest incubating and feeding nestlings tiny insects. Eventually, mama and fledglings will visit flowers and your feeders for nectar, but right now, we’re mostly seeing male hummingbirds at feeders.
Come mid-July, hummingbird activity will explode. Not only will females and youngsters return to feeders, but the rufous hummingbirds and the calliope hummingbirds will begin to move through.
The key to consistent hummingbird activity, even during this slower period, is fresh nectar. Fill your feeders with fresh nectar two to three times a week, even if you see no hummingbirds. Old nectar is bad for birds and will ensure that hummers stay away. If you aren’t seeing many hummingbirds, consider cutting back to only one feeder until mid-July. Don’t give up.
Keep nectar very fresh and trust that the hummingbird population explosion is just around the corner. Just a reminder, the hummingbird nectar recipe is: 4 parts water to 1 part white table sugar. Bring to a boil, cool and serve. I always make a big batch and keep extra in the fridge for up to two weeks.
Bird activity in general remains strong. To keep a wide variety of birds coming to your backyard all summer long, keep fresh water available and feeders full. Feeding birds in the summer will not make them dependent on you but rather give them a boost of needed fat and protein during nesting season.
The food that they find at your feeders is a small fraction of their diet this time of year. Focus on high quality mixes that mostly contain sunflower seeds, nuts and suet nuggets. No-mess blends are a popular choice in the summer because they don’t sprout and don’t leave any waste or shells to clean-up. The main ingredient of any no-mess blend should be sunflower chips (sunflower without the shells).
Feeding nyjer/thistle in a special feeder is the best way to attract the bright yellow lesser goldfinches. They are easy to attract and numerous all summer long. Thistle spoils easily, so start your goldfinch feeding with a fresh batch of thistle.
A word about bears. Bear sightings in local backyards often wane as natural food sources become more abundant, but bear visits are possible all summer. In a May 3rd article in The New Mexican , Tristanna Bickford, spokesperson for New Mexico Game and Fish, provided a few simple tips to limit encounters with black bears in your backyard.
She suggested that the following items be brought in before dark: bird feeders, pet bowls and garbage (unless it is in an airtight container). For those of you in bear territory with lots of feeders, you might want to consolidate your feeding to two or three of your favorite feeders to limit your evening chores.
Anne Schmauss is the co-owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Santa Fe and she loves to hear your bird stories. She is the author of For the Birds: A Month by Month Guide to Attracting Birds to Your Backyard and Birdhouses of the World.