Sayonara, Tiny Sprites of Summer

What I Learned from My First Season Feeding Hummingbirds

Today I unhook the hummingbird feeder, bring it in, scrub it out and store it away for the winter.

Having cleaned and refreshed it twice a week, and regularly boiled the sweet solution that kept our little hummers fed, I also wonder today if I will miss it.

Yes, despite late-June and mid-August frustrations, the Wards' inaugural hummingbird year was a success.

But our regulars have long since left for the south, and those migrants from Canada are now fueled up and en route themselves.

It's been a couple weeks since I've seen any noticeable depletion of the supply.

It is time.

What did I take from my first jaunt in this?

For one thing, patience.

When birds didn't magically appear in the first two weeks, I almost turned my attention elsewhere. Thankfully Donna Jacko, the owner of Backyard Feeding Station, 8661 Mentor Avenue, talked some patience into me; within a week, I had my first hungry visitor, followed by at least three others who hit the feeder daily.

Perhaps my best lesson was to listen to those who know better.

And that's why I wanted to share this interaction from the second time I almost gave up, when the honeybees seemed a hopeless adversary. I wrote in that column that it seemed my only solution was Avon Skin So Soft.

Then I got this email from a local beekeeper.

If there are any beekeepers within four miles of you in any direction, your sugar water will be contaminating the honey their bees are making right now — their honey will not then be pure honey. Please DON'T apply pesticides to feeders used by pollinators like birds and bees! Would you drink from a glass that had pesticide sprayed around the lip?

My husband and I buy organic as often as possible; the last thing I intended, when I set out that feeder, was to damage my environment. Heartbroken and hopeless,  I kept the feeder down a week longer than I intended as I waited for her reply to this email, followed by the ingredients from the Avon bottle I'd just received in the mail.

I am concerned about contaminating local honey. However, I don't plan to apply Skin So Soft bug spray to the feeder; rather, Avon Skin So Soft Bath Oil. It's my understanding, per the internet research I've done, that the bath oil will deter/repel the bees so they won't consume the sugar water, which will keep them from carrying it back to their hives. As a beekeeper, can you please look over these ingredients and let me know if any of them are pesticides?

The beekeeper's response, which I will include in full, is also our mission statement for next season.

I'm sure there are no pesticides in Avon's bath oil (or, there certainly shouldn't be!). My main point to you is that both hummingbirds and honeybees are much better served by planting flowers and flowering trees/bushes that they enjoy, rather than feeding them non-nutritious sugar syrup. Sugar syrup contains only empty calories, with none of the multitude of life-giving rich nutrients, essential enzymes and amino acids so plentiful in natural flower nectar. If you really want to 'help' hummingbirds and other wild pollinators, please consider planting 'real' food for them, or creating mini 'guerrilla flower beds' from abandoned dirt areas around your neighborhood.

Did you know that just one willow, maple, or apple tree can feed many many thousands of pollinators during its weeks in bloom? Help educate others about what kinds of flowering plants can provide good nectar and pollen nutrition to bees, moths, flies, wasps, butterflies, hummingbirds and pollinating bats...and always provide shallow water dishes for these creatures. Mud is a terrific thing to provide in the spring for nesting mason bees! Did you know that almost anyone can make simple native bee nesting boxes for their back yard or balcony, and thus help the hundreds of species of our native non-stinging bee pollinators?

Here are the mason bees boxes on my kitchen porch, for example. I used V8 cans to house the paper nesting straws.

“Cheers....bbbzzzzzzz.....,” was her friendly, reassuring send-off.

Concerns qualmed, I used a Q-tip to lightly apply the bath oil to the surface of the feeder and returned it to the yard. Within two days, the bees, dwindling as they gave up honering to look for an un-oily inlet, hit the road.

And the rest of the summer, I am pleased to report, the food I put out went straight to the belly of our hummers, nowhere else.

With the Wards' second summer in our new house, we'll aim to plant a garden that will attract and provide for local birds — go natural. Thank you, Lisa, for your advice.

And thanks, too, to my darling teachers, now so far from home. Rest assured a fresh feeder will be waiting for you the last week of April. I, too, will be waiting patiently for your safe return.


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