Ruby-throated hummingbirds may be Missouri’s tiniest bird, but they’re also fearless. With a little patience, you can coax one of the bold birds to perch on your finger.
Gather these supplies
- Small jar with a metal, screw-on lid (baby-food jars work great)
- Hammer and small nail
- Red and yellow paint
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 cups water
- Medium-sized saucepan
- A little patience
Make a Hummingbird Feeder
- Remove any labels from the jar. Wash and dry the jar and lid.
- Use a hammer and nail to punch a 1/ 8-inch-wide hole between the center and the edge of the lid. Hammer down the sharp metal points around the hole on the inside of the lid.
- Paint the lid red. Once it dries, paint a small yellow flower around the nail hole.
- Tie a length of cord tightly around the neck of the jar.
- Fill the jar almost full with hummingbird nectar and screw on the lid.
- Hang the feeder where you can see and reach it easily, but make sure it’s out of the sun and wind.
Train a Hummer to Perch on Your Finger
Keep your feeder well-stocked with nectar. Once hummingbirds are using the feeder a lot, begin sitting quietly beside it. Try to hold still, but if you must move, move slowly. When the birds no longer seem bothered by your presence, hold a finger close to the feeder as if your finger were a perch. With a steady hand, a little luck, and lots of patience, you can convince a hummingbird to buzz in and sit on your finger.
It helps to put up more than one feeder. If you have just one, a feisty hummer may chase other birds away. But it can’t defend two or three feeders at a time, especially if they are spread out in different locations.
Leave your feeder up until November. This helps hummers that live north of Missouri catch a quick snack when they migrate south. Leaving a feeder up won’t cause hummingbirds to stay too long and freeze during winter.
To make your yard more attractive to hummingbirds, consider planting native flowers such as wild bergamot, cardinal flower, columbine, and trumpet creeper. See what these flowers look like at mdc.mo.gov/field-guide.
Mix Up Some Nectar
Fill a pan with 4 cups of water. Pour in 1 cup of sugar and stir the
mixture until the sugar dissolves. Ask an adult to help you boil the mixture. (Boiling will keep the nectar fresh longer.) Let the nectar cool before filling your feeder. Store leftovers in the refrigerator. You don’t need to add red food coloring to the nectar. As long as part of the feeder is red, hummingbirds will arrive in swarms.
Never use honey to make nectar.
A fungus that attacks hummingbirds’ tongues can grow in nectar made with honey.
Wash your feeder and refill it with fresh nectar every three days. Nectar can spoil — especially during hot weather — and make your hummingbird neighbors terribly sick.
Critter Corner: Bumblebee
This bumblebee is busy eating nectar and collecting pollen to feed her hive. Bumblebees make honey, but unlike European honeybees, they don’t stockpile much of it. That’s because they don’t overwinter as a hive. In the fall, a single fertilized queen bumblebee hibernates in the ground. Missouri has at least six kinds of native bumblebees, and they all help pollinate our food crops and wildflowers.
This Issue's Staff
Angie Daly Morfeld
Nichole LeClair Terrill