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Easy techniques for cleaning a hummingbird feeder

by Rita Randazzo

Hummingbirds, daintiest and most miraculous of avian life -- what's not to like about them? Cleaning their feeders, that's what.

As anyone who has struggled to scrub tubing clogged with bug debris knows, it's one yucky job. Then there are the wasps and bees that hang around, attracted to the sugar syrup, daunting all but the bravest from refilling the feeders. It's enough to make you forgo the pleasure of attracting hummingbirds to your yard.

And what about the algae that seem to flourish inside the glass or plastic bottle section? There's not a brush around that will remove algae satisfactorily.

A South Carolina hummingbird fan has the answer to the feeder-cleaning problem. Henry Wedemeyer, a retired management consultant, has half a dozen bright red and yellow feeders hanging from tree branches at his Inman, South Carolina home. He cleans and refills them weekly according to a system he's developed over the years.

The reason Wedemeyer has so many feeders is that male hummingbirds jealously guard feeders and vigorously repel any females who approach his feeding stations. Multiple feeders give the females a better chance of getting fed.

Wedemeyer favors the popular style of feeder featuring a blossom-shaped bottom with perches beneath each feeding hole. (He says that although hummingbirds can sip while hovering, it's easier for them to sit a spell while they feed.) His step-by-step program for cleaning feeders goes like this:

  1. Take feeder apart and soak bottle, bee guards, base, and tubing in a pan of warm water.
  2. To clean the bottle, fill it with water and add a small packet of nickel-plated BBs. Holding your thumb over the opening, shake well. The bouncing BBs will scour the inside of the bottle better than even a baby bottle brush, which can't reach into corners. Drain out the water, pat the BBs dry on a towel, and store them in a jar for the next cleaning.
  3. Use cotton swabs to clean the base and tubing. Wipe off all parts with paper towels.
  4. Now for those pesky bee guards. Place them in a separate cup of warm water, and add a tablet of denture cleanser. Voila! The effervescing action will do the work for you.
  5. Reassemble, then fill the feeder.
  6. Invert the feeder and rehang.

That's it, and the chore takes longer to describe than it does to accomplish. As Wedemeyer remarks, "I used to hate this process. Now I only dislike it."  

More Tips For Hummingbird-Lovers

Henry and his wife, Elizabeth Hazel Wedemeyer, love the inquisitive nature of hummingbirds. She says, "I'm charmed by the whirring sound as they come close to investigate my lipstick or red, sunburned nose." Here are some other helpful hints for hummingbird feeding:

  • Honey is not good for hummingbirds, and red coloring isn't necessary if your feeders have red parts. (BWD recommends making your own nectar. Use 4 parts of water to 1 part of sugar. Bring the water to a boil, add sugar, and mix well; cool and refrigerate.) If your feeders lack red parts, hang a bright red or orange ribbon or piece of cloth below the feeder.
  • If the hummingbirds have not emptied their feeders in a week, change the liquid. It goes bad in about that time, and hummingbirds will shun it. Note: Nectar in feeders placed in direct, full sunlight will spoil more quickly and should be replaced more often.
  • The arrival and departure dates of hummingbirds will vary with the locale, but you don't have to worry about leaving feeders up too long. Hummingbirds will take off on their flight across the Gulf of Mexico whenever nature tells them to, irrespective of local feeding opportunities.
Additional References Suggested by Google:

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