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Hummingbird Feeders

In this activity, students make a feeder to attract Hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds satisfy their water and energy needs by feeding on nectar from flowers using a long extendable tongue and catching insects on the wing for protein and minerals. In British Columbia, Rufous Hummingbirds may also lap tree sap after a woodpecker or sapsucker has made holes. This food source may be critical in early Spring, if birds return from southerly migrations before many plants are in bloom.

Brightly-colored flowers that are tubular hold the most nectar, and are particularly attractive to Hummingbirds. These birds use their tongues, which stretch to 2/3 of the length of their body, to reach the nectar deep inside trumpet shaped flowers. When they pull their tongue in, it wraps aound their skull, over their brain!

A flower's petals attract pollinators through their colours, scent, and even warmth. Plants that use birds as pollinators tend to have flowers with red/orange petals and rarely develop a scent (few birds have a sense of smell). 

The features of a flower that attracts a particular species towards it is called a pollination syndrome, as over 80% of the living flowering plants rely on pollinators for their survival. Hummingbirds birds spread pollen caught in face and chest feathers from plant to plant. Pollination plays an important role in our everyday lives, as over 80% of the living flowering plants rely on pollinators for their survival.

As a tiny, fast bird, hummingbirds have a metabolism that burns a lot of calories. These birds require frequent feeding while active during the day and become torpid (a state like hibernation) at night to conserve energy.

To get enough food, a hummingbird has to eat a lot quickly, they may feed at a rate of 3-13 laps a second. A hummingbird eats about half of its body weight in sugar daily and may have a meal up to every ten minutes!

Female Rufous Hummingbird feeding in slow motion

Students may make a feeder to attract hummingbirds. The feeder is made out of a 500 mL bottle hung upside-down with a bottle lid nectar-catcher underneath. As the catcher lid empties, sugar syrup "nectar" flows from the bottle into the lid to keep it full.


SAFETY TIP: At least one a week , empty the old nectar out of the feeder, clean the feeder with soap and water and refill it. This prevents feeding birds from becoming sick from fungus which can grow in warm sugar water.

Objectives

  • Describe the feeding activity of a hummingbird.

  • Discuss Hummingbirds and their feeding strategy.

  • Describe the importance of pollinators in nature.

Materials

  • Per Student:
    500 ml pop bottle
    1 empty, clean lid with an opening bigger than the bottle opening (A milk jug cap will do for a pop bottle-sized opening, but a cap with higher sides will prevent overflow if the temperature or air pressure changes, or if the feeder sways in the wind).
    1 elastic band to secure the bottle to a hanger (or wire for a longer lasting effect)
    1 elastic band to secure the cap underneath the inverted bottle opening
    6 twist ties or 2 pipe cleaners (half can be pre-cut into 3 pieces)

  • Optional (to make attractant Flowers):
    3 rolls electrical tape
    a few colourful clean used plastic bags (optional)
    small pencils to wrap the plastic around to make tube flowers

  • Optional (to attach a Nectar Recipe to the feeder to take home):
    nectar recipe
    ribbon
    pair of scissors to cut the ribbon
    hole punch

Key Questions

  • What are some natural sources of nectar?
  • What are some flowers that hummingbirds like?
  • Do flowers which hummingbirds prefer share common characteristics? What are they?
  • Could the colour of our feeder cap effect how attractive it is to hummingbirds? What colour would you chose to optimise its attraction? How could flowers do the same (real or artificial)
  • How could we know what flowers hummingbirds prefer?

What To Do

  1. Put an elastic band snugly around the upside-down bottle near the top.
  2. Bend a pipe cleaner over the top of the bottle and hook it under both sides of the elastic to make a hanger for the feeder.
  3. Put an elastic snugly around the bottle in the indentation where the cap would normally go.
  4. Cut a pipe cleaner in 3 and twist the 3 ends together.
  5. Tape the twisted ends to the centre of the top (the smooth side) of the cap so that the three pipe cleaner ‘legs’ stick out radially 120 degrees apart.
  6. Tuck these pipe cleaner ‘legs’ under the elastic to hold the nectar-catcher cap under the bottle opening. (Twist ties can be used in place of pipe cleaners if you want to keep to recycled material).
  7. Fill feeder with nectar 2/3 full.
  8. Holding bottle right-side up, tuck pipe cleaner ‘legs’ under the elastic to hold the nectar-catcher cap under the bottle opening. (Twist ties can be used in place of pipe cleaners if you want to keep to recycled material.
  9. Holding the cap against the bottle opening, carefuly turn the feeder right-side up and hang!

Optional

  1. To add flowers to the feeder, cut a 2cm square from a colourful plastic bag.
  2. Wrap the plastic around the end of pencil to make a tube.
  3. Put the end of the pencil, with the plastic still around it, into the space between the edge of the nectar-catcher cap and the bottle opening.
  4. Tape the flower to cap.
  5. Slide the pencil out to leave an open plastic tube for a hummingbird beak.

Nectar Recipe
1 part refined white sugar (do not use any other type of sugar)
4 parts water

Extensions

  • How could we determine what flowers hummingbirds prefer? Design an experiment to determine preference of flowers.
  • Research some possible plants and grow a hummingbird garden at the school.
  • Examine the beak structure of hummingbirds and relate to food sources.

Other Resources

U.S. Department of Agriculture |Forest Service | Attracting Hummingbirds to your Garden Using Native Plants 

The Habitat Map | Pollinator Garden Plants and Practices

The Cornell Lab | Feeding Hummingbirds

The Cornell Lab | All About Birds | Rufous Hummingbird