It's that time of year when everyone eagerly awaits the return of hummingbirds. Everyone wants to see these little jewels, but few go to the effort of doing all it takes to get them to stick around. One of the biggest chores required in "hummingbirding" is changing feeders and cleaning them. Some will place out a feeder at the start of the season, and if they don't see a hummingbird they just leave it hanging for lengthy periods of time while it ferments and turns into a moldy mess, and then it requires much more time and effort in cleaning it. When I did a past blog, I had an enormous amount of people ask me when to put feeders out and how frequently to change the nectar.
Temperature has a great deal to do with it. The hotter it is outside, the quicker it spoils. In saying this, if your temperature averages 20-24C (68-75F), then change the feeder once a week. If your temperature averages 25-30C(77-86F), I would change the feeders every 5-7 days. If your temperature averages above this, then change it in 3-5 days. Many would say change it every 1 to 3 days regardless, and I think that's unnecessary unless you experience hot desert temperatures, over 100F daily. Many would say they'll get sick on nectar beyond 3 days, and I completely disagree. Flowers hold nectar for very long times, and when they die the nectar starts to spoil. Then hummingbirds know it's not good and refuse to drink it.
First of all remember that we are using drinkable water to make the nectar. Now, think about the stagnant pond water that birds drink and bathe in on a daily basis. The system of a bird was not created to drink clean distilled water, it was made to withstand the dirtiest, natural, bacteria filled water that fills millions of ponds, lakes and river across the world. Now, I'm not saying let your feeders sit until they look like 3 month old sewage. I'm simply stating that 7 day old nectar will not hurt hummingbirds. If it did, we wouldn't have a live bird on this planet from all the bacteria they get from millions of other water sources. When flowers die and the nectar ferments, hummingbirds will simply refuse these forms of food past their expiration.
Many people just refuse to put up feeders because they are under the impression that they have to be changed every few days, but unless you are experiencing excessively hot temperatures over long periods of time, it' simply not necessary.
As for when to place out your feeders, I have a Hummingbird Tracker on the home page of www.therubythroat.com that shows the progress of the Ruby-throats across North America, and I have a "Report a sightings" page that shows the arrival times for hummingbirds in Canada. Canadian residents can also report their first sightings on this page as well.
Author of Jewel of the North. Please post your comments and questions.