Hummingbirds 101 by Danielle Cooper

How fortunate those little hummingbirds are to have Danielle Cooper educating others on their behalf …and we were just as lucky to be in her audience!


Danielle advised us that there are three “musts” in taking care of these delightful little birds:  feeders, plants, and water.

  1. Feeders:

Hummingbirds can starve to death in 3 to 5 hours, which is extremely critical in the winter. They compensate for this at night by going into a torpor state, almost like semi-hibernation. Their hearts slow down from as much as 1200 beats a minute to 50 beats a minute! The last “mealtime” before torpor is when Danielle sees the most group activity.  A bedtime count for her was 25 hummers!

The most important factor in buying a hummingbird feeder is to choose one that is easy to clean. Tiny mould spores can grow quickly and the cleaner the feeder, the more birds you will attract. Danielle showed us a few different feeder style examples. Never put sugar water in an open dish! Danielle flushes her feeders with hot water every time she replenishes the nectar, and in the hot sun that may be daily!  About once a month she soaks the feeders in a mild bleach solution and is careful to clean all the small corners with a pipe cleaner or drinking straw brush.  This is followed by a VERY good rinsing.

The container can be glass or plastic, although Danielle prefers to use glass in the summer and plastic in the winter.  A wide mouth makes it easier to clean the inside rim.

Multiple feeders are a great idea for these territorial little birds.  Put them about 15 feet apart.  The colour red is attractive to hummingbirds but is not a necessity. Having some red flowers or ribbons nearby are helpful if you are putting up the feeder for the first time.  Perches are also nice, but you can add on your own DIY perches made with simple wire.

Making the hummingbird solution is an easy task.  Mix 4 cups boiling water to 1 cup plain white sugar. Don’t be tempted to use more sugar, as the water keeps them hydrated. Excess nectar can be stored in the fridge for a week.  Caution: NO red dye, and no brown sugar, raw sugar, honey, or artificial sweetners should be used.

To keep the feeders from freezing in winter, Danielle makes her own “warmers”.  One of hers is a wire plant basket filled with Christmas lights (not LEDs!) attached underneath. If you bring your feeders in at night, be sure to set them out before dawn the next day!

Sometimes unwanted “guests” such as ants and wasps can be a problem.  Flat feeders are helpful, as the wasps can’t reach down to the nectar.  Wasp traps should be hung at least 15 feet away. Ant traps are attached above the feeder and are filled with water. Never use Vaseline or sticky substances!  It is impossible for hummers to clean them off their feathers.

Hand feeding is an incredible experience but takes dedication to earn their trust.  Danielle spent 45 minutes holding out a tiny hand feeder on a cold winter day before her first “customer” accepted her!  Oh, and she had started the process days before by attaching the hand feeder to the regular feeder to get them used to it. We were delighted to watch a short video of her young daughter hand feeding a hummingbird, with a giant smile on her face!

  1. Plants:

It is just as rewarding to watch hummingbirds feeding on your flowers and that’s a great way to attract them to your garden.  There are SO many good choices.  Some of them are: Verbena, Geraniums, Foxglove, Cape Fuchsia, Crocosmia, Lilac, Butterfly Bush, and Scarlet Runner Beans.

  1. Water:

Clean water is essential for all creatures.  Hummingbirds love to bathe in moving water, so a trickling sound is sure to attract them.  Danielle showed us her own DIY water feature, made of a “rain chain” with a drip line attached. Misters or small bubblers can be added to shallow pools (1/4″ at most).

Hummingbird Species:

In our area, Anna’s Hummingbirds (which stay all winter) and Rufous Hummingbirds (which migrate here in Spring and leave before Fall) are the most common. Danielle was quite impressed that our Club President, Lidy K., has seen a rare black chinned hummingbird at her home!

The males of all species are the most colourful, so the easiest to identify.  Male Anna’s have brilliant iridescent pink heads and both genders are green.  Rufous have orange sides and backs.  The males have brilliant orange-red feathers under their chins.  When female Rufous spread their tails, the feather tips look like piano keys! The females of both species are less aggressive than the males, especially the Rufous females. Danielle challenged us to close our eyes and listen carefully the next time we hear male hummingbirds doing their “dive bomb” displays.  Only the male Rufous have a buzzing whistling sound, like a mini helicopter, because of the shape of their wing tips.


Anna’s Hummingbirds may start their first nests as early as December and continue until June! They are habitual in their nest building and keep going back to the same tree.  Rufous Hummingbirds usually nest in July. Hummingbird nests are the size of a loonie and the eggs are like the very tiny jelly-belly beans. Only the female does the feeding. The babies fledge after 4 weeks. Hummingbirds live about 7 years.

It is fun to provide nesting material and see them take little fluffs away.  This is commercially available from stores such as the “Wild Bird Center”.  You can use a suet basket (or the commercial setup) to contain the fluff. Do not use dryer fluff, pet hair (unless totally free of topical products), human hair, or yarn.

Fun Facts:

  • Hummingbirds may follow woodpeckers in the winter to get a sugar source from the sap in pecked tree holes.
  • Hummingbird tongues are 3x the length of the beak. The tongue goes inside the head and wraps around the inside of the skull.
  • The Rufous has the largest bird size to distance migration. The trip takes a few weeks.  They leave in August for a long flight to Oregon.  After a rest, they travel on to Mexico.
  • Natural predators include praying mantis, snakes, dragonflies, some frogs and some spiders, and larger predatory birds.  Hawks do not bother them, so they sometimes nest near hawks for protection.

Thank you so much, Danielle, for your delightful presentation and for the helpful pamphlet “Hummingbird 101”.  We can tell how much you love these miniature treasures, and it was such fun learning about them from you!

Danielle Cooper Bio by Melanie G.

Danielle is a photographer, gardener and avid backyard birder. She has gained valuable insight into hummingbirds and their care through years of observation and dialogue with birding experts. She is also part of multiple hummingbird groups and is currently providing plants and feeders for approximately 25 birds in her area.

Be sure to check out Danielle’s beautiful photography website!

Related Links:

Backyard Bird Center – lots of great supplies (feeders, bubblers, nesting fluff, and helpful information!)

Anna’s Hummingbird ID

Rufous Hummingbird ID

9 species of hummingbirds in BC

14 species of hummingbirds in North America

Hummingbird species in Canada (listed by province)

50 stunning hummingbird photos

More hummingbird photos!


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