Hints for Feeding Hummingbirds

It’s great to learn something new, especially when it saves you time and effort. Recently I was listening to the podcast Talkin Birds. Mike O’Connor, the owner of Birdwatchers General Store on Cape Cod, contributes weekly in a segment called “Let’s Ask Mike”. A couple weeks ago his topic was on feeding the hummingbirds. I was a little disappointed because I thought that this was pretty common knowledge for anyone who had hummingbird feeders.

As it turns out, I was not as clever as I thought. I have always boiled four cups of water and then stirred in one cup of sugar to make my hummingbird nectar. After it cooled, I filled my feeder with the sugar-water and stored the remainder in the refrigerator. According to Mike O’Connor there is no need to boil the water. Simply place a ratio of 4 to 1 – tap water to sugar -for whatever amount you need into a glass jar, shake until dissolved and place into your clean feeder. This method was corroborated by a Google search and verified by Judy Morr who told me that they never boiled their water. 🤷‍♀️ This saves me time, a used pot, and a jar taking up space in my already crowded refrigerator!

So, while we are on the subject, here is some additional hummingbird feeder protocol.

Never use organic sugar, stevia, aspartame, brown sugar, coconut sugar, demerara sugar, agave, honey, corn syrup, etc. to make the nectar. White granulated sugar is only sucrose which is what is found in flower nectar. The added minerals found in other unrefined sugars are a better choice for humans, but might have an unwanted affect on the hummers. Luckily the store brand white sugar is always available and very inexpensive. No red coloring is needed as most hummingbird feeders includes a red part. If your feeder is not red, simply add on a red ribbon or any other red object.

This is critical, especially with our long, hot, and humid summers. With our temperatures above 90° we should be replacing the nectar daily, but at least every other day. At 90° it takes very little time for the water to ferment and then spoil. High temperatures will cause mold and bacteria to grow quickly in the water and this is toxic to the birds. If you have ever left your sugar water out
too long, you know how time consuming it is to clean the mold out of the corners and holes of the feeder. If you are changing the water every couple days, that type of cleaning won’t be necessary. If there is no mold, you should only need to rinse it well with hot water. Do not use soap. If your feeder does need disinfecting, use a 2 to 1 part water and vinegar mixture.

Also, there is no need for a large jar feeder or the feeders with more than a few ports filled to the brim with sugar water. Hummingbird tongues are very long and can reach far into the feeder. Keeping the level of nectar low might also deter bees and wasps. If you are changing the water frequently you should only need a small amount of nectar. You can make one cup (¼ cup of sugar) or half a cup (2 tablespoons of sugar) of nectar and have more than enough for the next day or two. Because there are so many people put out hummingbird feeders now, you will probably not see more than a couple hummingbirds feeding at the same time. In fact, you will notice that hummingbirds are pretty territorial with regards to their feeding space. The exception might be at the end of the summer when the babies have fledged and they need the additional fuel to power their upcoming migration.

Hummingbirds are very fast, but very small. Make sure that the area around their feeder is free from ants, bees, and wasps. Even though the insects are probably more interested in the nectar itself, the wasps or bees could attack the hummingbird if they felt threatened and the sting would be fatal. Praying Mantises are fun to look at and will not harm humans, but they are deadly predators to a hummingbird. They don’t seem to be prolific on Seabrook Island, but if you see one near your hummingbird feeder it would be wise to relocate it. Additionally, watch for and clear out any spider webs around the feeders. Hummingbirds will actually use pieces of webs in their nests and might even try to pick out caught insects from webs. Unfortunately, getting ensnared in a web when approaching the feeder could be fatal to the bird. The stretchy sticky strands of the web could quickly entangle a struggling bird.

Finally, if it’s possible, keep your hummingbird feeders up year round. Whether our winter visitors are year round residents or migrants passing through, we can’t be sure, but with fewer flowers available, it would be important to have a fuel source for the winter hummingbirds. And, what a treat to see them during the winter months.

A final FYI, the only hummingbird that we expect to see on Seabrook Island, and more specifically east of the Mississippi, is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. In most other areas they arrive in April and have departed for Central America by the first of October.

Submitted by: Joleen Ardaiolo

SIB “Bird of the Week” – Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron – Egretta caerulea
Length: 22-29”; Wingspan: 40”
 It’s a Little Blue Heron in what is called “first year” plumage.

Molting Little Blue Heron - Bob Hider
Molting Little Blue Heron – Bob Hider

When a Little Blue is immature (i.e., during the year in which it is born), it is totally white. Until a birder has mastered the characteristics of our local white egrets, it is easy to confuse the Little Blue with one of those waders. In its second spring, it begins to molt into its slate blue coloration, and, during that change, it appears mottled as the picture shows. By the end of the summer, it will have its more typical warm purplish-brown head and neck and otherwise dark gray-blue body. The two characteristics that it does maintain are its bluish green legs and black-tipped bluish bill.

The Little Blue Heron is common on Seabrook. It inhabits both fresh water ponds and salt or brackish water wetlands. It’s not unusual to find one standing among the reeds on the edge of Palmetto Lake searching for a meal. It can also be found on a dock, staring intently at the marsh below. As an adult, it tends to be solitary as it forages for small fish, crustaceans, frogs and aquatic insects. It stands quite still often with its bill pointed downward waiting patiently for its prey. For this reason, they can be difficult to spot.

In contrast, the pure white immature Little Blue Herons are often found feeding with groups of egrets and other herons which probably protects them somewhat. Eight were counted simultaneously on a Seabrook dock and in the nearby marsh this spring. When observed with such a group, their slow-moving behavior distinguishes them from the more active egrets even though they are very similar in size to the Snowy Egret.

Little Blue Herons are gregarious breeders, nesting in bushes over or near water. During the spring and early summer, they are part of the flocks on Jenkins Point along with the ibises and egrets there. In its write-up on this species, Cornell Lab of Ornithology states, “A courting male points his bill straight upward, suddenly extending and retracting his neck. Little Blue Herons of both sexes, when courting, may occasionally grasp, pull, and shake branches while simultaneously erecting the feathers along their head, neck, and back…. Little Blue Herons and neighboring colonial birds have a pronounced impact on their nesting habitat—stunting the growth of vegetation by harvesting nest material and sometimes killing trees outright by the accumulation of guano.”  This is true on Jenkins Point.

Here are more pictures of Little Blue Herons in their full immature and adult plumages.

If you would like to learn more about this bird visit:

Article submitted by: Marcia Hider / resubmitted 2022 by SIB
Photographs provided by: Bob Hider and Carl Helms

This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents.  When possible we will use photographs taken by our members.    Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.

Did you know: What is the developmental timeline from egg to fledge?

As we watch the rookery on the golf course and also see those Eastern Bluebirds growing on the bluebird trail, we note these birds “grow up” at different rates.

The time spent from egg production to fledgling varies by species.  Smaller birds often mature more quickly and may go from newly-hatched chicks to fledgling juveniles venturing out on their own in a couple of weeks or less.  Raptors or larger species, however, may stay in the nest under their parents’ care for several months.  Some examples:

SpeciesIncubationLeave nest or BranchingHatch to Fledge
Ruby-throated Hummingbird11 -16 daysN/A20 – 22 days
Eastern Bluebird12 – 14 daysN/A17 – 18 days
Green Heron19-21 daysN/A16 – 18 days
Laughing Gull22-27 daysFew days after hatching35 days
Great Egret23-26 days3 weeks6 – 7 weeks
Wilson Plover23 – 25 daysShortly after hatching21 days
Brown Pelican29 – 35 daysN/A77 – 84 days
Bald Eagle34 – 36 days9 – 10 weeks56 – 98 days
* N/A means the species goes directly from hatchling to fledgling

Sexual maturity can take even longer, with small birds ready to take their first mates in a year.

A baby Eastern Bluebird will weigh slightly more than its parents when it fledges at just 17 – 18 days.  As seen above, the eaglet takes longer to fledge but it will be nearly full grown at 9 weeks of age. They will add some weight as they develop their flight muscles after they leave the nest. Their wingspan will be as large or slightly larger than the adults at this time.

When a young eagle first leaves the nest, its wing and tail feathers are longer than those of an adult.  As an eagle matures, its wing and tail feathers become shorter and narrower with each successive molt.  The larger wings of a juvenile make it easier for the bird to catch an updraft or weak thermal and to fly slower and in tighter circles than an adult.  The down side of the larger wings and tail is that the juvenile rises slower, sinks faster, and cannot soar as far as the adult.  Adult Bald Eagles are able to flap their wings faster and fly at a greater speed than immature eagles, making them more efficient at chasing down live prey.

SIB “Bird of the Week” – Turkey Vulture vs. Black Vulture

Turkey Vulture vs. Black Vulture  –  Cathartes aura and Coragyps atratus
Turkey Vulture – Length: 26″;   Wingspan:  67″;  Weight:  4.0 lb
Black Vulture – Length:   25″;   Wingspan:  59″;  Weight:  4.4 lb

No, those are NOT buzzards; they are vultures. We have no buzzards in North America but we do have two types of vultures: the Turkey Vulture and the Black Vulture, commonly referred to as TVs and Blacks. Both are very big, very dark, and very ugly (to some) when seen on the ground. They have no feathers on their heads and dangerous looking beaks. These features are important to their life style. As you probably know from seeing them around road kill, they are carrion eaters. Their sharp beaks enable them to rip apart a carcass and the featherless heads allow them to forage deeply inside a dead animal yet avoid getting residue on their heads – not pretty but most practical.

Close up, the most obvious difference between these two vultures is the color of their heads. The Turkey Vulture has a bright red head while the Black’s is dark gray. On the wing, the TV seems to be soaring unsteadily, tipping from side to side with its wings in a V-shape. It uses very few wing beats as it glides along and the “fingers” at the ends of its wings are distinctive. From beneath, the TV’s wings in flight appear to be two-toned with black on the top edge and gray on the bottom.

In contrast, the Black is stubbier in shape with a shorter tail and thicker wings. It tends to flap its wings more and has less of a V shape when gliding than the TV. A definite identifier for the Black are the white “windows” at the ends of its wings. Watch for them as the bird flies overhead.

It is more likely that a birder will see a vulture in the sky than on the ground. They ride the thermals to reach heights which allow them to see great distances. Both are very strong fliers, often flying near one another, using their keen eyesight to spot carrion. The TV also has exceptional sense of smell which gives it an advantage in locating carcasses. The Black makes up for its disadvantage by watching the Turkey Vulture and following it when it descends.

There seem to be more Blacks than Turkey Vultures. In fact, the reverse is true in the U.S. but the very social nature of the Blacks means we see them in groups while the TV flies and may even eat alone.   One on one, the Black will lose out against the bigger TV. However, if both are at a carcass, a flock of Blacks can take over from the singular TV.

Neither the TV nor the Black actually builds a nest. They use hollowed trees or stumps, thickets, caves and even abandoned buildings to have their young. Once found, a pair may reuse the sight for several years.

If you would like to learn more about these birds visit:

Article submitted by:  Marcia Hider
Photographs provided by: Charley Moore & Misc

This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents.  When possible we will use photographs taken by our members.    Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.

Learning Together – Kiawah River

Sunday, June 26, 2022  8:00am-11:00am
Learning Together at Kiawah River
Location:  Meet at the “bridge” entering the property
Cost None for members; $5 donation for guests

Register Now!

Another chance to check out birds that can be found on this varied habitat  property.  We expect to see a large variety of birds including Anhingas, Egrets, Herons, Osprey and other birds of prey.  The tide will be going out so hopefully we’ll see some shorebirds on the mud flats of Kiawah River.  If we are lucky, we will see an eagle and osprey duel over a fish. We should also see and hear some of the smaller birds like Tufted Titmice, Eastern Bluebirds, Northern Cardinals.  We will drive to various locations on the property and then walk for better birding observations.  Of course ,this also gives us a chance to see this neighboring development.

As always, be sure to bring your binoculars, hats, water and sunscreen.  

If you are not yet a 2022 SIB member, you must first become a member for only $10 by following the instructions on our website: https://seabrookislandbirders.org/contact/join-sib/. You may bring the form and your dues to the event. Or you may pay the Guest Fee of $5.

Please register no later than Friday, June 24, 2022..  All registrants will receive a confirmation letter on Saturday, June 25th.  

Father birds: How involved are they?

To celebrate Father’s Day, let’s investigate how involved male birds are in raising their young.  The short answer is…it varies. Here is an article from Birds and Bloom with lots of good information. Bet this one brings a smile to your face!

Meet the Best Bird Dads and Learn How They Help Out Around The Nest

Join SIB for Learning Together at Palmetto Lake

Thursday, June 23, 2022 7:00pm-9:00pm
Location: Meet at Equestrian end of Lake House parking lot
Max: 15
Cost: Free for 2022 members, $5 for guests


Celebrate the official start of summer by bird watching! Join the Seabrook Island Birders for a leisurely walk around Palmetto Lake. We plan to walk part way along the path towards the Equestrian Center then hopefully see the “white birds” come in to roost for the evening. The path around Palmetto Lake is wheelchair navigable and for those walking it will be probably only a quarter of a mile. As we walk along Seabrook Island Road, we hope to see some of our resident summer warblers such as Yellow-throated Warblers or my favorite Black and White Warbler. We also expect to see a large variety of birds including Northern Cardinals, Carolina Wrens, Herons and birds of prey. If the “white birds” get the invitation, we hope to see Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets and White Ibis roosting for the evening. Laughing Gulls and Terns often fly overhead. Orchard Orioles, Summer Tanagers and Brown Thrashers are also possibilities.

Bring your binoculars, hats, bug spray and a beverage of choice. You may also wish to bring a chair to sit and enjoy your beverage while watching the birds coming in for their evening roost.

If you are not yet a 2022 SIB member, you must first become a member for only $10 by following the instructions on our website: https://seabrookislandbirders.org/contact/join-sib/. You may bring the form and your dues to the event. Or you may pay the Guest Fee of $5.

Please register no later than Tuesday June 21st. All registrants will receive a confirmation letter on Wednesday, the day prior to the trip.

Ask SIB: Are Egrets and Herons the same thing?

Question: Are Egrets and Herons the same thing?
– SIB Member at recent SIB Bird Walk

Answer: SIB’s Bob Mercer provided this response:

The short answer—Egrets and herons are closely related. Generally, Egrets are white birds and Herons dark, but that does not really tell the true story. The scientific study of taxonomy separates all living things into smaller and smaller increments until the get down to the species level. This breakdown results from finding similarities based upon body structure and now genetics. You may remember learning in your high school biology classes that the last three taxonomic categories are Family, Genus, and Species. One might think of things in at the Family level of being comparable to cousins, the Genus would be siblings, and the species the individual.

All herons and egrets reside taxonomically within the bird family Ardeidae, which means they are closely related. This family is broken down into 18 genera. If the above statement held true – herons dark and egrets light, the white birds would be in the same genus. Oh how nice it would be if life were so simple. It does not work that way. Currently even taxonomists struggle with assigning these birds into the appropriate genus. According to Birds of the World, the current accepted breakdown has the birds within this grouping breaks out as follows. Within the genus Ardea, one finds our Great Blue Heron and Great Egret. Within the genus Egretta, we find Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, and Tricolored Heron. This certainly does not follow the white dark breakdown. Furthermore, the Green Heron, the Black-crowned Night-Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, and Cattle Egret all reside in different genera.

Reference: Winkler, D. W., S. M. Billerman, and I. J. Lovette (2020). Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns (Ardeidae), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman, B. K. Keeney, P. G. Rodewald, and T. S. Schulenberg, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.ardeid1.01

Help on Shorebird identification

Shorebirds always challenge my identification skills. I decided it was time to review various material I’ve seen. I thought maybe the list could be beneficial to others even if it wasn’t all encompassing.

I started by adding this bookmark from Audubon to my birding backpack so I have it for quick reference:

I recently received an email from Audubon with a link to this article. It has some good overview information: Shorebirds 101: What to Look for When You Hit the Water

Bob Mercer has created the Field Guide to the Shorebirds of North Beach, Seabrook Island, SC. It is designed to be printed as a booklet. Printing is to be done double sided and flipped on short side. When done that way, the birds end up next to the description.

Seabrook Island Birders has also presented several shorebird programs that have been recorded which are available for watching at any time:

Janet Thibault: Seabrook’s Amazing Shorebirds!

Bob Mercer: Shorebird Identification on Seabrook Island, South Carolina

I hope these materials are helpful to you as they have been to me.

SIB “Bird of the Week” – Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird:
Family – Trochilidae
Species – Archilochus colubris
Length: 3 – 3.75”; Wingspan: 4.25 – 4.5”; Weight: 0.1 oz

(Submitted by Ron Schlidge)

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird - Bob Hider
Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird – Bob Hider

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only hummer known by most Easterners and has a range that covers most of eastern North America.  Both sexes have glittering green crown and upperparts, and the underparts are grayish to white.  Males have black faces and a deep red to orange-red throat or gorget.  The humming of its wings is clearly discernible from a distance.  Their wings beat up to 75 per second. 

They feed primarily on nectar but take some insects and spiders, also sap from sapsucker drill wells.  In courtship flight, males make a huge 180-degree arcs back and forth, emitting a buzzing sound at its lowest point.  Males often arrive on breeding grounds well ahead of females.  These birds are strongly attracted to the color red as are many other hummers. 

The nest of the hummingbird is very small and made from soft plant down, fireweed, milkweed thistles and leaves.  They are a solitary breeder and generally lay two white eggs the size of a pea with incubation 11 to 16 days by the female. Altricial young stay in nest 20 – 22 days and are fed by the female. They have 1-3 broods per year.

Ruby-throated Hummers feed on red columbine in spring; salvia, trumpet or coral honeysuckle, and bee balm later in the year. They also fed on jewelweed, phlox, petunias, lilies, trumpet creeper, Siberian peatree, nasturtium, cone-shaped red flowers and sugar water.

You can mix your own sugar water by using a  4:1 ratio of water to sugar (ex:  2 cups of water and 1/2 cup of sugar).  Red food dyes added to sugar water may harm birds.  Always replace the sugar water in your feeders at least once a week and maybe more in the hot days of summer.

A group of Hummingbirds has many collective nouns, including a “bought”, “glittering”, “hover”, “shimmer” and a “tune” of hummingbirds.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are common on Seabrook in the summer. They can be seen over the beach, amid the dunes, and in the myrtles along the boardwalks.  They are also around the estuaries and edges wherever they may find nectar-producing plants and small insects.  If you have a home you might try a feeder – they will come.  A very few might spend the winter.  A feeder in winter might also attract other vagrant species such as the Rufous Hummingbird or Black-chinned Hummingbird.

(See the range map following the photographs below.)

If you would like to learn more about this bird visit:

This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents.  When possible we will use photographs taken by our members.    Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.

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