I get called or e-mailed once in awhile because someone has the problem of hummingbirds getting trapped in their garage. It happened to me a couple of times before I figured it out. If you have an electronic garage door opener, it has a safety pull which you can pull in case of a power failure or emergency so you can open the door. Invariably, the handle on the safety pull is red and it hangs in the air in the middle of the garage, tempting hummingbird passer-by. Solution? Spray the handle black.
Why are hummers attracted to red? Well, over millions of years, flowers that need to be cross-pollinated have developed adaptations to attract insects or birds or even. The pollinators come for the food, mainly nectar, and pick up pollen in the process. The next flower they visit gets some of that pollen and leaves its own on the pollinator. The birds and insects get food and the flowers get pollinated. So evolution has created a variety of flower forms to attract pollinators and in the case of hummingbirds it is often tube-or trumped- shaped red flowers. The shape is to facilitate feeding by hummers and the red, orange, or bright pink color is their signal to the birds. Insect-pollinated flowers have a variety of shapes and colors and more pollen to attract bugs and insects cannot see reddish flowers as well as they can see other colors, lessening competition for the hummers.
So do you have to put out red hummingbird feeders or red nectar or tie red ribbons around your hummingbird feeder? No, the birds will find it anyway because they move around and explore quite quickly, but a red signal will help them find it.
You can use commercial hummingbird nectar or make it yourself with table sugar. Most recipes call for 4:1 water to sugar but I prefer 5:1 as too high a concentration of sugar can cause crystallization of sugar on their bill and cause bill rot from a bacterial infestation. You can add red dye if you wish. There is NO EVIDENCE that red dye causes any harm to the birds, contrary to popular myth. One website admits there is no evidence but still warns against it!
I don’t use hummingbird feeders because they are a pain to maintain – fill, clean, refill, clean, refill, etc. Hummer feeders set up a competitive territorial situation that is stressful for the birds and attracts predators. I much prefer to plant hummingbird flowers, and there are lots of possibilities such as zinnias, lobelias, fuchias, petunias, sweet pea, salvias, nasturtium, lobelia, digitalis and asclepias.
Ever hear the myth that hummingbirds don’t have feet? People believed it for a long time and the taxonomic order of hummingbirds is Apodiformes, apod meaning “without feet.” They do have feet, of course, used only for perching. And recent reclassification puts them in the Superorder Apodimorphae, if you care to know.
And why do hummingbirds hum? They don’t know the words.