Hummingbirds can form bonds with people.
Hummingbirds can lose their fear of humans and even be induced to use a finger as a perch while they drink sugar water at a feeder.
Backyard bird watchers credibly report being greeted by hummingbirds as if the birds knew they were friends.
And there are many stories of a hummingbird entering a home and following a human as she or he moves from room to room.
High Intelligence Explains Why Hummingbirds Attach to Humans
The apparent friendliness between hummingbirds and their humans probably has a lot to do with the fact that hummingbirds have intelligence far out of proportion to their size.
A human’s brain accounts for about 2 percent of body weight. A hummingbird’s brain is proportionally more than double that, at 4.2 percent.
A hummingbird’s brain has an unusually large and active hippocampus.
Human brains make up about 2 percent of an average person’s body weight; hummingbirds more than double that at 4.2 percent.
Hummingbirds can remember up to 500,000 locations where they can find flowers, and they can remember them sequentially.
A hummingbird can chart a path from flower to flower, knowing when they visited the flower last, how long the flower takes to refill with nectar, and whether the nectar was weak or sweet.
These birds need that brainpower to stay fed. These tiny creatures need sugar to survive.
One reporter calculated that if hummingbirds were the same size as humans, they would need the equivalent of over 1,000 cans of sugar-sweetened soda every day just to avoid starvation.
The tiny hummingbird has to visit between 1,000 and 2,000 flowers a day to stay fed.
Every time a hummingbird visits a flower, it wicks up about half of a microliter (half of a millionth of a liter, about 0.5 ml) of sugar-rich nectar.
A one-quart hummingbird feeder contains about 1 liter of sugary “nectar,” the equivalent of 2,000 flowers.
A single feeder can support one or two hummingbirds for a whole day.
So, someone who can keep a hummingbird or a whole family of hummingbirds fed is the kind of friend a hummingbird wants.
They may love us for our sugar water, but they can become fast friends.
How Hummingbirds Express Their Appreciation of Humans
Hummingbirds have been known to spot backyard bird watchers and fly around their heads to remind them to refill their feeders or to tell them that sugar water has gone bad.
There are also times that hummingbirds will fly up to humans after the feeder has been filled and they have had long drinks. (A hummingbird can take the equivalent of about 4 hours of feeding in a single 10-second drink at a feeder.)
A female hummingbird might circle a feeder, dipping its beak into one fake flower after another.
It might then hover at eye level in front of the birdwatcher for 20 to 30 seconds.
Then the female might fly off, but fly back a few seconds later with its mate. Both hummingbirds might hover 20 or 30 seconds more.
The male will make sure you look at it head-on, so you can see its colorful feathers.
We don’t really know what the hummingbirds mean by this interaction. But it seems a lot like “Thank you.”
You Can Get Started Making Friends with Hummingbirds with a Feeder
If you want to make friends with hummers, the only absolute essential is hanging up at least one hummingbird feeder.
Hummingbird feeders are refueling stations for the hummingbirds that pass through or build their nests in your backyard.
The only thing you need to put in them is sugar water.
How to Begin a Sweet Friendship with a Hummingbird
Sugar water is made with water and white table sugar.
Don’t use brown sugar (the molasses in it contains too much iron), and don’t use honey (it can spoil, and it attracts bees).
Dissolve a cup of sugar in a quart of water. (If you work with the metric system, that’s 200 grams of sugar in a liter of water.)
A cup of sugar in a quart of water is a 4 to 1 ratio of water to sugar.
It’s OK to make your sugar a little more dilute, down to 5 parts of water to 1 part of sugar (about 3/4 of a cup of sugar in a quart of water), or a little stronger, up to 3 to 1 (about 1-1/2 cups of sugar in a quart of water), but don’t go beyond these limits.
Hummingbirds don’t like weak sugar water, and concentrated sugar water will form crystals inside the feeder.
Also read: How Long Does Hummingbird Nectar Last?
Hang your Hummingbird Feeder in a Safe Place
Your relationship with a hummingbird (or, more commonly, a pair of hummingbirds) won’t last very long if you don’t put up your feeder in a safe place.
Hummingbird feeders need to be high enough that they are out of reach of passing dogs and cats.
They need to be hung with a squirrel baffle to keep nosy squirrels away. (In rare instances, squirrels will eat hummingbirds.)
Hummingbird feeders need to be in enough sun that they are easy for your bird visitors to find.
But they need to get afternoon shade so the sugar water inside does not overheat and crystallize.
It’s OK to place a feeder directly on a window to make watching your hummers easier. It’s also OK to place a feeder at least 15 feet (5 meters) away from any glass window.
The danger zone is 5 to 15 feet (1.5 to 5 meters) away from a glass window.
Some birds won’t be able to “hit the brakes” fast enough to avoid crashing into your windows. Serious injury or death can result.
One Feeder, Two Feeders, or More?
When your goal is to watch hummingbirds, it’s usually a good idea to hang more than one hummingbird feeder in your backyard.
Most species of hummingbirds are extremely territorial. Their lives depend on their ability to feed, so they become fierce defenders of their food sources.
The usual advice to backyard bird watchers is to hang multiple feeders out of sight of each other, so hummingbirds won’t fight over them.
But if you do this, there won’t be a single pair of hummingbirds that gets to know you well enough to begin to be something like a pet.
Stick to one feeder when you want to make a pet out of mating hummingbirds.
It can be a small feeder with a single feeding port, if you keep it filled with fresh nectar at all times.
Eventually, one male hummingbird will run off all the other hummingbirds except its mate.
Those are the two hummingbirds that will see you often enough to establish a relationship.
How to Get Hummingbirds to Land on Your Finger
Getting a hummingbird to land on your finger takes some patience but isn’t impossible.
Once you have had hummingbirds coming to your backyard feeder for at least a week, try this simple technique:
Set up a comfortable lawn chair in full sun or partial shade about 3 feet (a meter) away from your hummingbird feeder.
Many backyard hummingbird watchers report that it helps to wear a red shirt or blouse and a red cap or hat to get the hummingbird’s attention.
Sit very still. Once a hummingbird comes to the feeder, wave hello to it.
The hummingbird will be spooked. It will fly away.
Move a little closer to the feeder, just about six inches (15 cm). In a few minutes, the hummingbird will come back to the feeder.
This time, don’t wave at the bird. Let it take a long drink of sugar water.
It can take 15 to 20 minutes for the hummingbird to feel comfortable enough with your presence to take a quick drink at your feeder.
Even if the hummingbird only stays at the feeder for a second or two, it is getting much more nourishment than it would at several dozen flowers.
Stay quietly in place in your lawn chair for another few minutes. Then take the bird feeder in hand. Pick it up. Hold it.
Lower the feeder so you can lay your arm on the armrest, and you don’t get tired holding the feeder.
Because you are holding the feeder, the lower placement won’t put the hummingbirds at risk from predators.
Holding the feeder in place, don’t look at it. Don’t look at the hummingbird when it comes back.
Observe the bird through your peripheral vision.
Hummingbirds reserve eye-to-eye contact for intimidation (of competing hummingbirds, looking them into the eye as they chase them away) or special relationships, like looking into the eyes of their mate.
Let the hummingbird drink from the feeder at least once while you are holding it.
When it comes back around, usually in five or ten minutes, let it drink for just a second and then gently move the feeder so it has to move to continue feeding.
Hummingbirds have super-fast metabolisms. They cannot stay away from a rich nectar source for more than a few minutes.
Continue your new routine. Let the hummingbird take a sip, but move the feeder away after about a second.
If you do this for about half an hour, the hummingbird will get used to you. The hummingbirds know what the feeder is, because they have been coming to it.
Move your finger in front of the feeder port after going through this routine for an hour or so, and they will land on your finger and feed.
Some people are able to get hummingbirds to drink nectar out of the palm of their hand.
Experts say that the keys to success with this process are:
- Let hummingbirds come to you. Once you find a comfortable place to sit near the feeder, don’t move around your yard.
- Don’t look at hummingbirds directly until they get used to you. Staring directly into the face of a hummingbird is interpreted as an act of aggression between birds. You could be much more intimidating than another hummingbird if you do this too early in your relationship with the bird.
- You can invite a friend or friends to join you in taming hummingbirds. But you can’t have a loud conversation, and everyone sitting around the feeder needs to be still. Don’t sit in the hummingbird’s usual flight path to the feeder from their nest or daytime perch.
- The best time to train a hummingbird to perch on your finger or in your hand is late in the afternoon. Hummingbirds need to fuel up to survive the night. During the middle of the day they are out chasing insects for protein and fat.
Making Yourself Part of the Hummingbird Flock
Hummingbirds aren’t usually social birds.
They are too competitive in most situations. However, there are hummingbirds that are more social than others, especially Allen’s and Anna’s Hummingbirds.
Allen’s Hummingbirds are common in California south of San Francisco down through western Mexico.
They sometimes decide to take residence in coastal Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.
Anna’s Hummingbirds live year-round as far north as the Panhandle of Alaska and as far south as Baja California, and eastward into Arizona and New Mexico.
Both of these hummingbirds are highly dependent on feeders for their survival.
Hummingbirds that spend the whole year in the same place show some unusual behaviors.
- Except during mating season, males of these species are not especially competitive. Two males might share the same feeder, if it has multiple feeding ports, for as long as 10 seconds, or even a little more.
- Hummingbirds that live in the same place all year breed in the same place all year. Mother hummingbirds take care of as many as four broods of babies every year.
- In year-round nesting locations, hummingbirds visit feeders 24 hours a day if they can. Shy hummingbirds may show up only after midnight, but you will see some of the same hummingbirds during the day every day.
There are backyard feeders in southern California that have been in continuous operation every day of the year for over 25 years.
When you have a stable population of hummingbirds all year long, you can make friends with more than one pair of birds.
You can make several birds comfortable with you. They will also be comfortable with each other, because they are assured of being fed.
No matter where you live, you can make friends with at least a pair of hummingbirds.
Just remember that their affection for you is dependent on their ability to survive in your backyard, and keep them fed every day you want to have them around as pets.
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