Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How to Enjoy Hummingbirds With Kids – Quality Time and Practical Learning Opportunity

How to Attract Hummingbirds © Katrena
As April approaches, you can probably find me checking my cabinets to see that I have plenty of granulated sugar. The sweet stuff is not for me, it is for the birds. Literally.

I love to feed and attract hummingbirds. When I check migration maps and see that ruby-throated hummingbirds have been seen near where I live, I want to be ready! Feeding hummingbirds can be a great learning opportunity for the kids, and I have found that feeding wildlife can be a fun family activity.

Easy Clean Hummingbird Feeder © Katrena
Choosing a Hummingbird Feeder

When choosing a feeder, I found that it is easier to pick one with a wide top that will come completely apart for cleaning. Sugar water can quickly mold, especially in the hot summer weather in North Carolina. Cleaning feeders is my least favorite part of the project, but when doing it together with the kids, you can teach them about the importance of protecting the birds' safety. Regularly cleaning the feeders and changing the food frequently is recommended.

I have a friend who has so many hummers that her husband ended up refilling the feeders every 15 minutes at one point last summer. She said that her birds particularly like the feeders that sort of look like test tubes. They are a little harder to clean but may be worth the effort if you are looking to attract large numbers.

How to Make Hummingbird Food

Recipe for Hummer Food © Katrena
I make my own hummingbird food. I know it is fresh and without dyes. I use four parts water to one part granulated sugar. I boil the water first, take it off the heat, and add the sugar, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Here's a quick chart for varying amounts of hummer food:

1/2 cup
2 cups
1 cup
4 cups
2 cups
8 cups

This can be a great opportunity for the kids to learn a little math. My four-year-old may help count the number of cups. I might ask the older kids questions like "If I'm boiling 12 cups of water, how many cups of sugar do I need?" after giving them the ratio. This can be a fun way to practice graphing. I particularly like the Kids' Zone Create a Graph web site. You can also graph bird sightings by day or hour.

After making the hummingbird sugar water, I let it cool before transferring to my feeders. The kids can help with this – it is easier to pour outside if spilling is likely. My kids love to use the funnel when putting the rest in a jug for later use.

How to Store Hummingbird Nectar © Katrena
 How to Store Hummingbird Nectar

Store hummingbird food in the refrigerator. The How to Enjoy Hummingbirds web site lists recommendations for cleaning feeders and the frequency of changing the food in the feeders and states that excess nectar can be stored in the refrigerator for two weeks. My friends who attract large numbers of birds say that changing the nectar frequently is the key to great success. Hummingbird sugar water can even mold in the refrigerator. Don't ask me how I know that interesting tidbit of information.

Hummer food storage gets a little tricky at my house because we tend to use a 2-liter bottle if we are making the 2/8 ratio above. The leftover amount typically fits nicely into the 2-liter, but more than once a family member has been known to pour a big glass and take a nice swig of the sweet stuff!

Label Hummingbird Food to Avoid Drinking It! © Katrena
How to Avoid Drinking Hummingbird Sugar Water

An easy solution to the accidental hummer food drinking is to make a bright label. The kids can get creative with this! I use wide packing tape and completely cover the label with the clear tape so I do not have to make a new one every time I wash the storage container.

I love to plant flowers and this can also be a wonderful opportunity to teach the kids gardening skills while planting flowers that attract hummers the natural way.

Watching Hummingbirds - Great Way to Connect With Kids © Katrena
Enjoy Watching Hummingbirds With the Kids

Finally, the favorite part! Watching the hummingbirds can be quite a treat. Yes, it can be a lesson in patience as they typically do not magically appear at the beginning of the season as soon as the feeders are hung unless your neighbor happens to be an avid birder.

My girls and I love to sit on the porch in a big swing and watch the birds as they feed and interact. They sometimes giggle and say how silly the birds are to fight when there is plenty for all of them...ah, that's another article altogether and perhaps another lesson in life!

Check out the Wildflower Bouquets site map for more articles about connecting with kids, scavenger hunt clues, printables, and more!

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