It's time to sweeten up the bird feeders

The neotropical migrants have arrived, so it is time to switch into the summer mode at the feeding station. This means getting nectar feeders and jelly feeders in place now before the migration is complete. The sooner you get them out the better.

Although, male hummingbirds were here in late April, many female hummingbirds continue to arrive in Connecticut daily. When these birds arrive along the shores of Connecticut, they will have nearly expended all of their fat reserves and will have begun burning muscle for energy. A bright red hummingbird feeder freshly filled with nectar will attract these iridescent birds like a magnet.

Imagine these tiny birds, which weigh no more than a nickel, flying more than 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico non-stop. By having the feeders out when they arrive, you will increase the chances of attracting more of them. Later, when the weather warms and breeding pairs find nesting sites, there will be fewer hummingbirds; however, you can keep some around by planting appropriate flowers.

Hummingbirds live on the nectar that would otherwise be trapped within long tubular shaped flowers. Thus, the tiny bird fulfills the function of pollination much as a bee does; but the hummingbird has a special niche, because it can reach into flowers at angles few other pollinators choose.

Consequently, the perennial plant bee balm is attractive to hummingbirds; another is the butterfly bush, which can grow to more than 10 feet. Other plants include cardinal flower, foxglove, begonia, gladiolus and morning glory. Remember, red flowers work best at luring hummingbirds.

Another nectar-sipping species is the brilliantly colored black and orange Baltimore oriole. This oriole makes a long journey from South America and Central America at 22 to 30 miles per hour. They must endure severe spring storms, cold spells and dangerous stop-over resting sites.

Once in Connecticut, orioles will feed on suet. Many birders use an oriole feeder filled with a sugar solution, but oranges and apples are enticing, too. A piece of wood works great when the fruit is halved and pierced through with a nail.

Rose-breasted grosbeaks may compete with the orioles for the fruit. Generally, these grosbeaks prefer grape jelly and black oil sunflower seed. Grosbeaks appeared at my feeder the first week of May; their song is similar to the robins' and they are often over-looked. However, once spotted, their beauty will leave a lasting impression.

Catbirds will feed on jelly, too. I empty the jar onto my fly-through feeder, which is up on a 6-foot pole with a baffle and totally raccoon-proof. You may want to use a hanging jelly feeder though.

Continue filling your feeders with whatever you were offering your birds through the winter, as many of the summer breeding migratory species will be attracted to suet and seeds. Species such as eastern towhees, indigo buntings and chipping sparrows will take to small seeds. Warblers and other insectivores will sometimes feed on suet, too.

The secret to spring bird feeding is preparation. Migration is a costly venture that requires plenty of fat reserves. Some of these birds will regain approximately 4 percent of their lean body weight per day and that means plenty of action at your feeder.

Robert Tougias is a birding author who lives in Colchester. He is available for slide lectures, and you can send him questions at rtougias@snet.net

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