Monday, December 23, 2013

Upcycled Hummingbird Feeder

My grade 6 teacher, Miss Crossley, was a wonderful woman who introduced me to, among other things, the fascinating hobby of bird watching.  It was a difficult year which ended with a move to a new province following my parents' divorce, and birding became not just an interesting distraction, but a way for me to acclimate to a new place and start setting down roots.  For each subsequent move, and there have been quite a few (Utah, California, Massachusetts, Florida, and now Washington), friends of the feathered variety have been some of the first to welcome me and help me feel at home.
When we moved to the Pacific Northwest this summer, we were enchanted to find our garden frequented by Anna's hummingbirds, a species that not only breeds in the area but also overwinters here.  Tiny but territorial, our one feeder was not enough for all the hummingbirds I could hear in the trees, so we found a way to make a few extra to hang up throughout the yard, out of view from each other so as not to spark too many turf wars.  On freezing mornings when we bring out the feeders after keeping them indoors overnight, they are so eager to get at the nectar that they will come and take sips while we are still holding them up to hang.
I got the idea for the feeder from a Youtube video tutorial but made a few modifications so as to use supplies I had on hand.  You'll need:
  • a glass bottle
  • a lidded plastic tub (no more than 8oz size, and the shallower the better
  • something to cut the plastic with (knife or scissors)
  • a hole punch
  • twine
  • red tape, spray paint, foam, etc. to attract the birds
Start by tracing the bottle opening on the plastic lid.  The goal is to make a hole large enough to fit the mouth of the bottle through, but small enough that it gets caught by the widest ridge on the bottle neck.  The plastic will stretch a bit, so it's safest to start small and trim off more if needed.
Cut a criss-cross in the center of the traced circle and then cut around it with scissors

With a hole punch, make a few holes around the lid, about midway between the edge and the cut circle.  These will be the feeder ports which the hummingbirds access the nectar through; you can enlarge them a little by punching several times close together.

Try it on the bottle for size.  It should be very snug, but barely possible to get over the widest ridge on the bottle.  This lid will be supporting the weight of the nectar in the container when it is hung, so a good tight fit is important.

For the hanger, I knotted some twine in a pseudo-macramé way to make a hanger that would hold the bottle securely.  Start with two 3-4 foot lengths, and near the center, make two overhand knots spaced far enough apart to fit the neck of the bottle but not so far as to let the body of the bottle slide through:

Take one strand from each side, and join them with another overhand knot so it forms a triangle about a third to half of the way down the bottle:

Here's a close-up of that overhand knot:

Repeat on the opposite side, so they are symmetrical:
Separate those two strands again, taking one from each side and knotting them together to make a diamond shape:
Repeat this on the other side.  Depending on the size of your bottle you may want to make yet another set of knots (another diamond-shaped layer); for this root beer bottle this was enough to hold it securely.  Then gather all your strands and knot them together securely in one last overhand knot.
Now back to the lid.  Since humming birds are attracted to red flowers, having some red around the feeder holes is probably a good idea.  If you have a plain lid, this is easily done with some red plastic tape around the holes (or, as in the green-bottled feeder above, cutting flower shapes from a sheet of red craft foam, punching holes in the center, and gluing it to the lid).  Since the only container I had was a cream cheese tub, I thought spray-painting the whole thing red would probably do the trick, and they had no trouble figuring it out at all.  They're smart little birds and likely don't even need the red to help them figure it out, especially if you are hanging it somewhere they are used to feeding.  But the red paint prettied it up and at least clued in my human visitors on why I'm hanging up cream cheese containers.
To fill the feeders, put the lid on the bottle, fill the bottle with a solution of 4 parts water to 1part sugar (see this Audubon post on some instructions and tips for feeding hummingbirds).  Then snap the bottom of the container onto the lid, and invert.  The nectar will fill the tub to the level of the mouth of the bottle, about a half inch from the lid (you can see this in the photos of feeders with clear plastic tubs).
Then hang it up on a nail, and wait for the birds to discover it.
Happy birding!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Overrun by Fairy Critters

The last couple of mornings in our house have started something like this:

Little Brother (of course he's in our bed by 6:30am):  Let's go see where he is!
Baby Girl (on my other side): Ok!
Me (urgent whisper to Man-of-the-house): Dmmt I frgt t mv it!
Man: Huh?
Me: I frgt t mv it!!
Man:  What?
Me:  Wo wang le! (translation:  I forgot! -in Chinese)
Man:  Wangle shenme? (translation:  Forgot what?)
Me: IT!  (because both kids know what E-L-F spells and I have no idea how it translates to Chinese and neither does he)
Man (finally catching on):  Oh.  OH.  Wait kids, you can't go downstairs until you give dad a big hug and a kiss goodbye.  No, that wasn't big enough, no, another one, BIGGER HUG...

...all while I careen down the stair case to move that damned elf from his last perch.

I'm not here to write about boycotting the evil genius of marketing and fable-making that brought this false tradition of lying to children and inspiring un-Christian faith in idols that undermines parental authority.  There are plenty of posts on that, and you can find your angst elsewhere.  We have an elf, and until the little ones stop wanting him around, he will probably keep showing up on December 1st.

We got our elf last year when the kids came home from kindergarten and preschool with stories of all their friends' elves, and the classroom elf, and asking why Santa wouldn't send an elf their way to see how good they were being, too.  Then they figured out that you have to adopt them, at, say, Target (for a mere $29.95 adoption fee, what a steal for your OWN ELF!)  And while I thought the elf was creepy, I remembered a similar elf from my own childhood, which sat on my tree looking creepy too, but clearly I turned out ok, so what was the harm in indulging this wish?  Maybe I could locate the old elf, and then we'd have our own vintage elf, which surely would make up for any crass commercialism behind this whole elf on the shelf thing.

Me and my elf, circa 1979

I checked with my dad to see if he could dig up the elf in his storage - I hadn't seen it since the divorce in the mid-80s - and he looked among his things, but either too many years or too much storage had contrived to misplace this elf.  (I haven't given up hope, since my dad never throws away anything of sentimental value, and it hailed from a factory in Hong Kong that he worked at in the early 60's, that made toys destined for US markets.  One day I will go and personally dig through his garage myself.  But I digress).  No vintage elf.  So we caved in to peer pressure, and bought adopted one.

But I'm really not an ideal adoptive parent to anything this high maintenance.  The kids' friends, their moms would scour Pinterest for ideas and set up little scenes of the elf drinking syrup in the fridge or taking mini marshmallow bubble baths or fishing for goldfish crackers.  I am the kind of mom that on more occasions than I care to admit has woken up to a tearful child sobbing "She never came!" and has had to walk him back with a dollar tucked in my hand, saying "Are you sure you checked everywhere?  Oh you checked inside the pillowcase too?  Well maybe it fell, let's check in the frame of the bed, here under the mattress, oh look! Here it is!" 

And Elf on the Shelf?  It's like being the tooth fairy... for Twenty. Four. Days. In. A. Row.

Give it up, then, you say.  A friend suggested having the dog eat it...and I bet he would. (Good dog).  And the Man-of-the-house came up with the idea of hanging the elf by a noose outside of Primrose's house, and letting the kids come to their own conclusions.  And possibly scarring them for life.

I don't quite have the heart to do it.  How many more years do I have before logic robs them of their passport to fairyland?  Besides, thoughts of the elf gets Little Brother out of his bed, happy, at 6:30am in this cold dark northern clime, a feat that so borders on the miraculous that I am willing to cut the elf some slack.

Which still doesn't solve the problem of my actually having to move it every night.  Until, in the midst of griping, I suddenly came up with a solution.  What if I gave myself an incentive to deal with the elf every evening?  I have no use for cute Pinterest scenes, and besides, that just sets the stage for raising expectations to the point where mom has a breakdown, collapses among the bottles with the elf, and elf-shaming begins (you can look that one up for yourself, too).

But setting up tableaux of his untimely demise, playing with my camera and tripod, thinking up Godfather references, this would be fun, and I would remember to put the elf back in a new place after my evening entertainment, and the kids would never know the difference.

And so I give you:

I keep my sanity, the kids keep their fantasies, and the elf lives to see another day.  Win-win-win.

*No elves were harmed in the making of this scene.  I don't have $29.95 to throw away every night.