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!

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