Hummingbirds are petite, colorful, graceful, and unique critters. Harlon was a grizzled, gnarly, Mountain Man, war veteran with a kind and gentle heart. These two characters don’t seem to match but in Harlon’s world, the hummingbirds were family.
“I feed my family every morning off of my porch by hand”, said Harlon. “Usually a few hundred show up!” This sounded like a load of BS to me. Rarely did I ever see more than one Hummingbird at my feeder.
The next morning, I joined the breakfast group and was amazed that Harlon was telling the truth. Literally hundreds of buzzing hummingbirds surrounded us. Who even knew that there were any hummingbirds in the mountains of western Maryland. Harlon would hold out his finger and several hummingbirds would land on it. Harlon was the Hummingbird Whisperer!
The “family flock” certainly enjoyed the dozen or so nectar feeders hanging around the shaded porch. They also shared his extra sweet cup of coffee. Hungry birds would land on the cup’s lip and sip away. I am not sure how the caffeine impacted these birds but they certainly were alert and healthy.
Hummingbirds were around for most of the year if the weather stayed nice. At some point they sought refuge further south but always returned for Harlon’s nectar and attention.
Harlon’s tricks were always simple. The nectar was made from 4 parts water to one part of cane sugar. The water was clean and the hummingbirds preferred cane sugar over sugar beet sugar. No chemicals or dyes were needed. He hung ribbons of bright red survey tape from some feeders. The feeders did not have to be red. The birds were able to sense and smell the nectar but the bright colors and movement of the ribbon seemed to attract them.
Keeping ants and other critters away from the feeders is a challenge. Hummingbirds will not use the nectar if it has ants, bees or other contaminants around. Old nectar tends to be moldy or contain yeast that they avoid. Harlon would smear a bit of bearing grease around the hook that held the feeder. Ants would get stuck in the grease and be unable to crawl down the feeder hook. I have also used sticky side out duct tape and Vaseline for this purpose. Some folks say that Vaseline washes into the nectar and could be harmful.
Frequent nectar changes and maintenance will help to neutralize these concerns. Change the nectar every few days especially when it is hot or you stop seeing visitors. I rarely allow my nectar to sit for more than a week. My feeder is not the Woodstock Celebration that Harlon enjoyed but it is certainly enjoyable to have hummingbirds stop over for a drink. I have success in Montana and Maryland serving up nectar at my Hummingbird cafes.
Harlon has migrated to the great beyond. His feathered clan are still around and stop by to enjoy a sip or two on Harlon’s porch. Every time that I see a feeding hummingbird, I think about the Hummingbird Whisperer and am reminded how a rough and tough man can be a sweet and gentle spirit at the same time.
For more Montana Grant, visit his website at www.montanagrantfishing.com