Hummingbirds are the most well known birds that thrive on a nectivorous diet, but many other types of birds also have a sweet tooth and will happily visit nectar feeders. Backyard birders need to consider the good and bad of those visits to provide suitable sipping opportunities for a wide range of different birds.
Why Birds Like Nectar
All birds have relatively high metabolic rates and the high sugar content of nectar – whether it is natural nectar from flowers or supplemental sugar water provided in nectar feeders – provides an exceptional energy source to fuel birds' active lifestyles.
This is easy, convenient food, and many different birds will sample nectar from an available feeder, even if they don't typically rely on nectar for a large portion of their diet.
Birds visit nectar feeders for more reasons than an interest in nectar as a food source, however. A popular hummingbird feeder will catch the attention of other birds, and they may perch on the feeder or investigate feeding ports out of curiosity. Insects that sip on the nectar may also attract insectivorous birds that pluck morsels off the feeder, even though the birds aren't directly interested in the nectar. The nectar feeder may simply be a convenient perch near other feeders or to survey a feeding territory, or if the feeder has a water-filled ant moat, any bird might take a sip of the water. But what birds might take the most interest in nectar feeders?
Birds That Visit Nectar Feeders
Depending on the location of the feeder, its size and what other birds are in the region, many different species might investigate a hummingbird feeder.
Birds that are regularly seen at nectar feeders, other than the hummingbirds those feeders are intended for, include…
- House finches
In addition to other curious birds, a wide variety of wildlife may also be seen at nectar feeders, including…
Any of these visitors will appreciate a sweet sip, and they may go to great measures to access the feeder and usurp the nectar.
The Pros and Cons of Uninvited Guests
It can be a treat to attract additional birds to the backyard, even if the feeders they visit aren't intended for them. More birds create a bigger yard list and better avian diversity in the yard, and give backyard birders the opportunity to adjust their yard to meet more birds' needs. It isn't always a pleasure to have other birds and wildlife visiting hummingbird feeders, however, and they can cause a number of problems, such as…
- Tipping the hummingbird feeder and spilling nectar, leading to waste and attracting more insects or unwanted wildlife to the sticky mess.
- Emptying feeders much more quickly, as larger birds and other wildlife have bigger appetites than most hummingbirds.
- Damaging nectar feeders as they claw or chew on the feeder to reach the nectar or knock the feeder off a hook or pole.
- Disrupting hummingbirds from feeding, as these tiny birds may be intimidated by much larger birds at the feeder and will leave.
- Preying on hummingbirds, as different hummingbird predators may take advantage of feeders to lay in wait for prey.
Accommodating Other Nectar-Lovers
With unintended guests causing so many problems at hummingbird feeders, it is best to discourage their visits and preserve those feeders for the tiny flying jewels they're meant to nourish. Fortunately, it's easy to meet other nectar-lovers' needs without neglecting hummingbirds.
- Add larger, more stable feeders such as oriole feeders to accommodate larger nectar-loving birds. These feeders have perches and larger reservoirs to better serve bigger birds.
- Create additional feeding stations so even if larger birds are usurping hummingbird feeders, hummingbirds still have other feeders to visit and will not be displaced.
- Offer other foods larger birds will enjoy to entice them away from nectar feeders, such as oranges and jelly for orioles or suet for woodpeckers.
- Plant a hummingbird garden with nectar-rich flowers where hummingbirds can feed easily, but larger birds will be unable to feed from the flowers.
- Switch to smaller hummingbird feeders without perches so larger birds cannot balance comfortably and they will move on to other food sources.
Every backyard birder loves to attract hummingbirds, and it can be a surprise when a bird or other wildlife that is certainly not a hummingbird visits a nectar feeder. While these unexpected visitors can be exciting, they can also cause different problems, but fortunately, knowledgeable birders don't have to choose between hummingbirds and other nectar-lovers. With a carefully prepared backyard, all types of birds that enjoy nectar can be welcome to visit, and birders will enjoy the avian diversity.
Photo – Gila Woodpecker at Nectar Feeder © Andy Blackledge