Feeding hummingbirds can be a great joy, but when those feeders start getting sticky, dripping and leaking, problems can develop for both birds and birders. Fortunately, it is possible to minimize hummingbird feeder leaks, and with a few steps, leaks and drips can even be eliminated.
The Problems With Leaks
A simple drip or two from a nectar feeder may not be a problem, but consistent leaks can create hazardous issues in the garden.
The top problems with leaky nectar feeders include...
- Waste: When a feeder leaks, the nectar is wasted because birds will not drink it off the ground. This means feeders will need to be refilled more frequently, requiring more labor and expense. If a feeder leaks heavily, visiting hummingbirds may not have any nectar left to drink before it can be refilled. If the food source is that unreliable, the hummingbirds may not return.
- Odors: The sweet smell of nectar does not matter to hummingbirds – bird have very little sense of smell. It can, however, attract more insects, mice, rats, raccoons, deer, squirrels and even bears, none of which are desirable feeder guests and could drain the nectar and damage the feeders.
- Stains: As nectar drips on a patio or deck, it can create stubborn stains that can be difficult to remove. If the feeder is dripping over grass or plants, it can harm those plants and upset the soil chemistry, causing an unattractive blemish in a hummingbird garden.
- Stickiness: As the water evaporates from nectar, a thick, sticky syrup is left behind. That sticky mess can inadvertently coat birds' feathers, creating plumage problems that can cause flight difficulties. The stickiness can also cause feeder damage or blockages if it is allowed to build up.
Because of these problems, it is best if backyard birders take proactive steps to stop hummingbird feeders from leaking.
Minimizing Leaks and Drips
All reservoir hummingbird feeders – designs with a bottle of nectar suspended above the feeding ports – will leak occasionally. These feeders rely on gravity and pressure to properly supply nectar to the feeding ports, and as nectar levels rise and fall, some drips are to be expected. A minor leak once in awhile is not a concern, but when a feeder develops a consistent drip or larger leak, it is necessary to stop the flow. There are several ways feeders can be tightened and seals reinforced to minimize leakage.
- Keep the feeder as full as possible.
When the feeder is filled and inverted, a vacuum forms that helps the seal operate properly. As nectar levels drop, that vacuum is compromised and the feeder will leak more easily. A full, but not overflowing, nectar feeder has a more secure seal.
- Hang the feeder in full shade to help keep the nectar cool.
As sunlight heats up the nectar and any air in the bottle, the increased pressure will force leaks to accelerate. Keeping the feeder cool will also keep the nectar fresher and more appealing to hummingbirds.
- Position the feeder to avoid accidental tips.
This includes keeping feeders away from high traffic walkways and paths and avoiding hanging feeders in areas with strong cross breezes that could cause swaying and tipping. An unbalanced feeder is more likely to leak.
- Check feeders regularly for damage.
Chips, cracks, splits and warping may compromise seals and create leaks. If possible, repair the damage or use replacement parts if necessary to restore the good condition of the feeder. If the damage is too extreme, the feeder should be replaced completely.
- Assemble feeders tightly.
A good seal between the bottle reservoir and the feeder base and ports will minimize leaks. A weak or uneven seal will leak easily, and if the feeder is not properly assembled, it can break more easily.
- Remove perches.
Woodpeckers, warblers, orioles and finches may try to sip from a nectar feeder, but their weight could unbalance and tip the feeder. Hummingbirds can hover while feeding and do not require perches to access the feeder. Other perches can be provided nearby for hummingbirds to rest or guard the feeding area without risking tips and leaks.
- Reinforce the seal.
Use plumber's tape over the threads where a feeder screws together to tighten the seal and minimize any existing leaks, or wrap tape around the outside of the joints for an additional seal. Keep the tape out of contact with the nectar to prevent contamination, and be sure no sticky residue can come into contact with birds' feathers.
Using several techniques is the best approach to fix a leaking hummingbird feeder, but even with all the proper adjustments, upside down reservoir feeders will always leak a little. Birders who truly want leak-free hummingbird feeders will have to investigate different options.
Eliminating Hummingbird Feeder Leaks Completely
It is possible to feed hummingbirds without ever having any leaking or dripping, but to do so, classic reservoir feeders cannot be used. Instead…
- Change feeder styles.
Use only saucer-style feeders such as the Hummingbird Oasis or Hum Sweet Hum that hold nectar below the feeding ports. Hummingbirds have long tongues and will be able to reach the nectar easily, but unless they are drastically tipped (more than a little sway), saucer feeders will not leak.
- Opt for natural foods.
Avoid nectar feeders altogether and instead design a hummingbird garden that includes the top flowers that attract hummingbirds. Flowers produce their own nectar and never leak, removing any problems from leaking feeders while still providing food for hummingbirds. Furthermore, flowers refill themselves naturally so visiting hummers can always find a drink.
- Vary the hummingbirds' diet.
Try other foods, including feeding hummingbirds insects, instead of relying only on nectar feeders. For advanced birders, offering nesting material to hummingbirds and taking other steps to attract hummingbirds can bring these birds to the yard just as reliably as feeders.
Leaking feeders are a fact of life when feeding hummingbirds. With the proper steps, however, it is possible to reduce leakage and even stop it completely while still enjoying a flock of beautiful hummingbirds in the backyard.