In the company of hummingbirds
FRISCO – Things can get pretty noisy on Franz Pinteric’s balcony at night when swarms of hummingbirds come to feed.
“You can’t keep them quiet, these birds,” said the Frisco resident, speaking with a thick Austrian accent. He laughed. “You can’t tell them to stand still.”
Pinteric had never seen a hummingbird until he came to Colorado.
He grew up in Austria (where experts say there are no hummingbirds) and moved to the United States with his wife in 1951. They raised five children in Connecticut before he and his wife separated. Soon after, Pinteric moved to the Front Range. He moved to Frisco four years ago.
Pinteric still remembers the first time he saw a hummingbird. He said he was going rafting on the Colorado River, near State Bridge, with one of his daughters. Pinteric wore a shirt with black and yellow stripes, and a hummingbird flew to his chest, attracted by the color, he speculates.
Pinteric was thrilled.
“From that day on, when that hummingbird came up to my chest, I said “I’m going to get a hummingbird feeder,'” Pinteric said.
“I started with one,” he said. “But there was nothing but fighting. I bought two, but they were still chasing each other off. Then I bought three; now I have five.”
Actually, Pinteric has six feeders. But he said he has stopped filling the smallest of them, because he had to refill three times a day.
At first, Pinteric used the hummingbird feeder mix available in stores. He began using sugar water instead after a woman shared a recipe with him.
“But it wasn’t really working, so I improved it,” Pinteric said, with a mischievous smile. He won’t reveal the the secret to his recipe, but said he found it in a book.
So far this summer, Pinteric has gone through 75 pounds of sugar. He has a big soup pot on the stove in which he makes his hummingbird concoction. He said the birds usually empty each of his feeders every day or two – and many times it’s more often than that.
What’s the attraction?
Pinteric said he’s not sure if it’s his sugar water or the location of his home that have made him so popular with the hummingbirds.
Pinteric lives in the Mountainside Condominiums, and his balcony backs up to willows and wetlands. The birds alternate feeding at his balcony and resting on the branches of the willows, just beyond.
“They’ve got a perfect spot here, with the wetlands in the back,” he said.
It’s literally buzzing with activity on Pinteric’s balcony during the day. There easily are 15 to 30 birds at a time, buzzing in and out between the feeders and the willows.
In the evening, there are even more.
“Then there are swarms,” Pinteric said. “They look like they come from everywhere. They want to feed up before the day is over.”
Because the hummingbirds rarely sit still, it’s difficult to count them.
“I gave it up, counting,” Pinteric said.
But he estimates there are easily 100 or more just before dark.
While Pinteric works hard to feed all his avian guests, they are not the only ones benefitting from the relationship.
Pinteric has been living alone for almost 20 years. He has difficulty talking on the phone because his hearing is poor – but if ever he was lonely, he isn’t anymore.
“The birds keep me busy. I’m not lonesome now,” Pinteric said. “I enjoy it. I have company.”
Pinteric said he often sits on his balcony and watches the hummingbirds.
“They are beautiful little things,” he said. “They never stop.”
Pinteric isn’t the only one entertained and fascinated by the hummingbird party on his porch. His condominium isn’t far from the bike path, and Pinteric said many people have come by to watch the birds. Kids “just stand here with their mouths open and they look,” he said.
Sometimes those guests provide even more entertainment for Pinteric than the birds themselves.
“Last year, two ladies came with (their) camera – they want to take a picture. And one of the hummingbirds buzzed over one of their heads and (the women) went screaming and running. They were afraid they were going to be attacked.”
It’s for the birds
SUMMIT COUNTY – Hummingbirds are amazing, colorful creatures that can keep even the non-birder entertained for hours as the birds speed in different directions, hang suspended mid-air and occasionally stop the frantic fluttering of their wings to rest for a moment.
There are more than 300 species of hummingbirds, but not all can be found in the Western Hemisphere, said Scott Menough, owner of two Denver Wild Birds Unlimited stores, and co-host of the radio program “Bird Talk.”
“You can’t find them in Europe, Africa or Asia,” he said.
Only 16 of those species breed in the United States and four of them can be found in Colorado as they migrate between northern and southern lands.
Menough said Colorado hummingbird enthusiasts will see the rufous and the broad-tailed hummingbird most often. Less common, but also seen in Colorado are the calliope and the black-chinned hummingbird, he said.
This year, people are seeing even more hummingbirds than usual, and Menough speculates that could be for several reasons. Two possibilities are that either the number of birds or the number of feeders have increased. He also said the birds might have been affected by both the drought and wildfires in the state.
The drought and fires have decreased (or eliminated) the number of wildflowers and insects in natural areas this year, which Menough said might explain the birds flocking to backyards instead – a micro-environment providing them with water, flowers and insects.
If refined sugar isn’t good for humans, how can it benefit hummingbirds? Menough said the birds don’t rely solely on feeders as a food source. They also feed on flower nectar and insects, from where they get their nutrients. Sugar water provides the birds with energy.
“The solution you’re using in your feeder is to provide energy for that high metabolic rate to keep that heart going 1,260 times per minute,” Menough said, adding that the birds drink the human equivalent of 80 gallons a day.
Menough said he recommends making sugar water for the birds, instead of using the red solution sold at stores. (But, he stressed, the solution should be no more than 1 part sugar and 4 parts water, as higher concentrations of sugar can be detrimental to the birds and can harm their kidneys.) Menough said hummingbirds come through Colorado as they move north in the spring and again toward the fall as they move south.
Though they can be seen across the state, hummingbirds are more common in mountain areas and on the Western Slope. Here in Summit County, hummingbirds can be seen from late April into September, he said.
Tips for Feeding Hummingbirds
What to use:
– Avoid using anything with food
– Make your own sugar water – one part sugar, four parts water (be sure to boil the water so the sugar dissolves).
– Don’t increase the ratio of sugar to water. While hummingbirds’ systems can regulate sugar, they cannot process high concentrations of it, which can be harmful to their kidneys.
– Never use honey. It causes a fungal growth on their tongues, which can kill them.
– Avoid using molasses or brown sugar, as it encourages mold and bacteria growth.
– Rinse the feeders often – every other day, if temperatures are over 80 and every two to three days in cooler temperatures.
– Rinse feeders with only hot water, unless you see mold.
– Feeders with mold can be sterilized using 1 part bleach, 9 parts water or a 50/50 vinegar water solution. Rinse thoroughly after cleaning.
– Hummingbirds aren’t the only ones who love the sweet water inside – bears do too. Always hang your feeder out of a bear’s reach.
Courtesy of Scott Menough. His Web site is http://www.wbu.com/denversw
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