Hummingbird feeders are common in the USA but not in the Philippines. Neon Rosell is curious to find out whether an Olive-backed Sunbird will feed from a hummingbird feeder. Read the article to find the answer.
SETTING UP A GARDEN SUNBIRD FEEDER
text and photos by Neon Tomas B. Rosell II
Taking the knowledge from hummingbird feeding bottles used by bird lovers from the Americas and putting these ideas to good use, I wanted to find out if a similar setup can be arranged to work with the native sunbird species we have here in the Philippines. In this particular case the Olive-backed Sunbird Cyniris jugularis was the subject bird species for this little experiment.
There is little known understanding about supplemental feeding of wildlife in the Philippines and this is probably one of the first tries for such. With more people becoming aware of environmental concerns like protection and biodiversity, less wildlife are being harmed resulting to increases in population of individual species. This increase in population is not at pace with habitat regeneration resulting in diminished carrying capacity for a given area. If done on one of the primary consumers, supplemental feeding will have little impact on the environment as its population is easily controlled by the amount of food available. These small birds are prey to much larger secondary species (Shrike, Goshawk, etc.) which are migratory in nature . If the population of this small species is initially low and they are subsequently preyed upon, this population would be greatly diminished. Recovering from such devastation would be hard if initial numbers are quite low.
Wildlife will be more readily available for appreciation when it is visible and approachable. There is the fear that when wildlife gets too familiarized with the people, the wildlife will be harmed by the people. However, it is not as bad as what it seems. Peoples’ mind sets will also evolve as both humans and wildlife, in this case, sunbirds, interact. Further studies are really needed to get a better understanding of this kind of feeding and the actual impact in local settings.
Both hummingbirds and sunbirds take nectar from flowers as one of the main food in its diet. It seemed likely that the native sunbirds would take artificial nectar from hummingbird feeding bottles as well. To shorten the learning process and develop a local way or system to attract the sunbirds, a tried and tested feeding bottle and nectar formula used for humming birds in North America was procured. The feeding bottle with perches were used as the nature of sunbird feeding is different from the hummingbirds. Humming birds hover while sunbirds, although they sometimes hover, typically perch when feeding.
The bottle with the nectar formula in itself wouldn’t attract any sunbirds in your garden. Plants that naturally attract them should be present in the garden. In this occasion the birds were attracted to the “shrimp” plant’s nectar and were almost a daily visitor to the garden. A homemade nectar formula could be easily made by dissolving white sugar in water by a 1:4 ratio and bringing it to boil to sterilize it.
The feeder was hung up next to the flowers of the “shrimp” plant. In principle, the sunbird could have easily chosen to feed from the feeding bottle with its abundant and readily available nectar. However, this was not the case. It was the ants that were first to know that an abundant food source was available.
It is important to note that the nectar formula needs to be replaced every week if not used up to avoid spoilage and build up of pathogens. After several weeks of waiting for the sunbirds to discover the feeder and after numerous replacements of formula, another way of enticing the sunbird to feed on the feeder was envisioned. Flowers of the shrimp plant were placed on the feeding holes of the feeder thinking that the sunbird might put its bill inside out of curiosity. After several days the sunbirds were noticed feeding on the bottle. Unfortunately, it could not be ascertained if it was the putting of the flowers on the feeding hole that attracted the birds as no detailed observations were made from the time the flowers were placed on the feeding holes until the first recording of the birds feeding from the bottle. So far, the sunbirds have been daily visitors for more than week already, with mostly the immature male as the dominant guest.
Although there is readily available food in the feeding bottle, the sunbird would still fly to the shrimp plant to have a go at its flowers. This would suggest that the bird would eagerly take but doesn’t totally rely on this new food source and still goes about with its normal foraging.
Further observations are needed to better understand the behaviour of the sunbirds with this new abundant primary food source.
Settings up of feeding bottles in the urban area are a welcome relief for birds who have very limited food source. This food source will give them an extra lease on life especially when the weather conditions are bad for most of the week during the rainy season.
For most bird enthusiasts that keep birds as pets, the most gratifying achievement is when they see their pets eat in a natural setting. A great number of these enthusiasts go to great lengths to establish an enclosure that most resembles the birds’ natural habitat. A bird feeder would give them a chance to see birds up close, and provide a chance to change their mind set about birds. They would be able to discover that it’s more enjoyable to watch birds that are free feed in their “hands” than to watch caged birds.
Here is a video showing the sunbird feeder in action:
video by Neon Rosell II