Black Phoebe Bird House
DEAR JOAN: Last summer a neighbor removed some evergreens and several displaced black phoebes found their way to our yard. Since then all have moved on except one; it made a home perched on a planter hook under our eaves.
I hung a small wooden house 3 feet away, but it’s not using it. The area is exposed and I wish the little bird was more protected from weather and human traffic. Any ideas?
DEAR S.: Animals are living proof that even if we build it, there’s no guarantee they will come. I’ve had lot of letters over the years from people disappointed that owls didn’t roost and bats never made a home in their respective nesting boxes.
They have their reasons, and in your case, the problem is that phoebes don’t use nesting boxes or bird houses. Instead, they anchor their mud nests on the sides of cliffs, walls and buildings, beneath a protective cover, such as your roof eaves. Despite being made of mud, the nests are sturdy. They are lined with plant material and are quite cozy.
The male shows his mate possible nesting sites by hovering in front of them for several seconds, and the female makes the decision on where to build. She will lay up to six eggs, and can have three clutches a year, although two is more common.
The birds often reuse their nests from year to year, so you may have a neighbor for years to come. If you move the bird house further away, perhaps a cavity-dwelling bird will use it.Reading this on your phone? Stay up to date on Bay Area and Silicon Valley news with our new, free mobile app. Get it from the Apple app store or the Google Play store. DEAR JOAN: Do you have a recommendation for how to prepare food for hummingbird feeders?
I have a typical 8-ounce glass feeder with four stations. I prefer to make the food fresh each time, about once a week, rather than storing it and risking contamination or serving it cold.
The usual formula is one part sugar to four parts of water, or five parts total. Dividing 8 ounces by 5 suggests that each part is 1.6 ounces. So the sugar part works out to be just shy of a quarter cup, but in truth, I’ve used varying amounts of sugar with little or no difference in the results.
Are there times in the year when slightly more or less sugar is better?
Paul Bailey-Gates, Piedmont
DEAR PAUL: The recipe for hummers is indeed four parts water to one part sugar. If you are making a cup at a time, you’d use one cup of water and a quarter cup of sugar. The way you’ve been doing it has been making the nectar a bit on the less sweet side, which means the birds will have to drink a little more of the nectar to get the calories they need to keep humming.
As it’s only slightly less sweet, I don’t think you’ve done anything harmful. The problem with weakened sugar water is that the birds will fill up on the water before they can take in enough calories. It is sort of like humans eating too much bread before the meal arrives.
There’s only a couple of times when you would want to greatly increase the sweetness. When people are having trouble attracting hummers to their feeders, it’s recommended they temporarily increase the formula to three parts water to one of sugar to lure birds in.