Can this marriage be saved? Walnut Creek couple debates whether to feed hummingbirds year round

DEAR JOAN: My husband and I really enjoy your column and are hoping you can answer this question — to save our 57-year marriage.

We have many hummingbirds, which my husband feeds religiously. I think that in the summer, they should feed on the flowers that are abundant in our garden. My husband thinks they should be fed by him all year long. Which of us is correct ?

We have one very territorial hummer that we have named Attila the Hum.

— Pamela Walsh, Walnut Creek

DEAR PAMELA: I love nothing better than a good family debate, but saving your 57-year-old marriage is a lot of pressure to put on a simple animal columnist. For the sake of your long union  (and my stress level), I have to say you are both sort of correct.

The flaw in both theories, of course, is that we can’t control what hummingbirds do. We can’t dictate that the hummers ignore the feeders and sup from the plants, and we also can’t order the birds to ignore the plants in favor of the human-made nectar.

The happy middle ground is to do both and leave it up to the hummers to decide. They do tend to prefer the natural nectar in the spring and summer. In the fall and winter, when blossoms can be harder to find, they turn to our backyard feeders.

That means your husband can slow down the chow wagon during the summer, but he’s not hurting anything to keep the feeders up year round.

Researchers have found that even when hummingbirds are emptying feeders at great rates, backyard feeders represent a relatively small percentage of the birds’ daily intake. In addition to nectar, they also eat a lot of tiny insects, especially in the summer.

I think it’s great that you both want to take care of the hummers, and I thank you on their behalf.

DEAR JOAN: There are female dogs that urinate on my lawn, and it causes browning. What can I do to stop this?

— Tom McCready, San Jose

DEAR TOM: If these are your own dogs, then whenever you take them out, immediately wash down their pee spots with water. Urine actually is a great fertilizer, but if it’s undiluted or repeatedly deposited in the same spot, it can damage the plants. Of course, that solution would require you to be on constant pee patrol.

If these aren’t your dogs, start by nicely asking the owners to keep their dogs away from your lawn.

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If you’re still getting unwanted visits, there are products that promise to deter dogs with certain scents. You can make your own with 4 tablespoons cayenne mixed with 4 cups warm water and a half teaspoon dishwashing soap. Spray the spots to prevent repeat visits and spray the perimeter of your yard to deter the dogs from entering. All these sprays require repeat use to be effective.

If you have an alarm system, you can extend the protection beyond your front door. Anyone crossing into the area will trigger a warning sound, which might work to scare the humans and maybe the dogs. Motion-activated sprinklers will also provide a cold surprise, although you might end up spraying the guests who are welcome as well as those who are not.

Readers, do you have any sure-fire tips?

Animal Life runs on Mondays. Contact Joan Morris at

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