Keep hummingbird feeders out to help stragglers

Readers in northern areas gave been reporting that their hummingbirds have already migrated and some ask if they should take down their feeders–NO. Others have heard that they will keep the hummers from migrating if they leave the feeders up too long–Myth. Here is what the experts at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology say:

  • “A number of factors trigger the urge for birds to migrate, but the most significant one is day length. When the days get shorter, the hummingbirds will move on, regardless of whether there are still filled feeders available for them.
  • We do, however, encourage people to keep their hummingbird feeders full for several weeks after they have seen the last hummer just in case there are stragglers in need of additional energy before they complete their long journey south.”

It is probably even more important to make sure all the hummers, including the stragglers, get enough to fill their tiny bellies before they migrate into or through areas such as Texas, New Mexico and Arizona where many large wildfires have burned all the blooming plants that they rely upon to get sustenance during their long migration (straggles that go through areas without wildfires will find less food since they are later in the season) . Sheri Williamson, hummingbird expert who is a Co-director of the Southeast Arizona Bird Observatory and author of articles and books about hummingbirds, wrote this summer that people in local areas where there have been large wildfires should start feeding if they haven’t in the past and those who have been feeding should add feeders in order to help these hummers out. Though she was talking about Arizona, clearly the same applies to other fire-ravaged areas in New Mexico and Texas. She further encouraged those who live in states north of areas with large wildfires put out plenty of hummingbird food. Following is her quote:

  • “Feed those birds well so they’re nice and fat when they take off,” Williamson said, “Maybe that’ll give them a little bit of a cushion.”

Keep feeders full for several weeks after last hummer is seen

So BE A GOOD NEIGHBOR TO HUMMERS: let’s all help out those migrating hummers–keep feeders full for several weeks after the last hummer you saw (if it is freezing at night, take it in then put back out in morning) and put out lots of food both in those areas were wildfires have burned the plants and in states north of wildfire areas. How have you been a GOOD NEIGHBOR TO HUMMERS?

  1. bella says

    Thank you for reminding hummer friends to keep their feeders up for a few more weeks. My hummers are on the move south now after making it through the hurricane and tropical rain that we recieved recently. The wildfire area’s will certainly need some extra replenishing feeding area’s for the natural food that has been destroyed. Even though I am up North, my feeders, as usual, will remain up for a few weeks longer in case I have any stragglers going south that may pass through.

  2. says

    Welcome to the hummer admiration club! Glad you found this blog helpful. Since you are a first-timer you might find the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website @ about feeding hummers helpful.

    Hummingbirds start returning to very southern tips of the U.S. (like south Florida and South Texas) in February then begin moving north. It depends upon the species of hummer and your location as to when they usually arrive in spring. If you live in one of the areas on this “Spring 2011 Migration of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds” map (where there is a dot and a date), you can find the dates that the first arriving Ruby-throated hummers arrived (coded by color -see bottom right of map). If you live in an area where Ruby-throated Hummingbirds breed or you are in another area that support more than one species of hummer, if you let me know what city (or county) and state you live in I can provide more information.

    If you aren’t currently a subscriber of Birds and Blooms magazine, there are lots of articles and helpful information in the magazine about both feeding and enjoying hummingbirds. There is even an annual Hummingbird Issue. To subscribe just click on the ‘Order Now’ button on the left column of this page.

  3. Cath Manley says

    Still getting my hummers (9/23/11) just outside Madison, WI. Amazed that they’re still here, given the ‘frosty’ temps… Will keep the food coming as long as they want!

  4. Cathey Smith says

    I still have some hummingbirds coming by here in Arlington, TX. I have only seen females of late. Ever since back in the late ’80’s, I think, I have kept my feeders out through almost the full month of November. There have been some come by that late. Not my usual visitors, but some Rufous have come through. Hopefully, there will be no wildfires next year and we get some rain to bring things back for next year.

  5. Dee Anderson says

    I live in central Indiana and I don’t take my feeders down till Nov., that way I figure if there are any stragglers coming through they will get fed. I feel comfortable taking them down in Nov.

  6. Jennifer B says

    I let my nectar sit because I hadn’t seen a hummer in awhile, then I saw one at the feeder on Saturday. I immediately made a new batch and set it out but I haven’t seen anymore! I feel so guilty now. I hope she got some food. By the way, do the males migrate first? I’ve only seen females at the feeder the last couple of times. We are by the Canadian border in upstate NY.

  7. says

    Actually Cath there are a number of reports of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds on the Journey North hummer map @ (dots are reports and they are color coded on left of page). I was at a home at about 7,700 feet (this is ‘foothill’ elevation, Denver is 5,300 ft) in elevation near Salida, CO last Sunday and there were more than 20 hummers still coming to the feeders there. North American hummingbird species are really quite hardy. They can survive freezing temps by going into the state of ‘torpor’–“During torpor, the tiny bird’s body temperature can drop almost 50 degrees. The heart rate may slow from 500 beats per minute to fewer than 50, and breathing may briefly stop.” (quote from Journey North @ )

  8. Jan G. says

    I have 2 feeders out and fill them every other day! I’ve had more hummers this year than in the past 5 I’ve lived in TN. I’ll keep mine out and filled until I’m sure they’re done bringing me many hours of smiles.

  9. Eddie O'Sullivan says

    Mine are still here in Whitewater, WI, too. Unlike what I see others reporting, all my parents and girls left weeks ago, and the juvenile males are the only ones still here. That’s what I observe every year. And boy, do they practice their flying and fighting skills during this time! I’ve learned too, that my group will return each spring right around Mothers’ Day.

  10. says

    Terry, Jan and Mary–I enjoy hearing about hummers during migration season-those still in more northern areas and those zillions that have invading the southern states as they gather to make the long journey either over the Gulf of Mexico over land in Mexico to reach their Central American wintering areas.

  11. says

    Eddie-I imagine that a lot of immature males are still at a lot of feeders in northern areas but are not recognized since some may have quite limited color in chin area. It is really enjoyable to watch those young males practicing to be adults. You are clearly a very observant hummer-host and have their schedule down to day.

  12. meb says

    mine are still around, too and are also still enjpying the rose of sharon flowers. i will miss them. going to suggest my son in texas get a feeder.

  13. says

    I live in Colorado and hadn’t seen a hummer for 3 weeks but left a feeder full of sugar water while I went out of town for long week-end. When I got home last night (10-10-11) I saw the feeder was almost empty (and it had been very cold over the week-end with temps close to freezing so not likely due only to evaporation. Then I spotted a very shy hummer slurping what little nectar was left in remaining blossoms on my Sonoran Sunset cana Agastache plant. It flew off as soon as it spotted me–I think that some of these stragglers are skittish and so sometimes we don’t even spot them to know they are around looking for some food.

    I, of course, went inside to clean and make new sugar water to get out for this or other stragglers who have few remaining blossoms with nectar to sustain their continuing migration.
    This afternoon when I got home the feeder was almost emptied again. I think I spotted a fast darting hummer flying out of view. So please try to leave a feeder with fresh sugar water for these stragglers since blossoms with nectar are few and far between in many areas and they really could use some help in continuing their journey.

  14. says

    Hummers still in Colorado-October 12: Today I put out another half feeder full of sugar water and when I returned from out of town trip late this afternoon there was little left. Some may have evaporated in sun but it only got to 70 today in my town of Canon City,CO so most must have been drunk by hummer straggler(s) (may have a few bees still here too). Made more sugar water to add in the morning.

    I also found out that another person has 2 juveniles visiting his feeder and he lives at 7,300 feet elevation (I’m at 5,300 feet). That shows how hardy hummingbirds really are since it has hit the freezing mark several times at that elevation (that’s in the foothills). He said they are only coming to his feeder first thing in morning and last thing in afternoon so he thinks they are likely foraging for insect protein during the rest of the day. Keep a feeder out to help out those stragglers

  15. sonny says

    I have two feeders out. I change the nector every four days. I have hanging baskets of flowers near. It is May 6th and have not seen one hummer! I live in Rogers,Ark.


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