For the Birds: Hummingbird feeder timing

Here is the latest For the Birds article. It was published a few weeks ago in newspapers, but is still relevant as September comes to an end.

Photo by Chris Bosak Hummingbirds are migrating now and will be throughout the rest of the month.

When should I bring in my hummingbird feeders? It’s a common question and may be answered the same way as so many other questions may be answered: It depends.

The answer depends on your tolerance for changing the sugar water in the feeders and your patience for watching a feeder that may not receive any visitors. Hummingbirds started to migrate a few weeks ago and some have gone south already.

With migration under way, now is definitely not the time to bring the feeders in. Hummingbirds need to pretty much double their weight to make their arduous migration, particularly when they reach the Gulf of Mexico and fly the 500 miles without rest.

Sure, there are plenty of natural food sources for hummingbirds this time of year, but an easy meal at a feeder now and then gives the tiny birds a bit of a break. Patches of jewelweed are another favorite of hummingbirds and they are still blooming. Other than feeders, I think I’ve seen more hummingbirds at jewelweed (touch-me-not) patches than any other venue.

Back to the question at hand. When should you bring in hummingbird feeders? Most of the hummingbirds will be gone by the last week of September or so; therefore I’d keep the feeders going until at least the end of this month.

There are some stragglers, however, so someone with more patience may want to keep the feeders out until the end of October. It’s not likely you will see any hummingbirds in October, but the rare opportunity to see one that late in the season may be enough to inspire some people to keep trying.

If you do extend the hummingbird feeder season, be sure to keep the sugar water fresh. With cooler fall temperatures, it is not necessary to change the water as often as in the summer, but it should still be changed every few days.

As an added incentive to keep the feeders up longer, many of the late hummingbirds (October and even November) are western species that are not often seen east of the Mississippi River, let alone in New England. Rufous hummingbirds are the most commonly seen western species in New England in the fall. Other species, such as Allen’s or calliope, may be seen as well. I remember going to see a black-chinned hummingbird in southern Connecticut back in November 2013. This bird was feeding on a late-blooming flower.

You never know what you’ll see if you keep your hummingbird feeders up later than usual. Odds are, you’ll see nothing. But the rewards can be great.

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