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.

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A few hummingbirds – while they last

Photo by Chris Bosak A ruby-throated hummingbird hovers around salvia blooms in New England, September 2020.

The hummingbirds that haven’t flown south yet will likely do so soon. Here are a few shots of “my” hummingbirds that are still hanging around.

Photo by Chris Bosak A ruby-throated hummingbird hovers around salvia blooms in New England, September 2020.
Photo by Chris Bosak A ruby-throated hummingbird hovers around salvia blooms in New England, September 2020.

For the Birds: Hummingbirds and cuckoos

Photo by Chris Bosak A female ruby-throated hummingbird sits on a rope in a backyard in New England, August 2020.

I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed watching the hummingbirds ignore the stormy weather of Aug. 4 and visit the feeders. As you’ll recall, last week I wrote about the tiny birds going about their day as usual as rain fell and wind whipped all around.

I heard from Deb from Royalston, Mass., who said her hummingbirds “had no problem with the fierce winds and rain. All this year’s babies are there now, so we had more than a dozen.” She said it was hard to count them there were so many. I, of course, had only one visit my feeder that day as it was a dominant female who “owns” the feeder.

Jill from Keene wrote: “I too was amazed during the storm the hummingbirds seemed unfazed.” Jill also had a peaceful gathering of hummingbirds and sent me a few photos showing six of them on the feeder at once.

“They did not fight much at all and it was eerily quiet as I usually have several swooping and ‘chirping’ noisily,” Jill added.

A few days later, Jill wrote to say: “The peaceful dinner party was really an anomaly, as they are back to fighting and chasing each other!”

John and Joanne of Dover noted: “We also Continue reading

For the Birds: Hummingbirds ride out the storm

Photo by Chris Bosak A female ruby-throated hummingbird hovers in a backyard in New England, August 2020.

Tropical Storm Isaias really put on a show as it blasted its way through New England. Wind, rain and tornado warnings ruled the day last Tuesday as the storm packed a bigger punch than expected.

My sons and I stood on the screened-in porch and watched as 50 mph winds roared through the woods in the backyard. We ignored the occasional rain that wind gusts blew through the screen. Small maples bent like those inflatable tubes you see outside some businesses. Dead or dying ash trees threatened to topple and, indeed, many did throughout the neighborhood. We were lucky. At one point we heard the alarming sound of a huge tree or branch cracking. I was ready to scramble into the house for protection, but Andrew pointed out that the fracture was occurring in the woods safely away from the house. He pointed out a massive branch high around the top of a gigantic oak tree that had peeled away from the trunk. It never did fall as it got stuck among the canopy branches of nearby trees.

We lost power before 2 p.m. Tuesday and, as I write three days later, it hasn’t been restored. It may take a few more days as trees and power lines are down all throughout the neighborhood. We are hardly alone. More than a million households lost power throughout New England, including more than 700,000 in Connecticut alone.

It’s safe to say Isaias was a major event. I won’t soon forget the sights and sounds of the beast roaring through the woods and leaving a wake of destruction as it headed north. Through it all, believe it or not, my hummingbirds visited the feeder as if nothing was happening. I have three hummingbirds that visit daily: two females and one male. One of the females rules the roost and is constantly chasing the others away. She sat contentedly on the feeder as those 50 mph winds violently swayed the clothesline on which it hangs. The boys Continue reading

For the Birds: Complain and they will come

Photo by Chris Bosak A female ruby-throated hummingbird visits a flower in New England, July 2020.

Here’s the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in several New England newspapers …

Apparently, all I had to do to get my hummingbirds back this summer was complain to my neighbor.

I had had frequent visits from both male and female hummingbirds early in the spring. The daily visits continued for a few weeks and then stopped abruptly. Last year, and the year before that, the visits never stopped and I saw them daily until the fall.

This year, June was largely a hummingbird-free month in my backyard. 

During a walk around the neighborhood last week, I noticed a neighbor had bird feeders on her deck so I stopped to chat about what birds she had been seeing. She had a few of the usual suspects but didn’t mention hummingbirds. 

I inquired about the tiny birds and she said: “Yes. I see them every day.”

“That’s great,” I replied. “I haven’t seen mine in a while.”

I went on to bore her with the details of my previous years’ good fortune. She feigned interest, we chatted a little more and then said goodbye. 

The birding gods must have heard me griping and took pity on me because, the very next day, a female hummingbird showed up at my feeder. She has been back every day since, too. It is very territorial as I have seen her chase away other hummingbirds. Another female and a male have started showing up now and then, too, when the queen is away.

In previous years, a female has dominated my feeders throughout the summer so I wonder if she is the same bird I have been seeing for years. At any rate, it is nice to see the hummingbirds back in the yard. It is also nice to know there are several of them, even if I get only brief glimpses of the other ones before they are chased away.

I have a few feeders and several flowers to lure the hummingbirds. She prefers the feeders, but on occasion will sip from the flowers. This year, most of my flowers are red salvia, an annual with tubular shaped blooms. In the past, I’ve seen hummingbirds visit my coneflower and even sunflowers.

Complaining usually doesn’t solve problems and often makes them worse, but in this case, things worked out pretty well. I plan to take a trip to northern New England in a few weeks in the hopes of finding some of New England’s disappearing moose. Maybe I should proactively start complaining now in the hopes of getting the same results for that trip?

Moving forward

Photo by Chris Bosak
A ruby-throated hummingbird perches on a rope in New England, May 2020. Merganser Lake.

For the past several weeks I’ve posted a Birds to Brighten Your Day photo, featuring my best shot from the day before. Now that it’s Memorial Day Weekend, states are slowly opening and migration is winding down, it’s a good time to move on from Birds to Brighten Your Day. I hope your days are indeed brightening and you keep on checking out I still hope to post something every day. It could be my best shot from the day before, or even that day, or one of the many shots I didn’t use over the past several weeks. Of course, I’ll continue to post my latest For the Birds nature column too.

I’ll start off with a ruby-throated hummingbird. I’m not sure how they missed being featured on Birds to Brighten Your Day because they are always a fan favorite. “My” hummingbirds arrived on May 1 (or was it May 2?) and have been buzzing around ever since. For years, I never had luck attracting hummingbirds. Now that I’m several years into getting them I consider them an integral part of summer.

For the Birds: Last looks at hummingbirds

Photo by Chris Bosak A Ruby-throated Hummingbird sips nectar from Canna flower in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016.
Photo by Chris Bosak
A Ruby-throated Hummingbird sips nectar from Canna flower in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016.

I almost hate to say it but summer 2019 is nearly over.

I say “almost” because fall is up next and who doesn’t love a New England fall? In the bird world, it’s pretty much fall already, so really the calendar is the only thing standing in the way of autumn.

With that said, this seems like an appropriate time to reflect on this past summer. I had several birding and other nature highlights, most notably a camping trip to Pillsbury State Park in nearby Washington.

I was lucky enough while canoeing to share the main pond with three loons bright and early one morning. No matter how many times I experience it, I will always be in awe of the scene: sun peaking above the hills in the east, mist rising off the water and loons starting their day with a slow swim around their pond. A yodel or two from the loons completes the scene.

Such was the case at Pillsbury this summer, only instead of the usual one or two loons, there were three. It’s easy to see why the common loon is such an iconic bird in New England.

The bald eagles at Bashakill National Wildlife Refuge in N.Y. were another highlight.

The backyard highlight of the summer, echoing the highlight of the past few summers, was watching the hummingbird family that split their time between the feeders and flowers. This year, I had salvia, fuschia, sunflowers and rose-of-Sharon to offer. They enjoyed them all.

But mostly they drank from the feeders, as usual. I had to put three feeders out this year to mitigate the bickering among the tiny birds.

Recently, however, the visits by hummingbirds have slowed and it is not because of the wasps and black ants that try to take over the feeders. It’s because hummingbirds migrate in late August and early September. The adult males take off for points south first, followed by the females and first-year birds. I still see hummingbirds at the feeders, but the frequency has fallen and the birds are likely not “my” hummingbirds, but rather other south-bound migrants.

Which brings up the age-old question: Is it OK to feed hummingbirds in the fall or will they stick around and migrate too late if food is available? Studies have shown that hummingbirds are triggered to move south by the shortening of the days, not the weather or availability of food. In fact, an argument may be made that it’s beneficial to continue to feed them as these tiny birds essentially have to double their weight as they make their journey to Mexico and Central America.

The vast majority of the hummingbirds will be gone by the end of the month. By then, even the calendar will have yielded and fall will have its run of New England.