For the Birds: When to stop feeding hummingbirds, or not

Photo by Chris Bosak A Ruby-throated Hummingbird perches on a feeder at the Errol (N.H.) Motel in the summer of 2015.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Ruby-throated Hummingbird perches on a feeder at the Errol (N.H.) Motel in the summer of 2015.

A question from Lida in Harrisville came in the other day that I found interesting for two reasons. The question was: “What is the current thinking on when to stop feeding hummingbirds?”

She recalled a time when it was suggested that people stop feeding hummingbirds in August so that the birds would be encouraged to fly south. She added that her feeders remained active with lots of hummingbirds.

The question at face value is interesting because I’m sure it is on a lot of people’s minds now that summer unwinds and fall looms. The question is also interesting because it got me thinking about how opinions change over time depending on knowledge available. This is true for birdwatching and any aspect of life, really.

In the birdwatching world, for instance, the names of bird species change fairly regularly. Long-tailed ducks were oldsquaws not too long ago. Rufous-sided towhees are now eastern towhees. Dark-eyed juncos are either one species with different forms or several individual species, depending on the current thoughts of ornithologists.

It was once taught to never touch a baby bird because the parent will smell human scent and reject the youngster. While it’s true that it is usually best to not touch a baby bird because the parent is likely nearby, a mother bird will not reject a bird because it has human scent on it.

It was once thought that birds are unintelligent, hence the term “bird brain.” Well, we all know that’s not true now.

Now back to the question at hand: When should we stop feeding hummingbirds? Coincidentally, a recent issue of Birds and Blooms magazine addressed this very topic in a myth-buster type of article featuring its bird and garden experts.

The magazine’s bird experts, Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman, wrote that hummingbirds will fly south when they are ready, regardless of whether there are feeders available or not. The Kaufmans wrote that the powerful instinct to migrate is much stronger than a backyard hummingbird feeder. They wrote to “feel free” to keep feeders up as long as there are hummingbirds around.

Given that a hummingbird’s natural instinct is to fly south when the time is right, I would offer a reason to keep filling your hummingbird feeder for as long as possible. Hummingbirds need a lot of energy to make their long journey to Central America. A quick fill-up at New England backyard feeder or garden can give the birds a nice head start on their arduous adventure — just like most people fill up their cars before heading out on a vacation.

Also, let’s say a hummingbird is injured or otherwise unable to fly south when their instincts tell them to do so. A reliable food source while the bird waits out the delay could be important to the bird’s survival.

As of this weekend, I still have my share of ruby-throated hummingbirds that visit the feeder, canna, salvia and fading geraniums. It’s good to hear from the experts that feeding them is not disrupting their natural behaviors.

Advertisements

Hummingbirds return to New England

Photo by Chris Bosak A male ruby-throated hummingbird visits a feeder in Danbury, Conn., spring 2018.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A male ruby-throated hummingbird visits a feeder in Danbury, Conn., spring 2018.

I saw my first hummingbird of the year about 10 days ago. It paid my feeder a quick visit in the morning and I never saw it again. He must have been on his way northward and stopped for a quick pitstop. But now, the hummingbirds are back for real. A male has been visiting my feeder about every 20 minutes for the last three days. A few times it had to fight off a few rivals to keep its territory. Hummingbirds are small and cute, but fiercely territorial.

Here’s a shot a took over weekend. Welcome back.

Busy summer for hummingbirds

Photo by Chris Bosak A ruby-throated hummingbird perches on a branch near a feeder at Merganser Lake, Danbury, Conn.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A ruby-throated hummingbird perches on a branch near a feeder at Merganser Lake, Danbury, Conn.

I’ve complained often over the years about the lack of hummingbirds I attract to my yard. Well, this is year is finally different. I’ve got males, females and first-year birds (both male and female presumably) and they visit frequently. I have a feeder in the backyard with the rest of the feeding station, and a suction cup feeder stuck to my office window. Both are busy all day, every day. It’s been a lot of fun watching them. Here are some shots of my visitors. (Females and first-year ruby-throated hummingbirds look very similar. I’m guessing this is an adult female because it is very territorial.)

Photo by Chris Bosak A ruby-throated hummingbird perches on a branch near a feeder at Merganser Lake, Danbury, Conn.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A ruby-throated hummingbird perches on a branch near a feeder at Merganser Lake, Danbury, Conn.

Look who’s back

Photo by Chris Bosak A ruby-throated hummingbirds hovers near a feeder at Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., in April 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A ruby-throated hummingbirds hovers near a feeder at Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., in April 2017.

This female ruby-throated hummingbird arrived today (Sunday, April 30, 2017) at the feeder. I put the feeder out about two weeks ago in anticipation of the hummingbirds’ return. Is it the same female hummingbird that has visited my feeder over the last few seasons? I’m not sure, but I’m glad to welcome them back, either way. Hopefully she will find a suitable nesting site on my property. If she heads farther north, well, that’s fine, too.

Photo by Chris Bosak A ruby-throated hummingbirds perches on a feeder at Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., in April 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A ruby-throated hummingbirds perches on a feeder at Merganser Lake in Danbury, Conn., in April 2017.

Just when you thought the hummingbird photos were over

Photo by Chris Bosak A Ruby-throated HummingAbird perches on a branch in Brookfield, Conn., summer 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Ruby-throated HummingAbird perches on a branch in Brookfield, Conn., fall 2016.

Well, I keep seeing them, so I’ll keep posting photos of them. Soon, the vast majority of hummingbirds will have left New England for their incredible migration to Central and South America. So as long as I keep seeing them …

Photo by Chris Bosak A Ruby-throated HummingAbird perches on a branch in Brookfield, Conn., summer 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Ruby-throated Hummingbird perches on a branch in Brookfield, Conn., fall 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Ruby-throated HummingAbird perches on a branch in Brookfield, Conn., summer 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Ruby-throated Hummingbird perches on a branch in Brookfield, Conn., summer 2016.

 

Sixth (and final) hummingbird photo in series; and latest For the Birds column

Photo by Chris Bosak A female Ruby-throated Hummingbird takes off from a perch in Norwalk, Conn., summer 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A female Ruby-throated Hummingbird takes off from a perch in Norwalk, Conn., summer 2014.

This final photo in the hummingbird series comes with a bonus, the latest For the Birds column, which also happens to be about hummingbirds. I hope you enjoyed the series and thanks for checking out http://www.BirdsofNewEngland.com

Last week, I wrote about the hummingbirds visiting my feeder this summer. Hummingbirds, however, are much too interesting to be limited to one column.

This week, I’ll focus on facts about these tiny dynamos. Fun facts, of course, not just any old boring facts.

Before those facts, let me start with this … I ended my column last week by requesting from readers input about which flowers attract their hummingbirds.

I received an email from Carol, who relayed some interesting information. In addition to the flowers I mentioned in my last column, Carol said at her place pink phlox, gladiolas, perennial sweet peas, coleus flowers and morning glories do the trick.

“My special joy is watching them fly through the sprinkler and seeming to really enjoy their own personal showers. They are really amazing creatures,” Carol wrote.

Marsha wrote to say that petunias and fuchsia hanging in a basket bring the little birds in. She added, however, that neighbor’s feeders are busy, but they tend not to visit hers. Sometimes the bird world is unpredictable, even frustrating.

She also wrote to say she was disappointed that the birds are aggressive toward each other instead of playful. Then she summed up all of nature very succinctly: “Oh well, I guess it can’t be Disney all the time.”

Very well put, Marsha.

Pam from Walpole added trumpet vine and blue lobelia to the list.

Donna, who has a place on Granite Lake, wrote to say her hummingbirds are attracted to a hanging tri-level flower pot arrangement with mellow yellow cuphea.

Stephen sent in a picture of a bird on his hummingbird feeder. It was a downy woodpecker, not a hummingbird. That is not a common occurrence, but not terribly rare either. Woodpeckers, warblers, thrushes and some other species can sometimes be spotted at hummingbird feeders. Remember, Baltimore orioles can be attracted to a nectar feeder as well, but with a different mixture of water and sugar. Hummingbird nectar is four parts water to one part sugar; oriole nectar is less sweet at eight parts water to one part sugar. You may also need a special oriole feeder.

Now for some of those facts I promised — in no particular order.

There are more than 300 hummingbird species, and each one makes different humming noise with its wings. Imagine being so good at birdwatching you tell each one by the humming of its wings. Hey, many birders know the woodpecker species from its knocking, so why not?

Of those more than 300 species, only eight regularly breed in the U.S. — and only one east of the Mississippi River. Most hummingbirds are tropical and do not migrate. They are strictly a Western Hemisphere bird so don’t go to Europe, Asia or Africa and expect to see hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds can flap their wings up to 90 times per second — and even faster during courtship.

Many birds can hover, but hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backwards.

Hummingbirds double their weight before taking off for their incredible migration over the Gulf of Mexico.

Hummingbirds have tiny feet and far fewer feathers (only about 1,000) than most birds to help them fly easier. By comparison, the Mallard has about 12,000 feathers.

If you started putting ruby-throated hummingbirds on a scale (for whatever reason) you would have to place 150 of them for it to read one pound.

Hummingbirds are aggressive not only toward other hummingbirds but also birds such as hawks, blue jays and crows. In other words, don’t mess with a hummingbird.

 

Hummingbird photo number 2

 

Photo by Chris Bosak A Ruby-throated Hummingbird eats at a feeder in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Ruby-throated Hummingbird eats at a feeder in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016

Updated: Somehow I repeated my first hummingbird photo. Two days into the series and I messed it up already. The photo above is the replacement (the one that should have been there in the first place). Sorry about that. Thanks for the heads up, Wayne.

Here’s is the second of a few posts featuring photos of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. The male’s throat is red or black or somewhere in between depending on how the light is hitting it.