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Hummingbird feeders: The ultimate guide for beginner backyard bird-watchers
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Hummingbird feeders are a wonderful way to attract lovely pollinating little birds while giving them a boost of energy to grow and thrive. Follow these guidelines for choosing, setting up, and maintaining a hummingbird feeder, and soon your yard will be the ritziest roost in the neighbourhood!
Here are the absolute basics for hummingbird feeders:
- Choose a simple feeder with red features, but without yellow parts.
- Make fresh hummingbird sugar-water instead of using preserved nectar.
- Hang the feeder where the feeding birds can watch for attackers.
- Clean the feeder every few days before refilling it with fresh liquid.
- Entice hummingbirds with early spring feeder placement, red-blooming flowers, soft nesting materials, and a healthy bug population.
Now lets get into all the details for choosing, setting up, and maintaining a high-quality sugar-water nectar feeder for your local hummingbirds!
Choosing a hummingbird feeder
There are two main types of hummingbird feeders: bottle-shaped inverted vacuum feeders and pan-shaped basin feeders. Bottle feeders store the liquid in a clear tube above a feeding basin (see photo above), which allows the liquid to drip down from the reservoir to the feeding ports. Pan feeders consist only of a bottom basin (see photo below) which holds the liquid and a top cover plate with feeding holes.
Bottle feeders generally hold more liquid but also tend to drip if things are out of balance. Pan feeders rarely drip, but don’t hold much liquid. The birds will feed from both kinds of feeders. …As long as they know it’s there and they like it.
Popular hummingbird feeders for backyard bird-watching
Here are six top hummingbird feeders that are popular with backyard bird-watchers:
- Aspects HummZinger Excel (simple red 16 oz plastic pan feeder) *easy to clean*
- Droll Yankees Happy Eight (high-end red 32 oz plastic pan feeder) *UV-stabilized plastic*
- Nature’s Way Modern Hummingbird Feeder (red 18 oz handblown glass pan feeder with metal hanger). *dishwasher safe*
- First Nature Hummingbird Feeder (red/clear 32 oz plastic bottle feeder) *large capacity*
- More Birds Ruby Hummingbird Feeder (red/clear/white simple 10 oz glass bottle feeder with plastic perch) *excellent all-round bottle-type*
- Perky-Pet Antique Bottle Hummingbird Feeder (transparent decorative 10 oz glass bottle feeder with metal perch) *lovely gift*
These are the feeders that most hummingbird enthusiasts are currently using to attract and feed hummingbirds. Now let’s look a little bit more about the variety of feeder features available and what makes one feeder better than another model.
“If you have never hung a hummingbird feeder, consider this: it is probable that sometime during the season nearly every square yard of the continental United States, and much of Canada, is inspected by a hummingbird. More importantly, a feeder offers hummingbirds the daily equivalent of nectar found in the 2,000-5,000 flowers each bird must otherwise visit every day. A properly prepared feeder is a hummingbird bonanza.”Hummingbirds of North America: Attracting, Feeding, and Photographing, by Dan True
Key factors in choosing a hummingbird feeder for your household
There are five key factors to look for when choosing the right hummingbird feeder for your household:
- Ease of Use/Cleaning
- Aesthetic Value
Most backyard birders are looking for a hummingbird feeder that attracts hummers but not bees/wasps/ants, is priced fairly, is made of long-lasting materials, is easy to use and clean, and is nice to look at. These are common features that hummingbird feeder shoppers look for. You can also make your own hummingbird feeder to your unique specifications (I like this DIY hummingbird feeder by Jen at The Happy Birder).
No one wants a feeder that doesn’t work, falls apart, or that has to be filled up every few hours. And remember – once the birds know the sugar solution is there …they’ll feed from the feeder no matter what it looks like (as long as its clean!).
Feeder features that your local hummingbirds will appreciate
Hummingbirds like an unrestricted view of the sky at all times. Most hummingbird feeders are transparent. Some hummingbird feeders even have a pinched waist in the middle to allow for better visibility during feeding. Choose a hummingbird feeder that allows the bird to watch for attackers while it feeds. This will discourage fragmented feeding sessions and return trips to the staging area.
Hummingbirds associate the colour red with their preferred nectar. Bees on the other hand, prefer yellow flowers. Since bees can be bothersome around feeders, it is wise to choose a feeder with some red on it and avoid the old-fashioned feeders with the yellow plastic feeding ports if bees/wasps are an issue in your area. Hummingbirds don’t like wasps any more than we do.
“Yellow plastic flower shapes and/or yellow bee guards are a colour attractant for butterflies and bees.”Hummingbirds of North America: Attracting, Feeding, and Photographing, by Dan True
Another factor to consider is whether or not to choose a feeder with a perch. Birds can rest on the perch while they feed, which means they keep more of their energy for hunting down protein. Photographers, on the other hand, tend to dislike perches as their photos don’t turn out as well. Something to consider.
“The birds need carbohydrates (sugar) to energize muscles so they can hum around and catch insects (protein) for body growth and maintenance.”Hummingbirds of North America: Attracting, Feeding, and Photographing, by Dan True
What bird feeder features do humans appreciate?
The perch quandary illustrates that humans, clearly, look for different features in a hummingbird feeder than the birds do. While we want the feeder to effectively provide food to the hummingbirds, it also should be easy for us to use and should be long-lasting for environmental and cost reasons.
Firstly, the feeder should be an adequate size. The best size for a hummingbird feeder is one that will feed a few birds for a few days. Most backyard birders find that normal hummingbird feeders, which are generally 12 oz, 16 oz, or 32 oz, are the right size. These sizes supply a couple of days’ worth of nectar, but tend to run empty before the sugar-water solution “goes off”. Yes – the hummingbirds will notice if the nectar is no longer fresh (and they won’t be too pleased about it either).
Next, the parts of the feeder should be easy to take apart and clean. You’ll be doing this every few days (and perhaps even once a day in hot weather), so it should be easy. Consider whether you’ll need a special brush to clean it and whether or not it is dishwasher safe. For longevity, choose a glass feeder or a feeder made with high-quality plastic.
There are varying grades of plastic used to make plastic hummingbird feeders. Plastic feeders are susceptible to temperature changes and tend to expand and crack with fluctuations. Some may last for a single season while higher-quality plastics may last a decade. The higher-quality plastics have the added benefit of generally being dishwasher-safe. Glass feeders can last a long time (but can also break).
“Different materials are used in feeder construction. Ceramic feeders are generally difficult to clean. Metals used in feeder construction eventually rust or have coatings or elements that may contaminate a sugar-water solution. All glass feeders I know of are either the hamster water bottle (under $3.00), hand-blown models (Fire & Ice, Rifle, CO), or homemade. Some of the best hummingbird feeders I’ve used are easily made at home from glass jars or bottles.”Hummingbirds of North America: Attracting, Feeding, and Photographing, by Dan True
I love the glass hamster water bottle idea in the quote above! Also, consider if you’d like any hummingbird feeder accessories. An ant moat is very nice to have. So is a little cleaning brush for quickly scrubbing the inside of the feeding ports. And of course, you’ll need some way to hang or mount the feeder.
I can’t choose a hummingbird feeder!
Fortunately, you don’t have to narrow your choice down to one hummingbird feeder if you don’t want to. You will attract more birds with several small feeders than with one large feeder. Consider a variety of feeders: pan feeders and bottle feeders, feeders with perches, those with red glass, those that hang, and those that are pole-mounted. More is better.
Why have multiple feeders? – Because each feeder will be “claimed” by a territorial male hummingbird. He’ll defend his feeder along with the flowers and airspace around it. If you want more hummingbirds, you need more feeders rather than simply buying a bigger feeder. Bigger is not better in this case. Go for more (separate) feeders if you’d like more birds.
“If you attract more that one male and would like to “keep” them all, immediately hang a feeder for each male. These additional feeders should be out of sight and/or some distance from each other. Squabbles will settle which male claims which nectar gold mine as his territory.”Hummingbirds of North America: Attracting, Feeding, and Photographing, by Dan True
Setting up a hummingbird feeder
Put some time into deciding where to set up your hummingbird feeder, as well as how it will be hung up or mounted. It is best to choose a good location from the start, as individual birds will remember the exact location from year to year. But it’s also important not to drag your feet – get the feeder up before the first scout hummingbird arrives in the spring!
Where to place hummingbird feeders: Selecting a location
Here are the main factors when choosing where to place a hummingbird feeder:
Good locations for hummingbird feeders:
- Close to blooming red flowers (see list of hummingbird flowers)
- Multiple exit routes available
- Good visibility of approaching predators
- In the shade
- Humans can watch without being overly obtrusive
- Low hazards in the surrounding environment (cats, giant windows)
“The best place for a feeder, from the hummingbird’s viewpoint, is an outside corner of a house, for many of the same reasons service stations and fast food outlets are commonly located on corners. Extend the feeder out a couple of feet past the eave. On square homes, obviously three-fourths of the feeders are visible from any one corner. Of the five feeders around my home, invariably the outside corner feeders are empty first. Coincidentally, these extended corner locations provide the best visibility for hummingbirds to spot rivals.”Hummingbirds of North America: Attracting, Feeding, and Photographing, by Dan True
Bad locations for hummingbird feeders:
- No blooming plants nearby
- Tight feeding location with potential for getting trapped
- Obstructed view of approaching predators
- In direct sunlight (degrades plastic, spoils sugar solution)
- Blatant human intrusion in the habitat
- Danger from cats, large clear windows, et cetera
“Wind is a consideration in feeder placement. A sheltered location is desirable, but only so long as sheltering structures don’t restrict the birds’ airspace and visibility preferences.”Hummingbirds of North America: Attracting, Feeding, and Photographing, by Dan True
How to put up a hummingbird feeder
Hummingbird feeders are generally suspended with a small chain or mounted onto a post. Post-mounted feeders offer the birds greater visibility, but these feeders are prone to ants and other intruders.
Read and follow all the instructions that come with your feeder. Clean the hummingbird feeder thoroughly before use. There are cleaning details later on in this article.
“To sustain their high metabolic rate, hummingbirds must eat an enormous amount, sometimes consuming several times their body weight in nectar a day. A reliable supply of nectar, ingested every few minutes, is crucial, and it must be digested quickly to make room for more. Nectar, which contains water, highly calorific natural sugars, and not much else, is processed by the birds within 15 to 20 minutes, the waste products emerging as little more than a few crystal-clear droplets.”Hummingbirds: A Life-Size Guide to Every Species, by Michael Fogden, Marianne Taylor, and Sheri L. Williamson
What to fill the hummingbird feeder with
The best liquid feed for your hummingbird feeder is a fresh homemade sugar-water solution. Mix one cup of plain white sugar with four cups of tap water and bring to a boil, then cool. See below for detailed instructions:
Hummingbird Food Recipe: https://www.homefortheharvest.com/hummingbird-food-recipe/
There is no need to buy store-bought nectar mix. Just like human food, there’s a difference between fresh+simple and preserved+packaged. If you do buy a pre-made nectar mix, choose a brand that doesn’t have red dye added.
“We do not recommend commercial hummingbird nectar mixes in spite of their popularity due to the preservatives and dyes they contain. We strongly recommend that you make your own.”Enjoying Hummingbirds In the Wild & In Your Yard, by Larry & Terrie Gates
Ways to attract hummingbirds to your hummingbird feeder
Here are five of the most effective ways to attract hummingbirds to your new feeder:
- Place the feeder outside (filled with sugar water) early – a week before the hummingbirds are estimated to arrive.
- Plant hummingbird flowers close to the feeder, especially flowers that will be in bloom when the hummingbirds first arrive.
- Put up temporary red ribbon, surveyors tape, or fluorescent stickers to catch the attention of the first scout hummingbirds.
- Add features to the surrounding area such as perches, plants with nesting materials, shelter foliage, and bug attractants.
- Double-check that the hummingbirds have an unobstructed view to watch for predators while they are actively feeding.
Start with the five tips above and you’ll be off to an excellent start attracting birds to your new hummingbird feeder. Once they know the feeder is there and have set up shop, they won’t forget about it. You can then take down any temporary (AKA ugly) attractants.
“Flowers are probably the hummingbird’s single most important attention grabber, providing nectar (sugar) that birds convert into energy for powering muscles.”Hummingbirds of North America: Attracting, Feeding, and Photographing, by Dan True
Set up and fill the feeder before the first spring hummingbird arrives
Did you buy your hummingbird feeder in the middle of July and are now wondering why there are no takers? All the hummingbirds have already found their roosts. Their kids are enrolled in the local schools and they have decided on their preferred neighbourhood grocery store.
Old habits die hard. With hummingbird feeders, the early bird certainly does get the worm. Male scout hummingbirds arrive in your neighbourhood a few days before the females and young birds. They check out their old haunts and choose the best place to set up camp. Make sure your yard is the top choice.
“Feeders should be put out at least one week, preferably two, before hummingbirds are expected to arrive in your area. It’s so disheartening to spot that first migrant poking around the nail or hook where you hung a feeder last season only to be disappointed because there’s no sweet treat there. And how disappointing to see it dart over to your neighbours feeder next door.”Enjoying Hummingbirds In the Wild & In Your Yard, by Larry & Terrie Gates
Scout hummingbirds will inspect your yard in search of nectar. If there are not yet flowers in bloom, and there is no feeder out, the scout will continue on. Once the scout hummingbird has deemed your yard inhospitable, it is unlikely that hummingbirds will nest in your yard during that year.
There is a section later on in this article describing how to figure out when hummingbirds arrive and when to put out your feeder in the spring.
Provide shelter foliage for perching and nesting
Hummingbirds prefer habitats with lots of trees and shrubs. These habitats shelter the insects they eat for protein and offer a place to perch. They also provide shelter from predators and inclement weather.
If you have a few trees, consider planting some! Here are some details on the costs to plant a tree in your yard. Also, consider placing some alternate perches near your planters for the hummingbirds. Make your yard a home!
Complement the artificial feeder with flowers that hummingbirds eat nectar from
Hummingbirds are highly effective at locating blooms considered hummingbird flowers. Take advantage of this adaptation and plant some red flowers near your feeder. Make extra sure that you’ve got a couple of kinds of flowers that will have attractive red blooms when the birds are estimated to arrive.
“Males that are dominant territorialists establish their desirability as a mate by the quality of the flowers in their territory – the better the flowers, the more likely they are to be chosen by females.”Hummingbirds: A Life-Size Guide to Every Species, by Michael Fogden, Marianne Taylor, and Sheri L. Williamson
In a year with lots of flower blooms, expect fewer visits to your feeder. You’ll be glad you planted your hummingbird flowers! A bad year for flower gardens and wildflowers will mean increased visits to your feeder.
Not enough red in your yard? Add some (at least temporarily)
It is true that hummingbirds are hummingbirds attracted to red-coloured things. You can make your yard a more attractive destination by signaling to the birds with red features. Put up red ribbon or orange surveyors tape to catch the attention of the first scout hummingbirds.
Long pieces of ribbon flapping in the wind can frighten birds, no matter what colour they are. Wrap a small piece of ribbon tightly around the feeder or things near the feeder. Don’t leave a tail to blow around and scare the hummingbirds. These red “signal” devices can come down after the birds have established themselves in your yard.
Note: Skip red food dye in the sugar water (it does more harm than good)
“Hummingbirds are not genetically programmed to favour the colour red, but have learned that red flowers more often than not offer a sweet treat.”Enjoying Hummingbirds In the Wild & In Your Yard, by Larry & Terrie Gates
UV attractants for hummingbirds
Apparently, hummingbirds are not only attracted to the colour red but they are also attracted to ultraviolet light. I can only imagine that a hummingbird sees a flower garden like a human would see fluorescent, glow-in-the-dark paint at a blacklight rave? That’s why those hummingbird window stickers are so boring-looking to humans…but hummingbirds can easily see them.
I found these fascinating facts about the association between UV and hummingbird vision:
“Recently it was discovered that hummingbird eyes, and the eyes of some other birds and animals, are tuned to ultraviolet emissions (Waldvogel 1990). Apparently, flowers transmitting UV twinkle for hummingbirds the same way that neon signs shimmer to us.”Hummingbirds of North America: Attracting, Feeding, and Photographing, by Dan True
“Gold impregnated glass (red glass) is an excellent UV emitter, and in my experience is irresistible to hummingbirds. Once hummingbirds have found your feeder, UV emitters become less important because the birds remember feeder locations from year to year.”Hummingbirds of North America: Attracting, Feeding, and Photographing, by Dan True
Lure protein bug snacks to the area
Hummingbirds don’t just eat flower nectar and the sugar water we humans make to imitate it. They need protein – which they get from bugs. The hummingbird’s arrival in the spring usually follows closely on the tails of the spring bug population explosion.
Here is a bit of info about the birds and their snack bugs:
“According to testing by the late Dr. Augusto Ruschi, the Brazilian hummingbird expert, a hummingbird eats ten to fifteen gnats, flies, mosquitoes, or spiders per day.”Hummingbirds of North America: Attracting, Feeding, and Photographing, by Dan True
“Mosquitoes, gnats, and fruit flies also get a hummingbird’s attention. Nourishment from these insects provides protein for feather, bone, and muscle maintenance and growth.”Hummingbirds of North America: Attracting, Feeding, and Photographing, by Dan True
“Hummingbirds also need protein in their diets. Placing some over-ripe fruit in your garden will attract insects and delight your hummers. Bananas work great.”Enjoying Hummingbirds In the Wild & In Your Yard, by Larry & Terrie Gates
Perches on and around hummingbird feeders
Perches help to attract hummingbirds just like benches in a park. Humans like to sit down while enjoying a big lunch, and hummingbirds are no different. Provide perches at varying heights to dissuade the birds from searching for spots outside your yard.
“At a feeder, a hummingbird’s maximum energy expenditure is prolonged while it tanks up. Prolonged hovering, beyond what is “natural,” could tire the bird’s flight muscles. From that standpoint, providing a feeder with a perch makes sense.”Hummingbirds of North America: Attracting, Feeding, and Photographing, by Dan True
Providing natural nest materials for hummingbirds
Hummingbirds build the most adorable, tiny, soft nests for their eggs. And they need building supplies to make this nest! Make sure that nest-building supplies are available and situated close to branches suitable for nesting habitat.
Plants with soft, fuzzy fibers make great nest-building materials. This includes trees with soft catkins and naturally soft ornamentals. Here are some planting possibilities to consider for hummingbird nest-building:
- Trees such as Willow, Cottonwood, Birch, Maple, Poplar
- Shrubs such as Mulberry, Witch Hazel, Hazelnut
- Perennials such as Lamb’s Ear, Milkweed*, Honeysuckle
*Milkweed has the added benefit of attracting lovely monarch butterflies! It can be a bit tricky to get established from seed, so most gardeners purchase seedling plants to get started
There is another reason to encourage a healthy population of beneficial bugs…spiders. Hummingbirds are always stealing lovely sticky web threads (and even little bugs) from spiders. Sneaky!
Hummingbird feeder care and tips for general maintenance
Care and maintenance of a hummingbird feeder are all about providing a safe and reliable source of calories for the hummingbirds that have chosen your yard as their home. You’ve attracted them to your yard, and now it’s time to keep up your end of the bargain by taking reasonable measures to keep them safe and healthy.
Keep the feeders clean and filled with sugar solution
Step one is to keep your hummingbird feeders clean and filled with a sugar water solution. Hummingbirds should have access to artificial nectar every day. The most important time to have the feeders ready is first thing in the morning. If you’re not an “early bird”, fill them up and put them out the night before (as long as it’s not freezing out).
“After you have attracted birds, if you must be absent longer than their liquid will last or remain fresh, it is important that you appoint someone to keep your feeders serviced.”Hummingbirds of North America: Attracting, Feeding, and Photographing, by Dan True
How to clean hummingbird feeders
It is extremely important to keep the hummingbird feeder clean. There are enough dangers out there for the little birds without us exposing them to a veritable breeding ground of germs. Birds can get digestive diseases and can even get infections in their little beaks and tongues. Cleaning the feeder properly is worth the effort.
“Hummingbirds have an extendible tongue, up to twice as long as the bill, with a forked, fringed tip.”Hummingbirds: A Life-Size Guide to Every Species, by Michael Fogden, Marianne Taylor, and Sheri L. Williamson
Make checking the hummingbird feeder part of your daily routine. Cloudy water is a sign of bacterial activity and is also therefore a sign that the feeder should be emptied and properly cleaned. Sugar water can ferment in as little as 2-3 days in the right conditions.
Wash the feeder each time it is refilled. Discard used sugar water. To clean the feeder, use dish soap or vinegar. Use a bottle brush to get in all the nooks and crannies of the feeding ports, seals, and other tight areas. Rinse VERY well to ensure all cleaning residue is rinsed off…birds are picky. Some models made of high-quality plastic or glass/silicone/metal are dishwasher safe.
“Detergents for feeder cleaning break down water’s surface tension. If a feeder isn’t completely purged, detergent residue will continue to break surface tension and will encourage leakage from vacuum-principle feeders. White vinegar and water is a good detergent substitute. Another successful cleaning method is to soak a disassembled feeder 15 minutes in a solution of 1/2 cup liquid bleach diluted by 2 quarts of water, followed by a thorough rinse.”Hummingbirds of North America: Attracting, Feeding, and Photographing, by Dan True
If you’re not using a dishwasher with a sanitized setting, the feeder parts can be soaked in a disinfecting solution. Most backyard bird watchers use bleach (see instructions below). Others use hydrogen peroxide and some even use warmed vinegar. The important thing is that you’re cleaning the feeder thoroughly, germs and all. Ensure that all cleaning solutions are rinsed off completely before re-filling the feeder with a sugar water solution.
“Warm temperatures and/or direct sunshine accelerate fermentation and bacteria growth in sugar water; therefore in summer it is critical that feeders be emptied, cleaned, and recharged with fresh solution every two to four days.”Hummingbirds of North America: Attracting, Feeding, and Photographing, by Dan True
As noted in the passage above, warmth increases the rate of bacteria growth. The solution can spoil in as little as 2 days in hot weather. Think about how long you let food sit on the counter, and consider that birds can be just as picky. They know they can always move down the street! Would you go back to a restaurant where you and your family got food poisoning? Nope…those birds are headed down the block.
How to keep ants out of hummingbird feeders
Most hummingbird feeders are found by local ants at some point. The best way to deal with ants is to clean the area completely, clean the feeder, refill it carefully (avoiding spillage), and deploy an ant moat. Fill the ant moat with water, and keep an eye on the water level. You may get some chickadees drinking from it!
Some birders have had success putting ant-deterrent materials at the base of the pole or other structure holding up the hummingbird feeder. I’ve used diatomaceous earth with some success. I’ve also heard of putting coffee grounds around the hole and other various naturally-sourced ant deterrents. If you cut off access to their food completely, they’ll soon become disinterested in your bird feeder.
Do not use insecticides on ants, especially if you have or are trying to attract hummingbirds. Birds love your sugary water, but they need to eat protein-rich insects too. If ants or other critters are laced with poison, the hummingbirds will get hurt.
Other bugs on the hummingbird feeder
Some backyard birders have had success using a “bug-vacuum” device to suck bugs off the feeder. Removal of a few bugs tends to discourage future invaders, especially when done consistently early in the season.
How to keep bees away from hummingbird feeders
While hummingbirds are attracted to red flowers, flying insects are attracted to yellow flowers. Honestly – have you ever noticed how most wasp traps are yellow!? Bees and wasps love the colour yellow.
If any of these stinging insects are an issue in your area, stay away from the hummingbird feeders with the little yellow plastic flowers or the often-leaky “bee guards”. Also, move the feeder away from yellow flowers and furniture.
Following the cleaning instructions earlier in this article will help to keep bees from invading the feeder. Do always try to keep every drop of sugar water INSIDE the feeder, rather than splashing it on the outside. Continue to watch the feeder on a daily basis and observe the behaviour of any bees that pass by.
Bees are also less likely to catch on than hummingbirds if the feeder is moved. After a thorough cleaning, put the feeder in a slightly different location and mark it with something red for the birds. Again, watch for the insects. If they continue to be a problem, you may be able to lure them away with a wasp trap, such as one with a more sugary (and easier to get) solution.
How seasonal changes and migration affect hummingbird feeders
Most hummingbirds are migratory. They arrive in the spring and tend to leave North America in September-October. Feeders in these areas are taken down after the birds leave.
There are, however, several types of hummingbirds that stick around all year in warmer climates such as the Pacific coast and in Florida. Hummingbird enthusiasts in these year-round areas feed them all year long!
When to take down hummingbird feeders
Most backyard birders with migratory hummingbirds wait for a few weeks to pass without any hummingbird visits before taking down the feeder for the winter. Feeders usually stay up through early cold fronts and into the crisp fall season. Keep the feeder clean and full. It is nice to know that any migratory stragglers will have access to food to power their journey.
“Hummingbirds migrate due to instinct and not on the basis of the availability of food. Most experts believe migration is triggered by the changing length of days. If a hummingbird arrives at your feeder after migration has passed, it is probably sick, injured, or a young bird that has lost its way. Your feeder may be its sole source of survival at least until it has built enough energy to continue its journey. So don’t take that feeder down too soon!”Enjoying Hummingbirds In the Wild & In Your Yard, by Larry & Terrie Gates
Feeding hummingbirds in freezing winter conditions
Urban-adapted non-migratory hummingbirds can remain in temperate coastal yards of North America all winter. Some ruby-throated hummingbirds overwinter in Florida, and “Anna’s” in the west also hang around all winter in warmer areas of the Pacific west coast.
“Most North American hummingbirds migrate south to Mexico and Central America to escape the winter, though increasing numbers of several species now winter in Florida and along the Gulf Coast, where they depend on hummingbird feeders.”Hummingbirds: A Life-Size Guide to Every Species, by Michael Fogden, Marianne Taylor, and Sheri L. Williamson
To keep the fluid warm in cool temperatures you can buy a small warming light (Hummer Hearth) that attaches to the bottom of your hummingbird feeder. Some birders also use old-fashioned Christmas lights to provide a bit of warmth in the vicinity of the feeder. Use a light timer to turn the lights on during the times that the birds are active and they may hang out around the lights for a while!
Alternatively, bring the feeder inside overnight and wait to put it outside with warm fluid for the birds’ early morning feeding. In freezing temperatures, some enthusiasts tape those single-use hand-warming packets to the bottom of a basin feeder or to the tank of a bottle feeder – simply to keep the fluid from getting too cold too quickly. If you do take it inside overnight, be sure it’s ready and waiting for them when they emerge in the morning (they’ll be cold and tired and hungry!).
“Most hummingbird species arrive in the United States in the warmer months, though in some regions hummingbirds are found all year. Where we live in southeastern Arizona, we keep our feeders out year-round. Observing a Blue-throated, Magnificent, or Violet-crowned Hummingbird in the snow is a real thrill!”Enjoying Hummingbirds In the Wild & In Your Yard, by Larry & Terrie Gates
When to put out hummingbird feeders in the spring
Put out your hummingbird feeders in early spring to attract the birds during their spring migration. The hummingbirds will arrive when there are adequate protein supplies of insects ready to be hunted. Keep an eye out for other insect-eating birds like swallows, which can indicate that hummingbirds may be close behind.
Different species of hummingbirds migrate northward at different times. Some species will arrive in southern states in January-February, while other species may not arrive until May! In northern states, expect the first hummingbirds to arrive near the end of April. Prairie provinces of Canada may not see hummingbirds until mid-May.
Consult a hummingbird guidebook or local birder association for dates in previous years. Spring sightings of migratory birds for the current year are often tracked by your local bird-watching club or nature society, and online:
Hummingbird Sighting Map for Spring Migration: https://www.hummingbirdcentral.com/hummingbird-migration.htm
Just in case the hummingbirds arrive early, place the feeders out about a week before you expect the birds to arrive. You want your feeder in place and ready to be discovered by the scout hummer. Think of the scout hummer as a hip Yelp reviewer – make a good impression with that first bird and you’ll reap the benefits all year (and possibly for years to come).