Wednesday, October 1, 2014

When Should I Take Down My Hummingbird Feeders?

When should I take my hummingbird feeders down? That question always pops up in the early fall when ‘swarms’ of hummers are seen at feeders. And, my answer is always that depends.

Hummingbirds are migratory, tropical birds. As the ice sheets retreated during the last ice age, hummingbirds expanded their ranges northward in search of food and nesting places. Some of our songbirds adapted completely by becoming vegetarians in winter and therefore do not migrate. Hummingbirds are carnivores (insect eaters) and use nectar as fuel for their insect gathering activities.

But the abundance of insects and nectar aren't the only things that affect the hummers need to migrate. Generally hummingbirds migrate in response to hormonal changes that are triggered by the length of daylight. And, when you think about it, the length of daylight affects the blooms of plants and the abundance or lack thereof of insects.

Nothing you do will force these little guys to fly south! If you remove your feeder, birds will just feed elsewhere, but may not bother to return to your yard the next year. I recommend continuing to maintain feeders until freezing becomes a problem.

By mid-September, essentially all of the Ruby-throated at our feeders are migrating through from farther north and are not the ones that we have seen at our feeders during the summer. That is why you see so many at feeders during the fall. And the number migrating south may be twice that of the northward trip, since it includes all immature birds that hatched during the summer, as well as surviving adults.

You've always heard that things are bigger in Texas. Well, if you want to see bigger in the hummingbird world, you must add to your bucket list the Hummingbird Festival in Rockport, TX. You can find information here: This is the staging area where all hummers going south stop to ‘tank up’ on fuel in order to cross the gulf. It begins around the first weeks of September when northern and eastern hummers start showing up along the Texas Gulf Coast. For several weeks hummers in hundreds of thousands congregate here and begin a feeding frenzy. 

This area has good cover (live oak trees) and a natural population of Turk’s Cap.
Goose Island Oak, Rockport Texas

Pink Turk's Cap

So when do you take down your feeders? It depends. Rubicon Wild Bird store in Flint, TX south of Tyler had a Ruby-throated stay until January 2013 and then one until November 2013 and a Rufous as late as December 30, 2013. So keep those feeders up until you are absolutely sure there are no more hummers or better yet when temperatures reach freezing. And, remember NO RED FOOD COLORING!