This time of year we field the same question over and over again each day. “When should I take down my hummingbird feeders?” Personally, I usually take my last feeder down by Halloween. While hummingbird numbers have dropped significantly, there are still plenty of Anna’s chasing around.
It was just a year ago, in mid-October, when a female broad-billed hummingbird showed up at one of my hummingbird feeders and stayed for eleven days. I was so glad that I still had a couple of feeders up. I am convinced that if I had already taken my feeders down, this rare visitor to the Arizona Central Highlands would not have stopped in my yard. Keeping feeders up through October assists late migrators and stragglers who are still headed south to their final winter destination.
Every year we hear scattered reports from customers of male Anna’s hummingbirds wintering over. In these situations, most of our customers get in a routine of bringing the feeder in at night after dark, and putting it out the next morning at first light so the sugar water doesn’t freeze. It is extremely important that the food is accessible to the birds, as they are desperate to eat after a long, cold night.
There is the thought that perhaps one of the reasons some Anna’s hummingbirds winter over is because they are either too old or too weak to migrate. While I have no hard data to support this idea, it certainly seems like a reasonable possibility. I am not advocating leaving a feeder up all winter. However, if you have a hummingbird that lingers, please continue to keep the feeder out all winter.
Many customers keep two small hummingbird feeders filled with sugar water for those times when we experience snow and freezing temperatures during the day. Throughout the day, they will swap out the feeders, keeping one inside and one outside. This way they can replace
the outside feeder if the sugar water freezes, or if the feeder gets covered with snow. I think this is a great idea!
Some people worry that feeding hummingbirds in the fall causes them to not migrate. I personally believe whether they choose to migrate or not is independent of whether or not you are feeding them. I typically go hiking every week, and each year, in the dead of winter, I find male Anna’s hummingbirds in very remote, isolated places where there are no feeders.
How do they survive? They frequent sap wells created by red-naped sapsuckers (a type of woodpecker) where sap is oozing from the trunk of trees. Sap from trees (think of maple syrup) is like sugar water in a sense—it has nutritional value with vitamins and minerals that hummingbirds need in winter. Hummingbirds also glean on the underside of leaves for insects, insect eggs and larvae.
This summer, during peak hummingbird season, I had eight feeders out. I am now down to five, and will continue to take a feeder down each week until they have all been brought in. As you take down your hummingbird feeders, I strongly encourage you to replace some of them with suet feeders for the winter months ahead. Suet is an excellent high-energy food source for birds in winter, with a lot of fat and protein to sustain them when insects are difficult to find.
The free wild bird Photo Contest exhibit is now open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day, except Sundays. I invite you to come and vote for your favorite pictures during the month of October during our Fall Seed Sale event.
Until next week, Happy Birding!