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When to Stop Feeding Hummingbirds?
We are asked two basic questions in regard to when should we cease feeding our little friends.
Saying Goodbye in the Autumn!
In the Autumn we recommend leaving your feeders up for approximately two (2) weeks after you have seen the last hummingbird. There might be one or a few travelers migrating in need of a stop-over meal. They might stay for one day or several. Yes, this is a commitment because the nectar needs to be changed every 3 to 5 days even if the feeder has not been visited. In the event that a hungry passerby might stop to feed, we wouldn’t like to sicken the bird.
It should be noted that more and more people are seeing some species of overwintering hummingbirds in southern and northwestern states along with some provinces of Canada.
If you are interested in the possibility of having one stop at your location, don't stop feeding hummingbirds. Keep your feeders up until early November. These hummingbirds such as the Rufous are more cold tolerant but require a greater commitment from you. If you are surprised with one, you might need to keep your nectar warm for them.
There are a small number of Ruby-throated hummingbirds that have always wintered in some of our southern states such as Georgia and Florida. These Ruby-throated hummingbirds require us to heat the nectar or bring the feeder indoors and then out again but only in the event of a cold snap. In this case, we should never take our feeders down.
There is a widespread myth that they won’t migrate if you don’t take down your feeders in time.
Thank goodness, this myth is not true. That’s a lot of pressure for the average birdwatchers who want only the best for their loyal little friends.
I remember the first I heard this and nearly panicked!
What if I hadn’t taken down my feeders in time and my fragile hummingbirds that live on the edge of survival stay and freeze in our cold northeastern climate?
So I did my research to learn the science behind the hummingbird migration.
A Myth is a myth!
Scientists have studied the hummingbird in regard to migration.
They have banded many hummingbirds and tracked their marvelous migrations.
As a result, we now know scientifically that hummingbirds do not migrate because of a lack of nectar or we stop feeding hummingbirds.
It is the length of daylight in autumn and spring that triggers the hormones that cause hummingbirds to migrate.
When the hormones surge, the birds become restless.
In addition, they start to become nocturnal because hummingbirds migrate at night.
Finally, when the length of day shortens even more the hormonal surge becomes greater and our dear hummingbird friends leave us.
A Myth Based on Fact!
When observation was the only method of understanding hummingbirds, the myth that hummingbirds leave because of lack of food had substantial merit.
It is true that once in a while a hummingbird does not migrate.
We now realize that this is due to a defect in its’ endocrine system and has nothing to do with leaving up your feeder.
Upon seeing such a hummingbird, sometimes caring people attempt a rescue either by keeping a feeder warm or calling an organization that specializes in bird rescues.
Please note that there are exceptions to hummingbird migration:
If you reside here there is no concern when to stop feeding hummingbirds and you should consider yourself fortunate.
Going on Vacation!
We love our hummingbirds almost as pets. They return to us each year and add so much enjoyment to our lives. Yet, while they do depend on us for nectar, hummingbirds are wild birds that can survive without us.
Most people vacation during the summer months when there is an abundance of nectar producing flowers both cultivated and wild. However, please consider the nectar if you are leaving for more than a few days. Empty your feeders and clean them thoroughly before you go. Nectar left in the feeders can become rancid quickly especially in the sun which can harm hummingbirds.
Another option, if you have several feeders out and a lot of hummingbirds is to empty half of the feeders. This way you can be sure that the remaining feeders will empty more quickly.
Of course, if you feel that you cannot leave your precious little friends without an easy source of nectar you can ask a friend or relative to fill and clean them for you. We know people who have done this and weren’t surprised when the helper became a hummingbird enthusiast themselves after the experience. We all know how wonderful these birds can be. So a thank you gift of a nice hummingbird feeder is never a bad idea. In any event, have a good vacation and don’t worry about your hummingbirds.
Happy Hummingbird Watching!