Everybody loves to watch hummingbirds at the feeder. But once their migration is underway, is it fair to keep the feeders up for them? Will they not migrate if there is easy food around?
The primary food sources for hummingbirds are insects and flower nectar, and nothing really replaces those. But, hummingbirds require a lot of food for energy, so if you live in an area where they live year-round, you can keep those feeders out!
If you are in an area where hummers migrate through, or come to nest and leave for the south, then post-season, Cornell Lab of Ornithology recommends leaving hummingbird feeders out for at least 2-3 weeks after the last bird has left in case there are stragglers who need the nourishment. The birds will leave when they need to (length of day has a lot to do with their decisions), and it’s unlikely the available food you leave out will tie them to your yard and they won’t leave.
If there has been a frost or an area that has previously had nectar flowers that has been taken down or developed, then your feeders may be essential to fill in the missing food gap from this loss of habitat.
If you still need another reason to leave feeders out….young birds who are inexperienced in judging seasonal changes and exactly when to migrate, or those who are not in tiptop shape can always benefit from a clean and full sugar-water feeder. Your feeder could make a big difference in their ability to complete their journey as they make their first migration alone.
Always remember to keep hummingbird feeders really clean – that means a thorough cleaning with hot water every few days, and more frequently in hot weather. Also, the very best hummer food is the stuff you make yourself as you know there are no additives – just sugar and water. Never buy hummingbird food that is already dyed red – these products are toxic to hummingbirds.
So the simple answer is – keep hummingbird feeders out when there are birds around or expected to be there, and even a little longer. Your feeders can be a welcome relief to some birds and an important offering to others.
Crowned Woodnymph, Colombia; Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel