By Mary Reid Barrow
In mid-September, hummingbird youngsters cease their sibling rivalry round the feeder, get serious about life and with the adults, take wing, one by one, to head toward warmer climes.
Several of you have asked if it is time to take those feeders down. Most recently, LRNow volunteer Ann Farley said she was worried that leaving her feeders up might keep the birds in town.
“Most of mine have left,” Ann wrote, “but I have one hanger-on and then an occasional passerby. I don’t want to encourage the birds to stay on here during cold weather.”
Hummingbirds don’t migrate in flocks. Each one decides on its own when to leave Scientists believe their cues come from a variety of environmental factors such as the weather and waning amount of daylight hours.
I really believe hummers are too smart to depend only on tidewater’s fickle weather to tell them when to migrate! But I can recall years when they disappeared quickly when there were signs of an approaching hurricane!
So never fear, Ann, if you want to leave your feeders out as the weather cools. As long as you keep them cleaned and filled with fresh nectar, you will be helping your birds stoke up on every calorie they can before they leave, and you will be helping northern migrants along the way as they pass through our area.
On the other hand, don’t worry if you want to bring your feeders in. In nature, hummers dine on not only nectar from flowers, but small insects too. I have had sporadic visitors at my feeders well into November over the years.
But here’s the caveat. As you can see from the photo, I had one visitor who made a liar out of everything I have just said.
That year, I kept one feeder filled in December. When I got back from a holiday visit, what should I find but a hummer happily dining there!
You guessed it. I had a friend for the winter.
She appeared healthy, but I wondered if she could have had a problem back in the fall and was unable to migrate then. This doesn’t happen often, but now as the climate changes, their winter range also could be moving further north. Already I have heard of occasional little pockets of overwintering birds here.
But it’s not easy on the birds or the nectar chefs. A hummer can get through a frigid night back in the shelter of, say, a dense cedar tree, but they must eat as soon as they wake up. It might take longer for sugar water to freeze, but there were lots of frigid mornings when I got up at dawn to put fresh unfrozen nectar out.
On the other hand, she and I both made it through the winter to greet the migrating hummers in spring!
Reach Mary Reid: firstname.lastname@example.org