On Sunday we were having a discussion at home as to whether anyone had seen a hummingbird in the last two weeks on either of the two feeders we still have out.
As the three of us discussed it, the consensus was unanimous — nobody had any recollection of seeing a single hummingbird for the last two weeks. I remarked, “Well, I guess it is safe to take down the feeders.”
Fast forward two or three hours. I was out in the yard when I heard the screechy-scratchy ‘song’ of an Anna’s hummingbird. I froze in my tracks, questioning whether or not I had really heard an Anna’s hummingbird. I started scanning the tops of the bare trees and, sure enough, there was a male Anna’s sitting in my neighbor’s yard at the highest point of a tree.
Instead of taking down the feeders, I went straight into the house and made a fresh batch of sugar water. While I haven’t seen a hummingbird at either feeder since I refilled them with fresh nectar, I can only assume that the feeders are being used, since there is at least one hummingbird still hanging around.
There are few bird species that generate as many questions from customers as hummingbirds. Questions such as, “When should I take my feeder down?,” or “When should I put my feeder out?” or “What is the recipe for making sugar water?”
The question of when to take down hummingbird feeders is certainly an age-old one. Is there a right or wrong answer — a definitive answer — or is it more an opinion-based answer? Another frequent question related to hummingbirds is this classic, “If I feed hummingbirds in the fall (and winter), will this prevent them from migrating?”
The answer to the last question is no. Feeding hummingbirds does not alter their decision whether to migrate or not. Folks who provide wild bird food in their yard feed all different kinds of bird species, and they still migrate. Here in the Arizona Central Highlands, we have so many migratory birds that are benefited by the hobby of backyard bird feeding; yet they still come and go based on their instinctual knowledge of when to migrate.
I think it is just a fact that some Anna’s hummingbirds winter-over. Whether you keep your hummingbird feeder out or not, some will stay here all winter long. Interestingly, even those that leave in the fall frequently come back really early — in late winter, such as in January or February. They don’t wait until spring to come back. Rather, they come back when they are ready.
The biggest determining factor of when to migrate has to do with day-length. As the days get shorter in the fall, this is a signal to wild birds that it is time to head south. The opposite is true in spring. As the days get longer, birds get the itch to start moving north. Food availability is probably an additional factor, but it is not the main factor.
If you are trying to decide whether to keep a feeder out, my recommendation is based on whether there are any hummingbirds present. Simply put, if you are still seeing hummingbirds in your yard, please continue to provide food. If you haven’t seen any hummingbird activity in your yard for at least two weeks, then it is probably safe to take down the feeder.
After you take down your feeder, when should you put it back out? The answer is simple — as soon as you start seeing hummingbird activity in the yard.
Until next week, Happy Birding!
Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn in Prescott, Arizona. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.