About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

When to take hummingbird feeders down and many other FAQ

I am seeing some really fat hummingbirds and some really skinny hummingbirds. They can’t be pregnant this late in the fall. Is one just lazy? They are different colors too. How many hummingbirds do we have in Michigan? Am I supposed to take the feeder down soon? ~ Lansing

Ruby-throated male
Thank you for your questions! You’ve made some very good observations. There is a lot of misinformation about hummingbirds and I’m always happy for the opportunity help people learn more about fall feeding.

Why do hummingbirds get fat in the fall?
Nesting season is over for the hummingbirds in Michigan by the end of June. Once breeding territories no longer have to be guarded, hummingbirds wander widely. Just before they answer the call to travel south, hummingbirds eat in excess to build a layer of rich fatty fuel just under their skin. You can notice the extra fat along the belly, back, and throat. A hummingbird actually gains 25 – 40% extra body-weight to have enough fuel to migrate thousands of miles south. You will notice them getting fatter and fatter and then one day they fly to their wintering grounds.

Ruby-throated female
Do I make the nectar recipe stronger to give them more energy?
It's not necessary to make your sugar solution stronger. The 4:1 ratio is the closest to the favorite flowers that hummingbirds visit. That would be four parts water to one part plain white sugar. Click HERE for the nectar recipe.

Should I make the sugar solution weaker to encourage them to leave?
I would continue to feed the hummingbirds the same nectar solution until they are fat enough to move further south. Don't rush them. Let them leave when they have enough energy and the weather is favorable.

Am I supposed to take down my feeder on Labor Day?
DO NOT take your feeders down on Labor Day. In mid-Michigan, you can leave your hummingbird feeder up until mid-October. The rule of thumb is if you haven't seen a hummingbird for two weeks in the fall it's safe to take your feeder down. Depending on where you live it is usually at the end of September to the middle of October. The hummingbirds aren't in as big a rush to go down south as they were to find nesting grounds in the spring but they will leave us whether there is a feeder up or not.

How many species of hummingbirds are in Michigan?
Actually five species of hummingbirds have been sighted in Michigan, however most people only see the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. The male and female hummingbirds look different. Ruby-throated male's have ruby-red feathers on the throat, a green back and white belly. The females have an emerald green back and white bellies.

Other hummingbirds seen very, very rarely, in Michigan according to Hummingbirds.net are the Rufous Hummingbird, the Broad-billedHummingbird, the GreenVioletear Hummingbird and the White-eared Hummingbird.

Do hummingbirds migrate on the backs of geese?
During migration hummingbirds fly about 23 miles a day by themselves, not in flocks or on the backs of geese. Individual adult males get the urge to leave first, followed soon after by the females, and then finally the juveniles. Amazingly, once the young have gained enough weight, they find their own way to the same winter habitat as their parents - someplace where they have never been, using the GPS in their head.

It’s astonishing that a bird that weighs as little as a penny with the brain the size of a BB has traveled thousands of miles all alone and ended up in the right place every fall since the last ice age.

Some think that the rumor of hummingbirds hitching a ride with geese was started by Mr. Audubon himself. But migratory geese don't fly as far south and leave much later than hummingbirds. Geese don't start migrating until mid-September and are not gone until lakes and rivers are frozen, while hummingbirds start migrating in mid-July and are mostly gone from Michigan by mid-October.

Where do Ruby-throated hummingbirds spend the winters?
Most Ruby-throated Hummingbirds winter in southern Mexico, Central America, South America, and the West Indies. A few remain along the Gulf coast and on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

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3 comments:

eisseb ybhsa said...

some of my Hummers stay year around and are very thankful that I feed them when it is icy and snowy here in Camas wa. I do need to bring the feeder in at night so it wont freeze even to I keep it on the porch out of the rain and wind .

carol seiter said...

The bees are taking over my feeders and does that discourage the hummingbirds. What can I do?

Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan said...

The only sure defense against bees and wasps is to deny them any access to the nectar. I have replaced all my hummingbird feeders gradually with the problem free Wild Birds Unlimited saucer style feeders. The bees don’t like the flat style hummingbird feeders because the nectar is down low, there is no leaking or dripping, they have a built in ant moat and they are easy to clean and fill. There are also optional bee guards you can attach to allow only hummers and no bugs access.

There are different styles and sizes of the saucer style hummingbird feeders, even a window feeder! They all have perches (I love it when they stop to drink) and bright colored tops to attract the birds naturally. Both the cover and the clear bowl are constructed with UV stable poly carbonate, the most durable plastic available, are dishwasher safe, come with a lifetime guarantee, and are made in the USA.
Wild Birds Unlimited saucer style feeders: http://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/2016/04/best-bee-and-ant-proof-hummingbird.html


If you choose not to try a new feeder right now, I have three tips to stop bees:

1. Deter Bees and wasps: I discovered bees don't like the smell of cherries. If you swab the ports with real almond or cherry extract (purchased at any grocery store baking isle), the bees will avoid the feeder. This really works but it wears off fast and you have to reapply the extract every day.
2. Distract Bees and wasps: Use a super-concentrated sugar water mix (two parts water, one part sugar), and pour it into a shallow plate, preferably a big yellow one (bees seem to be attracted to that color). Put the plate on a ladder or stool near the hummingbird feeder and they will probably move over to the plate. Once the plate is empty the bees should disperse.
3. Disinterest Bees and wasps: Reduce the sugar concentration to 1 part sugar in 5 parts water instead of the usual nectar recipe of 1 part white sugar to 4 parts water. This will make it less attractive to insects, but probably won't make the hummingbirds lose interest.

I hope that helps.