ASK THE HORT AGENT
Question: When should I take my hummingbird feeder down?
Answer: Hummingbirds embark on their winter migration when they get fat and the days are shorter than the nights. The presence or absence of your feeder does not make them leave. When it’s time to leave, they will take off even if your yard is covered with feeders.
There are a few western species, like the Rufus and Black-chinned hummingbirds, that migrate to the lower regions of the deep South (gulf states like Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi). These birds may sometimes be seen in North Carolina after our Ruby-throats have left. Many hummer lovers leave at least one feeder up for these stragglers until November or December.
Some folks believe that hummingbirds migrate south by riding on the backs of southbound geese. After all, geese migrate. Hummingbirds migrate. Why wouldn’t a smart little hummingbird hitch a ride on the back of a lumbering honker? Zippy little hummingbirds only weigh one tenth of an ounce. A goose wouldn’t even know a hummer was on board. In my mind, I can see a crafty little hummer sitting at the base of a goose’s neck like a small child riding a Clydesdale.
There are a few logistical problems with this theory. First, there are more hummers than geese. Therefore each goose would have to carry several hummers. Second, geese start their migration later in the fall. Hummingbirds would turn into hummersicles waiting for a ride. Most hummingbirds have left the Carolinas by mid October. Harnett County averages its first frost during the third week in October. Ruby throated hummingbirds don’t want any part of a frosty morning.
Third, Canadian geese migrate from Canada to the southern US (like all the folks we see on I-95 with Quebec license plates). Hummingbirds have a final destination which is further south. They’re typically spread from the Florida Keys through Mexico to Central America. Therefore, a hitchhiking hummer would have to change planes in the heart of Dixie. I guess they could catch a duck in Atlanta for the last leg into Mexico.
Lastly, geese don’t use nectar as fuel. Geese feed on vegetation during their migration. If a hummer was riding a goose, then the restaurants at the pit stops wouldn’t have anything appetizing. A hummingbird would starve even though it was riding. The truth is hummingbirds migrate by themselves.
While hummingbird feeders certainly benefit hummingbirds, it is also helpful to incorporate plants in your landscape that feed these birds. Plants with tubular flowers are preferred. Examples of these plants include trumpet creeper, crossvine, Carolina jessamine, cardinal flower, beebalm, honeysuckle, butterfly bush and lantana.
For more info on feeding hummers visit http://www.ncsu.edu/goingnative/howto/design/wildneed/humbird.html If you do not have internet access, then call 910-893-7530 or email me at email@example.com
Hummingbird nectar can ferment in just a day or two in hot weather. When the birds begin to leave in the fall, add less sugar water to your feeders every few days. Black-chinned hummers may stop by and feed, but they don’t want to get drunk and watch football with you on the weekends.
Gary L. Pierce is a Horticulture Extension Agent in Harnett County, NC