Article written by Jessica Strickland, Horticulture Agent
Q: When should I put my hummingbird feeder away for the year?
A: Hummingbirds are one of Mother Nature’s fascinating creatures. Hummingbirds are among the smallest birds with high metabolism, allowing them to consumer more than their own weight in nectar each day. A hummingbird’s main food source is nectar found inside flowers, however, people enjoy supplementing the little birds’ diet by providing sugar water in a hummingbird feeder. Along with providing extra food, we enjoy seeing the birds close up while zooming around the feeders. Often hummingbird feeders are put out during the late spring and summer months.
Many have heard and thought it was important to take down hummingbird feeders when the temperatures started to cool so they don’t cause hummers to not migrate south for the winter. On doing some research for this article, I discovered that this is not necessarily true. It turns out that one does not have to be concerned about causing harm to hummingbirds by leaving their feeders up too late into the year.
The common hummingbird that we are most familiar with and see attracted to a feeder is the Ruby-throated hummingbird. The Ruby-throated hummingbird is a migratory bird that heads to Mexico, Central America, and even as far as South America. Even if feeders are left up, most Ruby-throats will leave North Carolina by mid-October and not return until late March. Shorter days are thought to be a signal for the birds to head south and some even begin migrating as early as late July.
It is being discovered that there are other species of hummingbirds, like the rufous hummingbird, in the area during the fall and winter months. These species that remain through the winter tend to be more wide spread and not seen as regularly as the ruby-throated hummingbirds. The North Carolina Museum of Science (www.naturalsciences.org) is conducting studies on species of hummingbirds other than the ruby-throated hummingbirds found in North Carolina. Many reports and publications now state that one can leave their hummingbird feeders up year around if they choose to do so.
If you do chose to leave your hummingbird feeder up year round, there are a few tips for maintaining your feeder during the winter months. As recommended at anytime of the year, you should only put sugar water in your feeder. Do not substitute sugar with honey or artificial sweetener, which could harm the birds. It is typically recommended to have 4 part water to 1 part sugar mixture. It is important to clean and replace the feeder with clean sugar water on a regular basis to prevent the mixture from fermenting. In the winter, however, you do not have to replace the mixture as often due to cooler temperatures. It is recommended to replace and clean the feeder about every two weeks during winter. Since you won’t have as many hummingbirds around from October to March, feeders only need to be filled half way. It is not necessary to make the sugar water red to attract hummers, once they discover the food source they will continue to return.
If you enjoy hummingbirds and are interested in seeing if you can attract other types of hummers then feel free to leave your feeders out this winter and see if you do attract other hummingbird species.
Upcoming Gardening Events in Wayne County:
• Wayne Regional Agriculture Fair: Sept. 27 – Oct. 6.
o Demonstration gardens created by the Wayne County Master Gardeners will be open for viewing during fair hours. Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer gardening questions.
o Beekeepers of the Neuse will have a booth at the fair with information about beekeeping and will have local honey for sell. Members will be on hand to answer questions about bees and beekeeping.
• Planting Spring Bulbs Workshop: October 25, 12 – 1pm & 6 – 7:30pm. Learn how you can add these springtime favorites to your garden. This workshop is free to the public. Pre-registration is required by October 23, 2012. Please call Diane at 919-731-1525 to reserve your seat for one of the times offered or for more information on this workshop. Workshop will be in room 105 at the Cooperative Extension Office, Wayne County Center.
NCSU & NC A&T University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation.
North Carolina Cooperative Extension
Wayne County Center
P. O. Box 68
Goldsboro, NC 27533