Preparing Hummingbird Feeders for the Fall

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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.

As we approach the fall season, gardeners spend the cool fall temperatures cleaning up their gardens preparing for winter. One question that comes up with fall garden clean up is when do I take my hummingbird feeder down for the year. 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 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. Many reports and publications now state that one can leave their hummingbird feeders up year around if they choose to do so to feed native hummingbirds that remain in the area through winter.

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.

Learn More!

  • Visit our website at Click on “Lawn & Garden” on left side of webpage.
  • Follow us on Facebook at Wayne County Gardening to receive timely garden tips, ask questions, and learn of upcoming gardening events

Upcoming Wayne County Extension Gardening Programs:

Wayne County Gardening – Fall Workshop Series.  The Wayne County Extension Office will be offering workshops featuring popular gardening topics. Workshops consist of a presentation, question and answer session, and handouts. All workshops are free and open to the public. Registration is required for all workshops by calling the Wayne Co. Extension Office at 919-731-1520.

  • Landscaping with Native Plants
    • Thursday, October 29th, 4 to 6 p.m. at Wayne County Public Library, 1001 E. Ash Street, Goldsboro
    • Native plants can fit into any landscape. Native plants have become a popular way to add beauty, diversity and wildlife habitats to the landscape. Learn about the benefits of native plants and how to select great natives for Eastern NC landscapes.

 Jessica Strickland is an Agriculture Extension Agent, specializing in horticulture for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wayne County. Forward any questions you would like answered from this week’s column to