Should you leave a hummingbird feeder out for stragglers? Here’s what you need to know about hummingbird migration.
It’s 5 a.m. You want to pick up a hot cup of coffee and some breakfast on your drive, but no place is open and some restaurants aren’t open until 6 a.m. Fortunately for birds, they don’t have to depend on a restaurant to be open. They can eat anytime at bird feeders, where the food is available to them 24/7. Birds need our help to keep these feeders clean and filled with fresh food, so they can always stop in for a “hot meal.”
NOTE: The only reason nectar should be hot is if it’s been sitting in direct sunlight for part of the afternoon. And that’s a good reason to switch it out for freshly made nectar more often.
Now let’s get specific…
Should you leave a hummingbird feeder out for stragglers?
Studies have shown it’s a wise choice to leave a hummingbird feeder out for two whole weeks after you’ve seen your last hummingbird. Think about it: if a hummingbird is one of the last of their species to migrate, then they’re going to need all the energy they can get. Hummingbirds know it’s better to start migrating while food is still plentiful, so it’ll be easy to find food along the way. That’s smart!
However, the stragglers aren’t always so lucky. They may pass through a high traffic migration area when food is no longer abundant and the hummingbird feeders they once relied on at the same time last year are taken in early. Leaving nectar out and refreshing it every few days is an excellent way to care for all hummingbirds, whether they’re your regulars or just passing through.
How many hummingbird feeders should I leave out?
Right now, it’s a couple of weeks into September and at this point in hummingbird migration, most of the males have migrated leaving mostly females at feeders. More and more hummingbirds are migrating daily, so you really only need one hummingbird feeder up, since there will be a diminishing amount of hummingbirds passing through your area.
How many hummingbird feeders do you have in your yard right now? If you have several, then you can leave one up, clean the rest and store them away for winter.
What if I want to leave my hummingbird feeder out over the winter?
Then you should read about this woman’s experience feeding the hummingbirds in winter and decide if it will work for you.
When can I take down my last feeder?
After it’s been two full weeks and you have not seen a single hummingbird, you can take down your last remaining hummingbird feeder. However, if you see a hummingbird today:
- Take a moment and enjoy their presence. They’re magnificent, aren’t they?!
- Leave your feeder up for 2 more weeks to feed any stragglers.
Do I have to do anything special for migration?
Keep your hummingbird feeder clean and filled with fresh nectar. This is the most important thing because waiting too long to clean your feeder invites mold to grow inside the feeding area, which may be poisonous to any and all feeding hummingbirds.
PRO TIP: Soak your hummingbird feeder with vinegar and hot water, then let it sit in the sun to dry. If it’s overcast, simply leave it outside until completely dry. Then refill with nectar. This process works well for me and I clean my feeder about every 5 days. -Dawn
What else can I do?
Consider planting hummingbird-friendly flowers near your house in the spring. What’s great is how these flowers attract insects, which are another important part of a hummingbird’s diet. Besides, the more brightly colored and tubular flowers you plant the more hummingbirds you’ll attract and since they’re habitual creatures, they will visit you again the following year.
Oh! Will leaving my feeder out prevent hummingbirds from migrating?
No, not at all. “You can leave your hummingbird feeders out as long as hummingbirds are visiting them,” says Birdwatching.com.
“It’s not the lack of food that tells a hummingbird when to go south. It’s the bird’s internal biological calendar, circannual rhythms. The amount of food in the environment does not affect the migratory urge. In fact, the birds leave their summer home while food is still plentiful. That way, they are reasonably assured of finding more food along the way.”
According to the World of Hummingbirds, “Hummingbirds will start eating every morning about a half (1/2) hour before the sun rises and will stop every day about a half (1/2) hour after dark.
“[Hummingbirds] will eat 25% of their daily intake of food during the first hour they are awake, and take in a bunch more nutrients like food and nectar just before they go to sleep. It is important to make sure your feeders have nectar during these times.”
Experts at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology say:
- A number of factors trigger the urge for birds to migrate, but the most significant one is day length. When the days get shorter, the hummingbirds will move on, regardless of whether there are still filled feeders available for them.
- We do, however, encourage people to keep their hummingbird feeders full for several weeks after they have seen the last hummer just in case there are stragglers in need of additional energy before they complete their long journey south.
P.S. Here’s an excellent full-color map made for hummingbird migration (it’s well-labeled, too). We’ve included a snapshot below, but you can visit Perky-Pet’s website to see the full map and the migration of hummingbirds in your area.