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Where Did my Hummingbirds Go?

by Dawn
hummingbird puffed up from cold

My Hummingbirds Have Disappeared 2019

If you live in the northern US, you probably eagerly await the arrival of the hummingbirds each spring. It truly feels like spring once you go outside and see and hear those crazy little critters shooting all over the place at top speed.

In fact, you might sometimes feel like you need a hard hat just to work in your own yard and garden!

For me here in Connecticut in Zone 6b, I start to see hummers around the last week of April. I always put my feeders up by April 20th, though, just to make sure I don’t miss anyone who might be passing through. If my feeders entice the travelers to stay, so much the better!

The first few weeks of hummingbird activity are absolutely crazy! They’re shooting here and there, chasing and chattering at each other like psycho fools. But then, one day around the end of May, they all disappear! Where did they go? Did you do something wrong that drove them away?

The quick answer is no, you didn’t, they’re just making babies, but let’s look at things in a bit more detail.

Hummingbirds’ First Arrival (Hummingbird Migration)

If you’re observant, you may notice that the first arrivals to your hummingbird feeders are all males. This is pretty easy for me as those of us east of the Mississippi only have one variety of hummingbird, the Ruby-Throated. It’s simple to tell mature males from females as the males have brilliant red throats that are really tough to miss.

hummingbird at flower

Once the males arrive, they begin to establish their territories, which is where all the crazy chattering and chasing comes in. If you’ve had feeders up for a few years, you’ve likely got dozens of hummingbirds, so there’s lots of competition between them for territory and mates.

Searching for Mates (Mating Season)

Females arrive a bit later and that’s when you might notice new behavior. You’ll see a bird flying a repeated large U-shaped path in the air, and if you’re really sharp-eyed, you’ll often see another bird in the close vicinity, sitting in a bush or on a tree branch.

The flying (and often chattering) bird is the male, and the perched bird is the female he’s trying to impress.

So now, around the middle of May, you’ve got males vying for territory AND females, and life in your yard might be getting completely nuts.

Then, suddenly, it’s all over. You’ve been filling your feeders every few days and just watching that sugar water disappearing before your eyes, but all of a sudden, nothing, nada, zip. No chattering, no zipping around the yard, nothing.

The first time this happened to me, I thought I had done something wrong. I thought maybe my feeders had gotten dirty and I had poisoned my birds or something.

Mystery Solved: Raising the Young (or The Hummingbirds are Nesting)

Not to worry, you haven’t killed your birds, they’re still there! This sudden lack of activity is due to the fact that the mama birds have settled down to raise their young, and the males don’t feel the need to be QUITE so competitive and nuts right now.

If you’ve never seen a hummingbird nest (and I haven’t, unfortunately), they’re tiny and amazing. Not much bigger than a thimble, the nest will hold and protect 2 hummingbird babies until they fledge.

mama hummingbird feeding her babies
Look how tiny the babies are!

Mama bird will incubate her eggs for about 2 weeks, and care for the young for another 3 to 4 weeks. Then, they get booted because they’ve suddenly become competition for resources. Bye-bye birdie! (Sorry, I just had to say that).

And Suddenly….They’re BAAAACK!

So, you’ve had almost no activity at your feeders for 5-6 weeks, and then suddenly, in one day it seems, they’re all back, and then some! Not only are the males and females vying for space at your feeders, but the newly fledged babies are there too!

You’ve got hummingbird bedlam (get out that hard hat!), which will continue until fall when they migrate south once again.

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Best Feeding Practices ~ A Few Tips

This is a good time to put out a couple of additional feeders, if you can. I usually have 4 to 5 up until this time and typically add 2 to 3 more, depending on how quickly the sugar water is going down.

During peak activity times, I’ve had to fill a single feeder once in the morning and once in the evening, even with various other feeders available.

It’s also a good idea to put at least one of your feeders out of eyeshot of the others. I have several at the front of my house, one out by my veggie garden that’s blocked from view by a couple of bushes, and two out back. This way, if you have a very dominant bird (and you most likely DO have a very dominant bird!), he won’t be able to guard all the feeders at once.

Tip 1: Bye-Bye Red Dye!

Your birds don’t need red dye to find the feeders (especially as most feeders do have some red on them), and there is good evidence that it’s unhealthy for them (as it is for us!). If you’d like to read more about it (and possibly decide not to ingest the stuff yourself ever again!), check out this fascinating article from Bird Watchers’ Digest.

purple hummingbird

A simple solution of 4 parts water to 1 part white sugar is best. I typically mix 8 cups water and 2 cups sugar in a saucepan and boil it for a couple of minutes. Once it cools, I fill my feeders and store any extra in the fridge.

Caution: DON’T use organic, turbinado, brown or any other type of sugar. Although these are healthier for us, they’re not healthier for the birds. They need the simplest, easiest-to-digest sugar available, which happens to be plain old white sugar.

Tip 2: Even when you don’t see them, feed them

During the time you’re not seeing your hummers, don’t assume they’re not coming to the feeders. They may not be coming as much, but they still require nectar, both for themselves and their young.

If you live in an area like mine, they’re not able to get a lot of nectar yet from flowers, so the feeders are quite important.

Although the nectar levels in my feeders aren’t dropping much right now, I take them down at least once a week, empty and clean them. Mold can be very dangerous for the birds, so I make sure they have clean nectar all the time.

This time of year, when it’s cooler, once a week seems to be sufficient, although you may find later in the summer, if you don’t have enough activity to empty your feeders every couple of days, that you’ll have to empty and clean more frequently.

perching hummingbird
Contrary to popular belief, hummingbirds do land, hop and they can perch.
However, the design of their feet does not allow them to walk

Tip 3: Hummingbirds Need Bugs as well as Sugar Water

Did you know that up to 15% of a baby hummingbird’s diet is bugs? This is because they need extra protein that mama and daddy don’t need. Even adult hummingbirds will eat available bugs, although not in the quantities that the babies do.

In fact, I noticed a hummer at my honeysuckle just the other day. The flowers weren’t open yet, so I’m assuming he (or she) was picking bugs off the outside of the flowers.

I’ve just come across this product, Humm-Bug Hummingbird Feeder, at my local garden store. You fill it with fruit and the hummingbirds can then eat the fruit flies that congregate on it.

I haven’t actually tried this yet, but I can think of two possible problems with it: 1. Well, fruit flies. Probably thousands of them. I wouldn’t put this too close to the house, and 2. Wasps. I can see the potential for this to attract lots and lots of wasps.

Why do wasps matter? Besides the sting factor for you, they can be dangerous to your hummers as well. I’ve personally witnessed a hummer come to the feeder where a wasp was trying to get nectar. The hummer first tried to shoo the wasp off, but when the wasp flew at the bird, it flew off. This article from The Hummingbird Society explains why: Even a single sting can be fatal.

**Want to know how many hummingbirds you’re feeding? A relatively easy way to figure it out is to count the number of birds you see at your feeders at any one time (preferably in high summer when they’re really active) and multiply by 6. This calculation gave me a count of approximately 50 a couple of years ago!**

I’d still like to try this product, but with caution. I’m planning to place it a bit away from the house, and if there are any yellow components to the feeder, I’ll try to cover them somehow. Yellow attracts bees and wasps much more than red does, but the lack of it won’t affect whether or not the hummers come. Placing the feeder (or any feeder) in the shade may help keep the wasps away as well.

When I do give this a try, I’ll update here and let you know how it went, but if you’ve used it, please let me know how it went in the comments.

Tip 4: Don’t just Rely on Sugar Water Feeders to Nourish your Birds

Although hummingbird feeders are certainly helpful and it sometimes seems like that’s all they’re using for food, your hummingbirds need diverse food sources.

Plants with trumpet-shaped flowers are best. I’ve found that honeysuckle and fuchsia are particular favorites in my yard. They also feed from my butterfly bushes quite a bit.

honeysuckle blossom
The hummingbirds in my yard LOVE my honeysuckle!

Trumpet vine, bee balm, columbine, lilies and sage are also good hummingbird plants, as are foxgloves (although these are poisonous to people and pets) and hollyhocks.

Hummers also need bushes, trees and water to keep them happy and healthy. If you have a source of running or spraying water, all the better. I want to make a hummingbird bath one of these days like the one in the video below:

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=938091166312649

Tip 5: Put up your Sugar Water Feeders and Be Patient!

If you’ve never had hummingbirds before and you put feeders up for the first time, you might get frustrated that you don’t get birds right away.

hummingbird puffed up
They get puffy like this in the rain or when they’re chilly.
Isn’t it cute?

Ideally, you’d put your feeder or feeders up just before the migration begins in the spring. This way, you may lure a few birds out of their migration and into your yard.

Even if you didn’t get your feeders up that early, it’s still worth a try to see if you can attract some birds from the area. If you’ve already got some of their preferred flowers, you’ve probably got a few birds. You might not be seeing them, but they should be there.

Be consistent with keeping your feeders clean and filled, and over time, you will start to see birds. You may even get to the point where you need a hard hat when you walk outside!

Want a few more fun facts about hummingbirds? Check out this post from the Spruce.

I hope you’ve had fun today and enjoyed this foray into the life of the hummingbird. Feel free to pin one of the images below, and if you haven’t already, why not share and follow me on social media?

As always, smile and have a crazy organic day!

This post was shared on the Farm Fresh Tuesday blog hop. Please come visit and discover some awesome bloggers.

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4 comments

Nikki 06/13/2019 - 11:27 am

I did not know that they eat bugs! The fruit thingy is an interesting concept. Not sure I want to attract more bugs though. LOL
🙂 gwingal

Reply
Dawn 06/13/2019 - 3:59 pm

I know, although they’re just fruit flies, so as long as you keep the feeder quite a ways from the house, you should be ok. I’m really tempted to try. In fact, I almost bought the feeder last week when I was at the garden center. I’m sure it will eventually make it into my cart!

Reply
Linda Carlson 06/07/2019 - 12:14 pm

Great article and glad you mentioned the red dye.. no.. they don’t need it.. We used to live at a higher elevation and we had them all the time. We live far to low for them now but still see one make a fleeting visit thru now and then.

Reply
Dawn 06/07/2019 - 4:22 pm

I’m glad we have them, I’d really miss them if we didn’t.

Reply

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