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Answers from the Hummingbird Expert

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Answers from the Hummingbird Expert
Special thanks to Lanny Chambers for providing his time and expertise in responding to your questions.

Be sure to visit his Hummingbird Website.

From: Digby, Nova Scotia

Q: We have been watching with anticipation the many dots appearing on the map for the hummingbirds. We have a question. Will the hummers that are being spotted in Florida, Georgia and other southern states stay in these places or do they keep migrating north? Thank you. We are eagerly, awaiting our hummers in Nova Scotia!

Some will stay to nest, others will continue north. The exceptions are dots outside the breeding range; those are always just passing through.

From: Swift Current, Saskatchewan

Q: Can hummingbirds fly backwards?

Yes, and even upside down.

Q: Why is food coloring in hummingbird feeders so harmful?

Red dye #40 is suspected of causing cancer. It's banned in Europe. There's also some evidence that hummingbirds don't like the way it tastes.

Q: How do hummingbirds flap their wings so fast?

They have huge wing muscles for their size.

From: Pittsboro, North Carolina
Horton Middle School

Q: Can you explain why there is only one species found in Eastern US, and so many out in the west?

It's probably a matter of habitat. The east is much more uniform, with temperate forests and no high mountains or deserts. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are generalists, and do well in a wide variety of forest settings, but the Great Plains are a barrier to their westward expansion. In the west, each species is adapted to a particular habitat, and some have very specific requirements that aren't found in the east.

Q: How can I keep the flies and bees from getting into my feeders?

Use a feeder that doesn't offer them a free meal. That means a design that keeps the syrup level too low for bugs to reach. The smallest insects will still crawl inside, but that won't bother the hummers. Never use oil or grease on a hummingbird feeder!

From: Morristown, Tennessee
Q: I never know when to put my feeder out. We live in Tennessee and it will be hot one day and cold the other. I see on the journey north map a few are already up to the Georgia state. Thank you for taking the time to answer my question. Terry

Temperature isn't really important. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds leave Mexico on about the same date each year, but their northward progress depends on the weather they encounter in the U.S. Watch the map, and hang your feeder when you think the first birds are a few days away from you. Check the maps for previous years, too.

From: Burnsville, Minnesota

Q: A man recently told me that some hummingbirds migrate by attaching to the underside of a migrating goose. If this is true, which hummingbirds do this?

Not true.

From: Fairview Park, Ohio

Q: Would I have more luck attracting more ruby throated hummingbirds if I placed 4 or 5 feeders within 5-10 feet of each other on my deck?

That works if you normally see more than a couple of dozen hummers swarming around your feeder. Otherwise, it's better to keep feeders out of sight of each other, so one bird doesn't try to defend all of them.

Q: When should I start putting out my feeders in Cleveland, OH?

Watch the map.

From: Mertzon, Texas
Irion County ISD

Q: I put up a Purple Martin house last August and watched several pairs move in, and within a week noticed that my many hundreds of hummingbirds, (I fill 28 large feeders and they were usually empty every other day), became only a few scarce individuals. I have still only noticed a few individuals this year, but the Martins came back. Do you think the hummingbirds will not come around because of the presence of the Purple Martins? (I am debating taking down the house.) My hummingbirds have been coming for over 7 years.

No, August is when most hummingbirds start migrating, and yours probably just left on schedule. If you keep a diary of arrivals and departures, you will see the same patterns repeat every year. If there really are fewer hummers this year, look for habitat changes such as forest cleared for agriculture or development, or loss of wetlands.

From: Gilford, New Hampshire

Q: I am a physical education teacher who looks forward to the first sightings of hummingbirds each spring here in New Hampshire. When there is more than 1 perch on a feeder, why is it that only one hummingbird will perch at a time? Is it the territorialism?

Yes, hummingbirds are among the most territorial of all creatures.

Q: I have watched TV shows where more than one hummingbird feed at the same time. Would this be during a migration when perhaps they are starving?

If there are enough birds, territoriality breaks down because one bird
cannot defend against so many others. Also, some species are not quite as
territorial (Anna's and Broad-tailed, e.g.), and are often more tolerant
of company at feeders.

From: Lexington, Massachusetts

Q: Do chipmunks carry off and eat birds’ eggs.

Yes, and live chicks as well.

From: Bellevue, Washington

Q: How many calories does a Rufous burn in one day?

About 8 (that's 8 kilocalories, or Calories with a capital C).

From: Ferrisburgh, Vermont
Ferrisburgh Central School

Q: How much nectar does a hummingbird need on an average day? Erik.

About 1.5 times its body weight.

Q: Do hummingbirds have any songs that they sing? Ruby, Phoebe, Joanna, and Amanada, Grade 4.

Males of some species sing. Not Ruby-throated, though.

From: Oregon, Wisconsin

Q: What kind of trees do hummingbirds nest in? At one time I thought they were in the Cedar trees. The nests of hummingbirds I have seen on the internet look like maple trees. Do they build their nests at the top of the trees?

It depends on the species of hummingbird and what's available in the area. Some species are quite choosy, while others will use almost anything. Nests are commonly built near the end of a downward-sloping branch that is shaded by another branch above.

Q: In the spring I hang my feeder, I only get a couple of hummingbirds. But a friend of mine who lives a few blocks away has about 30 every year. We use the same mixture of water and sugar. Why do they have more hummingbirds? What is the best food for hummingbirds?

Perhaps your friend's yard has more insects to eat, and more shrubby places for a hummer to hide and rest. Or maybe his feeders are cleaner and fresher than yours. The best recipe is one part cane sugar to four parts water.

How to Use FAQ's About Journey North Species
Since 1995, experts have contributed answers to students' questions about each Journey North species. These questions and answers are archived in our FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions) section. You can use today's Answers from the Expert above, along with those from previous years, in the activities suggested in the lesson, "FAQ's About Journey North Species."

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