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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 about hummingbirds.
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Questions and Answers

From: North Tonawanda, New York

What is the coldest temperature that a Ruby-throated hummingbird can endure and for how long?

A: I don't think that's ever been established scientifically, but healthy Ruby-throated can survive at least a few nights in the upper teens (Fahrenheit).

From: Tilden, Texas
McMullen County Independent School District

Q: We live on a ranch in the deep south of Texas on the north side of a hill. The rim-rock ledges along the top of the hill have a lot of wild bee hives in the rock crevasses. These bees soon found our hummer feeders and the hummers no longer can use the feeders. How do we cope with this type of problem? Our place is 185 acres of acacia brush ... no fields. All the acacia is either blooming or will bloom. We've had some good rains this spring.

A: You can try feeders that are hard for bees to use, such as the HummZinger, Best-1, or Dr. JB's. Reduce the sugar concentration to 1:5 to make the syrup less attractive to the bees. If that doesn't work, put out trays of 1:2 syrup to draw the bees away from your feeders. Don't ever use oil or grease on hummingbird feeders.

From: New Braunfels, Texas

Q: From time to time, a hummingbird will fly into the window on the porch. Yesterday, one hit the window and I placed him upright. He could only stand on one leg and one wing was spread out. I place him in the palm of my hand and cupped him for about 30 minutes. After that time he flew up into a live oak tree. What are the chances that the hummingbird will survive? Thank you.

A: Hard to say. He got a concussion, and was having trouble balancing. Some concussed birds fly away, only to die later from brain swelling. Others recover completely. See this site for hints on preventing window strikes.

Q: If he had a broken leg would he still survive?
A: Probably. One-legged hummers do all right.

Q: If his wing was broken, would he have been able to fly to the tree? Thank you.
A: No.

From: Big Pine Key, Florida

Q: Hello I've seen pictures of hummingbird feeders with several birds on each. My hummers are extremely territorrial, and chase each other whenever they can. Last summer we counted 6 hummers, and had 8 feeders spread throughout the yard. How can we get everyone to "just get along"?

A: You can't. If several dozen hummingbirds are present, territoriality breaks down, and feeders fill up. But with only six, they're bound to fight.

From: Christian Heritage Academy
Madisonville, Kentucky

Q: Is there any benefit to adding multiple feeders when one seems to suffice? Granted, at times there are sometimes as many as 15 birds swarming it at once. I tried two feeders for a few weeks last year, and it seemed the more territorial birds guarded both at the same time. Maybe if I moved one farther away . . .

A: Hang them out of sight of each other. Sounds like you need about four more feeders!

From: Pilot Point, Texas

Q: I have both Ruby Throats and Black-chinned hummers at my feeders. The Black-chins have been coming for over 6 years. The Ruby Throats just moved in last year. The RTs seem much more aggressive than the BCs. Can you recommend a feeder arrangement that supports both species during breeding season?

A: More feeders, out of sight of each other. Or, if you have more than 25 birds at a time, more feeders all in a cluster.

From: Martinsville, Indiana

Q: We live in a heavily wooded area of central Indiana. We have lots of hummingbirds here, and I keep my feeder on the west end of our yard. Our garage is on the east end of the house (yard). We get many hummingbirds that fly into the garage and I have to try and get them out. Is there any easy way to get them out? They fly up near the ceiling, and don't seem to want to go down and out the overhead doors that they come in. I have to chase them around with my long poled pool net, and it wears me and them out. I hate having to scare them this way but don't know what else to do. Do you have any suggestions?

A: Keep the garage door closed! If you can make the garage pitch dark, close the door, turn off the light, and the bird will flutter to the floor. Find it with a flashlight and carry it outside. If you can't make it dark, consider adding a skylight that can be opened to let the bird out through the roof. Sometimes hanging a feeder in the open doorway will work, but it's not very reliable. If you do have to chase the bird with a net, hold it up to a feeder after you catch it so it can get its strength back. If you have a red emergency door release handle, paint it black or remove it so it won't attract hummers inside.

From: Las Vegas, Nevada

Q: From Las Vegas, Nevada I have a black chinned male hummer that has been at my feeder every winter for the past two years. I never take my feeder down in the fall because of him. Do they normally migrate when it is time? He is definitely a black chinned.

A: Most Black-chinned do migrate out of Nevada in winter, but a few stay year-round. Some Anna's do, too.

From: Manitowoc, Wisconsin

Q: This is not a question, but rather a comment. My wife and I live in Manitowoc, WI, and are avid bird watchers. I have been taking pictures and documenting spring arrivals for a number of birds back to the mid 1980s. Every year I check on line to see where the Ruby-throated Hummers are in their spring migration. I usually put out my Hummer feeder with bee restrictors on it, on the 5th of April and make my own syrup from sugar and water. I will enjoy reading your articles and should I have any questions, I will ask.

From: Kings Park, New York

Q: I, too, love hummingbirds and had lots of them in my old house where I lived in Connecticut. I love seeing them from my sun room every day. But I moved to Long Island, New York in June of 2006. I put out my feeders to see if they would come here as well but I did not get one. I am so sad because I miss them so much. So my question to you is, do you know if they travel to Long Island, New York? If they do, when should I put out my feeders? Please help me. Thank you.

A: The first Ruby-throated typically arrive on Long Island in mid-April. But keep in mind that the habitat isn't uniformly good there, and they prefer woods to concrete.

From: Berthoud, Colorado

Q: I live in Berthoud, Colorado, 50 miles north of Denver and pretty close to the foothills. I hung one feeder on the porch on the north side. I want to hang another on the south side. I have a lot of bird feeders (in trees). Do I hang the hummingbird feeders where there is less traffic?

A: Hang them where you can enjoy them. Hummers will use feeders anywhere, as long as you don't jump around waving your arms.

Q: Is it better to hang a hummingbird feeder in a tree?
A: I like hanging feeders in windows, where I can watch from inside. Trees are full of ants.

Q: If I have a chance to see the hummingbird where I am I have already put the one feeder out. Am I too early?
A: Not if you're reading this in late April.

From: Swift Current, Saskatchewan

Q: How can I make a hummingbird perch on my finger?
A: I don't encourage people to touch wild birds. It might be illegal.

Q: Why don't hummingbirds sing and only chirp?
A: Some western species do sing, though their song is very soft and high-pitched.

Q: I live out in the country and I had hummingbirds coming to my feeder one year, and they have stopped coming for 5 years now! What happened? I just added water and sugar to my feeder. Did they just not like my feeder?

A: Hmm, I can't quite see the reason from here, even if I squint. Perhaps some favored nesting habitat got converted to shopping malls, subdivisions, or highways. My own hummingbird population dropped dramatically when an old orchard was bulldozed to build McMansions.

From: Bloomingdale, New Jersey

Q: Do hummingbirds favor any specific type of bush or tree to build their nest in? We have several hummingbirds coming to feed on my flowers and nectar feeders and I guess they nest nearby, but have not located any nests over many years of looking.

A: Some species do, but Ruby-throated do not. That makes sense, because their range is huge and encompasses many different types of forests.

From: Spring Woods Middle School
Houston, Texas

Q: Our school is planning to have a butterfly garden and I was told to find out if we could put up hummingbird feeders. My yard is full of hummingbirds and butterflies seven blocks away from school here in Houston. Please help. I found where hummingbirds eat moth caterpillars . . . the ones called "hummingbird clearwing moths." Would you clarify if it is ok to have hummingbirds in a butterfly garden? I found this information: Milkweed also draws hummingbirds and hummingbird clearwing moths to the garden for nectar. In addition to nectar, small insects are an important part of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird's diet. Small flies, bees, wasps, and spiders are taken at flowers, but they are also gleaned from bark or found beside sapsucker's sap wells. At times, these hummingbirds feed by fly catching in clouds of gnats.

A: Hummingbirds don't eat clearwing moth caterpillars, which are much too large to be swallowed whole. Moths and hummers sometimes chase each other at flowers they both use, but it's all bluff and no harm is done.

From: Mount Prospect, Illinois

Q: What are the physical differences (color, size, etc.) between a female hummingbird and a male hummingbird?
A: It depends on the species. In most North American species, females are slightly larger on average, and males have colorful iridescent throat feathers (gorgets). Immature males look just like their mothers.

Q: What is a hummingbird's vision like, and what colors does it see?
A: Hummers have excellent vision. They see more colors than we do, including the near ultraviolet.

Q: Can hummingbirds hear sounds, and if they do, how do they hear?
A: Their hearing is much like ours, but they probably can hear higher frequencies than humans.

From: Glendale, Arizona

Q: A hummingbird just made a nest in one of my wind chimes right outside my patio door (about 6 ft away). She laid the egg yesterday (3-24-07). I would like to put food out for her but don't know what. Can you suggest something I can put out for her? Thank you.

A: She built her nest there because she thought it was the perfect location as it was. I wouldn't add a new feeder nearby; it might attract more traffic than she'd want near her nest.

From: Morristown, Tennessee

Q: I have a dogwood tree and right now it is full of bees and wasps getting the nectar. The hummingbird feeders are somewhat close to the tree. Do you think if I put the feeders out that the bees would swarm the feeders or should I wait until the blooms die down before putting the hummingbird feeders up?

A: Wait, or hang the feeders elsewhere.

From: Apple Valley, Minnesota

Q: I’m thinking of a "hummingbird" nesting L-shaped rod, allegedly onto which a hummingbird might build a nest, similar to building on a tree limb. Have you seen such a "contraption?" Do you think a hummingbird would be attracted to such? Thanks!

A: Hi, Stan! I have very little faith in those gizmos. I was an early tester, and still have four of them under the eaves of my house. A female cardinal uses one as a nighttime roost in winter, otherwise they are totally ignored. I suppose they might work in places where there are no trees available.

From: Washington Elementary
Caldwell, Idaho

Q: I had a black-billed hummers nest in a lace maple growing in an enclosed atrium in the interior of my home last July-August. Is there evidence that hummers return to the same nesting area year after year? (They had nested next to the front door in an english holly tree the previous summer. That tree was removed in the early fall.)

A: Yes, a hen will often build a new nest right next to last year's.

From: Red Bank, Tennessee

Q: I want to know how you created the hummingbird feeder with the coke can. I want to have different types of feeders for my little hummers who I thoroughly enjoy taking pictures of and just watching them.

A: I cut a large upside-down U in the side, to within one inch of the bottom, then bent the metal outward and rolled it up into a perch. I did the same on the other side. I hung it by the pull tab. It only holds an ounce or so. It's really a terrible feeder, but I was camping 70 miles from the nearest town and was desperate.

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 "Learning from Experts."