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Ask the Expert

Answers from the Hummingbird Expert: 2009


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Special thanks to Lanny Chambers for providing his time and expertise to respond to your hummingbird questions. This page contains questions and answers from 2009.

Questions and Answers

From: New York
Tessolecki Homeschool Academy

We live in upstate NY and get one (we think) male-female visiting our feeder in the summer. We would like to investigate where they nest - perhaps to peak in and see the eggs like we do in our birdhouses for bluebirds or the other birds that nest in our trees. Any ideas?

A: Ruby-throated hens nest on tree branches. anywhere between 5 and 80 feet off the ground. Nests are usually found by accident, after the leaves fall, but a few people have been successful in following a female from a feeder back to her nest. Since you'd only be able to see her for a short part of each trip, it would take a lot of time and patience...and a whole lot of luck.

From: Pennsylvania
Perkiomen Valley High School

Q. We have noticed that hummers make their nests out of lichens similar to those we find on dead tree branches. One dead tree in our neighborhood is covered with such lichens. If we take branches from that tree and distribute them around to people we know who have hummingbird feeders, will we help hummers to find nesting material or will we be spreadding disease which will kill other trees? Will the lichens from the dead wood spread to living trees?

A: A hummingbird typically uses lichen from the same branch to camouflage her nest, so it will blend in perfectly. They probably won't use lichen from another source. If you have a furry pet (dog or cat), hang some of its hair in a mesh onion bag and see what takes it for nesting.

From: Washington

Q. Hi, If a hummingbird nest is destroyed (extremely high winds ripped the nest out of the shrub) will the female have another clutch? Thanks, Ian

A: Yes, right away, if it's not too late in the season.

Q. Also the weather has been unseasonably cold and snowy, how will this affect the eggs? Hummers go torpid at night and in cold weather, do the eggs do this too?

A: No, eggs don't go torpid, and neither do nesting females. They need to maintain full body heat to incubate their eggs. Don't worry, they've been doing this successfully for thousands of years. If a clutch is lost due to weather, the hen will start another nest right away.

From: Pennsylvania
Bear Creek Community Charter School

Q. Do these birds reuse their nests each season?

A: Ruby-throated apparently don't, but some western species do. Some have up to five broods per season, often alternating between two nest locations.

Q. How can you find a nest, if they do not reuse them each season?

A: Some old nests are found when trees are cut or trimmed. Remember that it's against the law to keep any wild native wild bird's nest without a special permit.

Q. Do they change mates?

A: Hummingbirds are promiscuous, and don't form pairs at all; males take no part in nesting past fertilizing the eggs. A female may choose a different father for every brood. As soon as mating is finished, the male starts looking for another female to impress.

From: Washington

What is the life cycle/span of a hummingbird?

A: The average hummingbird lifespan is about 4 years. The record is 12 years.

Q. I am a bit confused about the species. The ones that came to our home in WA in February in the snow are brownish to green with an orange/red throat? Is that a normal time to come to the area/feeder?

A: Those are Rufous Hummingbirds, and that's their normal "spring" migration time. Some of them are passing through to nest in Alaska!

Q. What else beside white sugar and water can we feed them as white sugar is unhealthy?

A: White sugar is NOT unhealthy for hummingbirds. It's an almost-pure form of sucrose, the principal sugar found in the nectars of flowers that hummingbirds use. It's the most natural thing you could put in a feeder, and the only hummingbird food supplement scientifically proven safe. The brownish sugars from health food stores are less safe because they contain iron, which is fatally toxic to hummingbirds.

From: California

Where do the rufous hummingbirds which show up at my house on the far northern coast of California in mid to late February overwinter? How many miles do they travel during each day of their migration?

A: See this map for their winter range. The daily distance depends on a lot of variables, but probably averages about 25 miles per day.

Q. We have Anna's hummingbirds here on the north coast of California seemingly all year. Do Anna's migrate?

A: No.

From: New York

Q. I feed hummingbirds (ruby- throated mostly) all summer in the Adirondack Mts of New York State. I always wonder if the same hummingbirds return year and year?

A: As a rule, yes.

From: Florida

Q. I live in Punta Gorda, on the southwest coast of FL. I moved from PA, where I had lots of hummers every summer. I thought I would have hummers here as they traveled. They are seen just north and south of us, but Punta Gorda and Pine Island seem to be void of them. I have lots of flowers that I know they love and had a feeder out for quite some time, then gave up. I miss them! Any ideas? Thank You!

A: Punta Gorda is very close to the southern edge of the Ruby-throated breeding range, so there won't be a lot of hummers in any event. I've never been there, but I'm guessing your local habitat isn't what they're looking for to raise families.

From: Oregon

Q: When do the hummingbirds hatch their babies? I think I've seen some here, but am not sure. The ruby throats live here all year. (Oregon, Willamette Valley).

A: FYI, your hummingbirds are Anna's, not Ruby-throated. Anna's may nest several times between February and May, with chicks hatching about three weeks into each nest cycle.

From: Mississippi

Q. I revived a hummer by using a medicine dropper and covering the entire bill with the dropper full of nectar. I worked him for at least 15 minutes. I saw his throat swallowing even though his eyes were shut and he wasn't moving. How long after a hummer passes out do you have to revive it? I have rescued still warm hummers and the tongue is still in the mouth and no luck reviving.

A: I am not a rehabilitator, so I'm not really qualified to answer this question. I do know that hummingbirds drown very easily if forced to drink, and any sign of bubbles is a signal to stop immediately. It's safer to offer a drop of syrup on the tip of your finger. Even trained rehabbers don't have much success reviving unconscious hummers, though.

It's better to assess why the birds needed rescue, and eliminate the problem. If it's your garage, please keep the door closed, and paint or remove the red emergency release handle.

From: California

Q: Last summer I had a white hummingbird at my feeder. In looking at all the books I could find, I could find a white-albino hummingbird but it had pink eyes. Mine did not, it had regular colored eyes like other hummingbirds. It has not returned during the year. What kind of hummingbird is it? Thanks for your help.

A: Technically, only pure-white birds with pink eyes, bills, and feet are classed as "albino." Yours was what's known as "leucistic." White feathers are weak and brittle, and virtually all white hummers are youngsters; very few survive their first year. Given your location, your white hummer was probably an Anna's.

From: Michigan

Q. Hi! When male robins fight for territory, do they ever seriously injure each other? Or is the fighting more for "show" and dominance? I remember seeing robins last spring that literally wrestled one another to the ground from flights in mid-air!

A: I'm not an expert on robins, but I've seen lots of similar fights in my yard, and both birds always leave under their own power. When one robin has the loser on his back, he could easily finish him off with a few pecks, but that never seems to happen.

From: Texas

Q. Have you been to Rockport,Tx to see the hummingbird migration? Mary San Antonio,TX

A: Not yet.

From: New York

Q. Hi, I live in the Northeast and have hummingbirds that visit my feeder and deck flowers. However I do not usually see them until late August. From the migration map I've learned that they arrive in New York in May. Is there a reason they don't visit earlier or am I not doing enough to attract them? Thanks for your help.

A: You may not have good nesting habitat in your immediate area, so you don't see any hummers until the chicks leave the nest and disperse to prepare for their first migration. You can't attract birds that aren't there.

From: Iowa

Q. On this video on YouTube, a hummingbird parent is shown feeding young hummingbirds. I notice that the parent has a red patch on its throat. Do female rubythroated hummingbirds sometimes have red patches? I have read that it is only the females that raise the young so this video has me puzzled. Thanks so much,

A: Note that the film was made in San Diego, California. Those are Anna's Hummingbird, not Ruby-throated. Adult female Anna's usually have a triangle of red feathers in the throat.


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