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Ask the Expert

Answers from the Hummingbird Expert: 2010


Special thanks to Lanny Chambers for providing his time and expertise to respond to your hummingbird questions. This page contains questions and answers from 2010.

Teachers: You can use today's Answers from the Expert, along with those from previous years, in these activities suggested in "Learning from Experts".

Lanny Chambers
Visit Lanny's Hummingbird Web site!

Questions and Answers

From: Utah

Q: What are some of the best places in the US and in the world to see hummingbirds?

A: A few of the best are southeastern Arizona, the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, Ecuador, and Costa Rica.

From: Massachucetts

Q: Since the weather is colder and there are fewer natural nectar sources around, should I make the humming bird solution stronger at the beginning of the season for the new arrivals?

A: No. If they need more calories, they'll simply drink more syrup.

From: VA

Q: What are the differences and similarities of the Rufous and Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds in terms of their feeding and breeding behaviors? Why do the Rufous mate so far north compared to the broader range of the Ruby-throat?

A: Each species has evolved to exploit a particular habitat. Rufous is much more tolerant of cold temperatures than Ruby-throated, and typically nests in high latitudes or mountains where nights can freeze any time of year. One advantage of such cold-hardiness is lack of competition from other hummingbird species. A disadvantage is the length of migration, which barely leaves enough time to raise one nest of chicks before it's time to head south again. Ruby-throated is adapted to temperate forests and wetlands. With such a large range, they are capable of using a wide variety of habitats, but all provide nectar and lots of bugs to hunt. Both species are aggressive, opportunistic feeders, and will eat anything they can catch that can be swallowed whole. In most respects, the two species are quite similar.

From: Louisiana

Q: I painted my door and shutters red last year. Will this cause a problem with the hummers?

A: No. Hummers can tell flowers from shutters.

From: VA
Barcroft Elementary

Q: I live in Arlington, VA. Several neighbors, not next door, have had Hummingbirds visit them. I have tried for several years and have not had any luck. My question is: What is the timing schedule for my area; putting out food, sightings, etc.?

A: You have Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in your area from early April through October. Be sure to keep your feeder clean and change the syrup whether or not you see any hummers.

From: Mississippi

Q: Is there a science table that has experimented with sugar water and temperature? I would love to know how soon after sugar water is made does bacteria start to grow, how long before it is now harmful to hummers...and what kind of harm can happen to them drinking bacteria filled sugar water.? We have been told in the hot south of USA. “Third day clean and put in fresh.”

A: Just watch the feeder. When it starts turning cloudy, that's bacteria growing, and it's time to clean and refill the feeder. Most of the bacteria and mold reaches a feeder on hummingbird bills, transported from flowers. Most experts feel a hummer won't use a feeder that's too contaminated, so if you don't want them to lose interest in your yard, keep your feeder clean.

From: Ontario

Q: I live near Lefroy, ON, Canada. When should I put my feeder out. I am not sure when they first arrive in our area.

A: Early May. Watch the migration maps.

From: New Jersey

Q: We had a hummingbird (female) last summer whose legs and feet were missing. She could not land to drink from the nectar feeder. Would she be able to survive? And how would she cope with this?

A: I'll bet her feet were just tucked up into her feathers, and she simply preferred feeding on the wing. Some individuals apparently don't like to perch while feeding.

From: Mississippi

Q: What size is a hummingbird egg?

A: The same size and shape as a Tic-Tac candy.

From: Washington

Q: This is about the Anna Hummingbirds in the Northwest. My house is surrounded by tall thick bushes and I have 4 feeders one at each side of the house. How would I go about finding where they nest? There are at least two females I know at my place.

A: Finding a nest is usually pure luck. You can try following a female from your feeder back to her nest, but it's very difficult and can involve days of observation.

From: Massachucetts

Q: How is it that hummingbird chicks don't try to throw out the other chick in the nest as do many other bird species? Especially where one chick is usually hatched a few days before the other. It would be so easy for that bird to get rid of the second bird that hatches and then have no competition for the food.

A: I don't think anyone knows the answer to that. My guess: hummingbird hens feed their chicks by squirting food down their throats directly into their crops, rather than tossing it into the nest for the chicks to squabble over. The hen can make sure that both chicks are fed adequately.

Q: What is the normal life span for a Ruby Throat hummingbird if they do not die to the usual challenges of their lives?

A: For the 20% or so of birds that survive their first winter, males live about 3.5 years on average, and females about 4.5 years. Not many wild animals die of old age.

From: Arizona

Q: I had always been fascinated by hummingbirds coming right up to me, in my face, and checking me out. They seem to come out of nowhere at anytime. I do not wear any particular color that would attract them like red, but usually I wear drab colors like grays and blues mostly, nor do I wear cologne or anything that possibly they might smell or attracted to, on me. They would come right up to my face and hover for a bit, as if to see who I am. Sometimes they would come back a couple more times to do the same. It occurs randomly throughout the year not in particular climate and place. I am sure I am not the only one to experience this, as well. Just wondering if this is all part of their natural nature?

A: Yes, hummingbirds are quite inquisitive. They seem to have a curiosity about new things. This probably serves them well as users of flowers that go in and out of bloom all the time.


Q: I live in Central Vermont and have fed hummingbirds faithfully at my house for 23 summers. Our resident hummers arrive the first or second week of May. My question is, are the birds who nest around my house the same birds that are being reported along the Gulf now? Or do mine start out later and have to fly farther because the shorter-distance places are already taken?

A: Unfortunately, we have no idea. With a lot more banding effort, that's one of the things we hope to learn.

From: Kentucky

Q: Is it possible that hummers return to the same location year after year?

A: Yes, most do.

From: Ohio

Q: Hello Sir, I'm hopefully on the cusp of another bountiful Hummingbird season. Here in Akron, last year was our first adventure with those magnificent birds. We have Cooper's hawks in our area. Typically, we see them 2-3X per week. Is there a synergy between the hummingbirds and chicken hawks? The hawks in my area are very aggressive, as, I've witnessed bird kills and squirrel kills. Do the cooper's live peacefully with the hummer's? Jimmy Pfaff Akron, Ohio

A: Cooper's Hawks don't pay much attention to hummingbirds; they're too small for a meal, and too agile to catch easily, so hawks don't waste much time hunting hummers. In fact, Cooper's Hawk nests have been found that were surrounded by hummingbird nests; apparently the hawks keep predators away, and the hummer hens appreciate the security.

From: California

Q: We have a vacation home in Rancho Mirage, California, and we're interested in putting up a "hummingbird home" in an effort to attract them. What is the best time of year we could expect to attract a hen to a hummingbird house in our starts heating up there early!! Are we too late for this year? Our feeders are active all year long and we are excited to see if we can get them coming to our house to nest as well. Thanks much for your help!!

A: Hummingbirds are not cavity nesters, and won't use a bird house. Your best bet is a dense shrub that offers protection from sun and wind. Hummers nest in your area from November to July.


Q: Do the same Hummingbirds come to my house every year? Do you think they remember me? They come the same day every spring on April 29.

A: Yes and yes.

From: Texas

Q: We had a male Rufous spend the entire winter feeding from two small feeders that we left up after the October migration of the Rubies. I even managed to get one image of him feeding on the day it snowed and was 15 degrees here in Willis. Is it unusual for one to remain here all winter? Normally we remove all the feeders after Oct. 15 but put small ones up after spotting him.

A: Some Rufous spend the winter from Texas to Florida instead of going to southern Mexico like most. Many of them return to the same yards every winter.


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