Spring 2010
Answers From the Hummingbird Expert
Teaching Suggestions | Q & A
Lanny Chambers

Special thanks to Lanny Chambers from hummingbirds.net
for providing his time and expertise
to respond to your hummingbird questions.



Q: What are some of the best places in the United States 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.


Q: Since the weather is colder and there are fewer natural nectar sources around, should I make the hummingbird 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.

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 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-throated 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.


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


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.


Q: What is the timing schedule: putting out food, first sightings? I live in Arlington, Virginia. Several neighbors have had hummingbirds visit them. I have tried for several years and have not had any luck.
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.


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? In the hot southern states, we say, “Third day clean; 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.


Q: When should I put my feeder out? I live near Lefroy, ON, Canada and am not sure when they first arrive in our area.
A: Early May. Watch the migration maps to see when they are near.

New Jersey

Q: If a hummer is injured, how does it cope? 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?
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.


Q: What size is a hummingbird egg?
A: The same size and shape as a Tic-Tac candy.


Q: How would I go about finding where they nest? This question 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. 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.


Q: Why do hummingbirds fly so close, sometimes in my face? I've always been fascinated by hummingbirds coming right up to me and checking me out. They seem to come out of nowhere. I don't wear any particular color that would attract them like red, but usually drab colors, nor do I wear cologne or anything that possibly they might smell. 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. 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: Are the birds who nest around my house the same birds that are being reported along the Gulf? 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. Do my hummers 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.


Q: Is it possible hummers return to the same location year after year?
A: Yes, most do.


Q: Do the Cooper's Hawks live peacefully with the hummers? Is there a synergy between the hummingbirds and chicken hawks? Here in Akron, Ohio we typically see the hawks 2-3 times per week. The hawks in my area are very aggressive; I've witnessed bird kills and squirrel kills.
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.


Q: What is the best time of year we could expect to attract a hen to a hummingbird house in our area? 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. 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.
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 they remember me? They come the same day every spring on April 29th.
A: Yes and yes.


Q: Is it unusual for a hummer to remain here all winter? 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, Texas. Normally we remove all the feeders after October 15th but we 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 return to the same yards every winter.