Spring 2011
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.



How often should I change the liquid in my feeders while waiting for hummingbirds to return?
A: Watch the color of the liquid. When it first starts to turn cloudy, it's time to change it. That could be every two to five days, depending on the temperature. Clean the feeder every time you change the syrup.

Q: What's the role of the male 'scouts' who arrive first?
A: There's no such thing as a scout, it's every bird for itself. The first males may have a good chance to claim the best territories, and hence mate with more females.


Q: What can I plant for hummingbirds and butterflies that will bloom when they migrate through my area which is starting now?I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. My yard is full of hummer and butterfly flowers but most bloom later in the year.
A: Most of your hummers (Anna's) don't migrate, but are present all year. Your local nursery can suggest early-blooming flowers. Hang a feeder, too.


Q: What are the hummers that appear gray and cream in color with long beaks? I feed hummingbirds from mid-April through early October. I cannot find pictures of or any description of gray hummingbirds in any bird book.
A: They are female or immature Ruby-throated hummingbirds. The iridescent green feathers depend on the direction of the light for their color, and may appear gray under some conditions.


Q: If a flowering plant is sprayed with insecticide, will it be poisonous to hummingbirds all season or will it dissipate to safe levels after time?
A: I can't make general statements about insecticides. Read the label on the package, and ask the place you bought it. Or be like me, and don't use any insecticides.

Q: Are hummingbirds attracted to the human eye? I've had several occasions where hummers have hovered just in front of my eyes - to the point where I've had to squint! Yikes!
A: They're as curious about you as you are about them. Don't worry, they won't hurt you.

Q: Do hummingbirds have a natural predator in the Northeastern United States? If so, who or what? Hummers seem fearless and courageous.
A: No predator is a major factor in hummingbird mortality, but cats and praying mantises probably kill more hummers than the rest.

North Carolina

Q: Is the red dye food for feeders healthy for hummers? Is it necessary?
A: No, it's not necessary, and it has not been proven safe. Just mix one part ordinary granulated sugar with four parts tapwater.

Q: How do you keep hummingbird feeders from attracting bees?
A: Use feeders that keep the syrup level far enough below the port that bees can't reach it. Unfortunately, some of the most popular feeders are very poorly designed in this respect.


Q: When will an immature male have his full red gorget? We had an immature male leave after recuperating here for 10 days. We babied him back to full strength and even put an umbrella over him as he would sit on the feeder for 6 hours sometimes. We gave him fresh warmed nectar for 4 days. He came down for morning feeder ritual when we called him. It was quite an experience. We hope we see him and his adult plumage this spring.
A: Males molt into adult plumage over their first winter.


Q: Do hummingbirds live in certain types of trees?
A: No, pretty much any tree will do. Location is more important than species.

Q: How high off the ground do hummingbirds nest? Is it variable?
A: Quite variable. Nests have been found from 2 to 80 feet high.


Q: Do the same hummingbirds and their offspring come back to the same place every year? Several types visit my feeders every spring & summer.
A: In general, yes.

Q: Do hummingbirds prefer to make their nest high or low in trees?
A: Both.


Q: When should I put up my hummingbird feeder?
A: Watch the migration maps. Put them up when they are near.


Q: What insects in particular do hummingbirds eat and how can I go about attracting those insects to my yard?
Hummers eat most any soft-bodied bugs they can swallow whole: fruitflies, gnats, aphids, and tiny spiders, plus their eggs and larvae. If you have an insecticide-free lawn and garden, you'll have plenty of bugs.

Q: What's the biggest threat to the long term survival of ruby-throats?
A: There doesn't seem to be any threat at present (2011). More study is needed about their winter habitat requirements.

Q: How can I attract large numbers of ruby-throated hummers to my yard? I do get them, but never more than one or two at a time. One always seems to bully the other away from my feeders. I've had males and females, but only one at a feeder. I've seen pictures where there are many hummingbirds at a single feeder. How can I accomplish this?
A: Move south of Carbondale.


Q: How can we find a hummingbird's nest? Is there a special way?
A: Nearly all are found by accident, in the winter. You can try following a female from your feeder. Good luck with that.

New Hampshire

Q: Is it unusual for hummingbirds to perch rather than hover at feeders? The ones at our feeder always perch rather than hover when they feed.
A: Nope. Hummingbirds like to conserve energy like everyone else.

Q: After the babies hatch and fledge, but before they leave to go south, should we increase the number of feeders for them?
A: Maybe. If there's crowding or fighting for feeder spots, try adding more.

Q: How far apart should I put feeders?
A: For fewer than about 20 birds at one time, hang feeders out of sight of each other. For more birds, hang feeders a couple of feet apart in clusters.

New Jersey

Q: What type of habitat is needed for a hummer to nest?
A: They need both nectar and insect food and a tree to nest in, obviously. Ruby-throated prefer quiet places away from humans, often in a wetland.

Q: Is it possible to turn my small backyard into a nesting ground? I have tried for five years and I think they're discouraged due to heavy bird traffic.
A: Not many people have Ruby-throated nesting in their yards.

Q: What kinds of hummingbirds visit my area? I live in Warren, New Jersey. I always put feeders up the first of April. There's no traffic at this time, but who knows if one comes early? When I see one, it is a little one but always alone...Why?
A: You have Ruby-throated. You only see one at a time because they're aggressive and don't get along with each other.

Q: When is the right time for the hummers to visit my area? (I'm not very clever with maps and would appreciate your help.)
A: April 1st is good.


Q: When can we expect to see our first hummingbirds in eastern, coastal Connecticut?
A: Watch the migration maps.

Q: What flowers bloom thru the spring/summer that would help support hummingbirds? I have planted Bee Balm, Butterfly Bushes, Cardinal Flower, Coneflower and Lilacs. Trying to add more Northeast native perennials and bushes to build a continuous source of food for pollinators and birds.
A: Columbine and Red Buckeye are good early bloomers, but I don't know if they'll work in your area. Check hummingbirds.net and ask your local nursery.

Q: How do hummingbirds flap their wings 100 times in one second?

A: It depends on the size of the bird. About 55 beats per second for your Ruby-throated.

Q: How far north do humming birds fly?
A: Some Rufous Hummingbirds nest 100 miles north of Anchorage, Alaska.

Q: Why are hummingbirds called humming birds?
A: Because of the sound their wings make when they fly.


Q: How large of an area do the hummingbirds need to protect as their own? We see Black-Chinned, Broad-Tailed and a few Rufous Hummingbirds in our area of Utah. It doesn't matter how many feeders we put out, there are still aggressive displays among the birds.
A: All of it! A male hummingbird will try to defend as much territory as he can. It's what they do, so relax and enjoy it.


Q: What is the life span of hummingbirds?
A: The average is around 4 years. The oldest known hummingbird was 12.

Q: How many types of hummingbirds are found worldwide?
A: About 340 species.


Q: Do the same hummingbirds return each year to my feeders?
A: Most hummingbirds return each year to where they hatched. But not necessarily to the exact same yard--if they were a mile away, you'd never know it. Roughly 10-15% will be the same individuals every year.


Q: When Rufous hummingbirds migrate south, from, say, New York, does the same hummingbird make it to Mexico? I've heard that this is true. The ones who migrate live over 9 months so they can reach there for the winter. Do they make it back in the 9 months. Or am I thinking 9 weeks?
A: The average lifespan of a hummingbird is about four years, so there's plenty of time to make the round trip every year. They aren't like butterflies.

Q: Why do the hummingbirds only stay 3 months in my area? What are they doing while they are here and if they are migrating why don't I see them in the spring heading south? Every August thru almost all of October a male and female rubythroat come for a visit. I live an hour south of Tampa on the Gulf coast.
A: You are probably seeing a steady stream of birds migrating south after breeding, different individuals passing through each day. They arrive from across the Gulf in early March, but you may not notice if you don't have a feeder out then.

Q: When would I expect my mature female Rufous who left here in Lakeland, Florida on February 14th to arrive in her breeding area assuming it is somewhere in the Northwest United States or Canada?
A: I don't have an answer for you. That's never been documented.

Q: Are there banders who band Rufous hummingbirds in the northwestern United States? I would love to know if my female hummer made it there?
A: First, these birds would need to be banded in FLorida. Contact Fred Bassett of hummingbirdresearch.net.

New York

Q: Is it the same hummingbird I am seeing year after year? I live on Long Island in New York. I created a hummingbird garden with butterfly bushes, running water, various plants, and a sugar-water feeder. For the last four years I've seen a hummingbird. I always see only one. First year looked like an adult, there after looked like a baby. Not sure, always just one hummer, every year. I also notice the hummer stays till mid-October.
A: It's probably not the same bird, but a succession of visitors that use your garden every day.

Q: Is aggressive behavior at feeders typical or is there something I can do so that all the hummingbirds can feed? Three hummingbirds visit my feeders, but one hummingbird chases another specific one relentlessly. It makes it hard for that bird to feed. I only have a limited area to place feeders, and have put out 2 feeders, but the chasing continues.
A: Don't worry about them, this is completely normal. No bird can defend a feeder all the time, so everyone gets to eat eventually.


Q: Do any hummers stay in Central America during spring and summer? We're planning a tripl to Costa Rica in April.
A: Yes, most Central American species do not migrate, and we never see them up here.

North Carolina

Q: What percentage of ruby-throats stay in our area all winter long? My brother lives near Harkers Island on the outer banks of North Carolina. Some leave while a certain population remains. I live bout 40 miles southwest of Charlotte, North Carolina, off I85 in Shelby.
A: I can't answer that, but Susan Campbell might. Check the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences site.


Q: How many times, if ever, have you encountered the same hummingbird at one location, year after year? Is that common?
A: I see some every year in my banding studies, up to six years in a row. It's common, but it's hard to prove unless the bird is banded.

Q: Do hummingbirds remember each other from year to year? I know hummers remember me that return to my yard each year. I have 2 males that sit on the same tree a foot apart looking at each other and they share a feeder even when there are only 4 birds in the yard and 5 feeders up. I ordered a remote for my camera so I can catch this activity.
A: Little is known about that part of hummingbird behavior, but your pair may be siblings.

Q: Do dragonflies and other birds, such as blue jays, eat hummingbirds? What other birds feed on hummers if any?
A: Hawks, owls, jays, crows, roadrunners, shrikes, orioles, large flycatchers; also Chinese mantises and possibly large dragonflies.

Q: Is it better to make my sugar water sweeter when my birds first return and right before they migrate? Also, I keep telling my family and neighbors please don't put food coloring in the water or honey would you please explain why so I can print this and stop begging them not to.
A: Just use 1:4 all the time. See hummingbirds.net for info on red dye.


Q: Why do I get so many hummingbirds at my house? I live in central Michigan and always have about 25 hummingbirds. Closer to fall I get about 50. None of my neighbors get so many (under 10). I have no particular plants or flowers to attract them. Everybody keeps feeders out around here Of necessity, I keep 5 or 6, fill once a day or more. We live in deep woods on a couple of acre lots. I've never found nests and they fly in from all directions. Some days you can hardly go to the backyard for all the hummers.
A: There are a few possible reasons: you've been feeding longer, your woods are better, your feeders are fresher, you're smarter and better looking than your neighbors.

Q: Why do I have a female "ruby" hummer that comes to my feeder every year, but not until late July early August? Is there anything I can do to get her to come around sooner and have her mate to come too? When I see her, I keep telling her to bring her "man" around. My feeder goes out around April 10th. I change the food every 2-4 days. My wife wants me to just give up. The road we live on is not busy and we have trees all around us. I do have plants that hummers like and have red flowers in flower boxes.
A: Hummingbirds don't form pairs, and the males start migrating south in early July. You are probably seeing a succession of southbound females and immatures of both sexes, passing through on their way south, different birds each day. If you see no hummers before late July, your habitat is not appropriate for nesting.