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Answers From the Hummingbird Expert
Spring 2013
(Back to: News Update | Teaching Suggestions | Q & A )

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

This page contains questions and answers from 2013.

Visit Lanny's Web site: Hummingbirds.Net

Lanny Chambers

From: Carroll, New Hampshire 
Q: What percentage of the hummingbirds diet is made up of insects? Does this change with the season?

A: About half. Nestlings are fed mainly insects, with increasing amounts of nectar as they develop.

Q:  I have never seen a Ruby Throated hummingbird on the ground. Do they ever land on the ground and if they do can they walk around?

A: They do land on the ground occasionally, but aren't capable of walking because their legs and feet are not very strong, and their legs aren't in the best location relative to their center of gravity. They can hop a little, assisted by their wings.

Q: I know embryonic birds have a hard tooth like projection from the beak that is used to cut the egg membrane and shell upon hatching and that later falls off. Do Hummingbirds have an egg tooth?  

A: No.

Q: I have seen certain Hummingbird species live in the high Andes Mountains. What is the highest elevation Ruby Throated Hummers have been documented in their breeding grounds?

A: I haven't been able to find a definitive answer for that. No place in their range is nearly as high as I've seen western hummingbirds in the Rockies (over 12,000 feet). I suspect that they could be found on every eastern mountain peak that offers enough food to be worth foraging, which might mean all of them.

From: Mountain Top, Pennsylvania:
Q: Do hummingbirds come back every year to the same place to nest and do the young ones that fledge come back to the same place they were born?

A: Yes to both questions. Nearby, anyway.

From: Sugar Hill, New Hampshire:
Q: I read that a way to provide insects for hummingbirds is to hang a small mesh bag of pieces of ripe fruit that may attract fruit flies that the hummers can eat.  Is this a good thing to do?

A: I haven't done that personally, but it sounds like fun. Banana peels should be good.

Q: The usual recipe for hummer nectar is one part sugar to four parts water.  I've noticed that hummers prefer a sweeter solution.  Is it injurious to provide sweeter nectar?

A: Hummers are like children when it comes to sweets. Natural flower nectar varies enormously, with a few flowers producing 50% sucrose and most making far less. The recommended 1:4 ratio is the average for wildflowers favored by hummingbirds. There are no known ill effects of using a 1:4 ratio, and hummingbirds like it well enough to fight over it.

There's little evidence of direct harm to adult birds from sweeter syrups. However, in hot weather sweeter syrups may promote dehydration, and they are known to be more attractive to bees and other insects. The effects on nestlings are not known. Why take a chance?

There is no need to offer syrup sweeter than 1:4. If a bird wants more sugar, it will simply drink more syrup. If you're asking because you want to be the best hummer host you can be, it's enough to focus on keeping your feeders clean and fresh, and keeping cats indoors.

Q: What is the new information about how hummers drink?  

A:  Rather than try to describe it, I'll recommend watching this video.

Q: I have never found a hummer nest in my yard although many fledglings come to my feeders each summer.  Is there any way to increase the chance of spotting the location of a nest?

A: Watch for a female with a scruffy, soiled breast that flies in, drinks, and leaves without wasting any time. Try to follow her back to her nest. You might see 50' of her path before losing her in the trees. Wait there patiently for her next visit to track another segment. If you're lucky, and it doesn't get dark first, you might find her nest...if she has one. Don't expect it to be in your yard, unless it includes a wetland or a forest. Be warned: it's quite rare to find a ruby-throated nest by looking on purpose.

Q: How many clutches do females have per summer in northern New Hampshire?  Will they reuse the same nest during the summer?  Will they reuse it the next year?

A: That far north, there's only time for one brood per year. She might refurbish the nest, if there's anything left of it.

Q: I saw 2 male ruby throated hummers fly up high in the sky like rockets and then dive bomb back to earth.  They tangled and rolled together in a ball on the ground.  I clapped my hands and the two birds flew apart with very ruffled feathers.  Did I witness an example of extreme fighting? 

A: Yep, that's a territory dispute between equally-matched birds. The combatants rarely sustain serious injuries.

Q: I bring my feeders in each evening so bears won't disturb them.  In the early morning, I put the feeders out for the hummers.  I whistle to alert the hummers that the feeders are being put outside.  Am I deluding myself or are hummers intelligent enough to equate my whistle with the feeders? 

A: They're smart enough. However, they've probably been checking for feeders every few minutes starting nearly an hour before dawn, when it was far too dark for a human to be walking around outdoors without a flashlight. Try re-hanging a feeder that early, and sitting quietly next to it to see (or more likely hear) when they show up. You might be as amazed as I was.

From: Indianapolis, Indiana:
I live in Indianapolis Indiana and we just got 8 inches of snow.  It is now 37 degrees out.  Is it too soon to put out the feeders?  Won't they freeze at night?

A: March 26 is too early this year. A 1:4 syrup will start to freeze around 27°F. Watch the migration maps for hints on feeder timing—that's what they're for.


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