Spring 2013
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.

New Hampshire 

Q: What percentage of the hummingbird's diet is made up of insects? Does their diet 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 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: Do hummingbirds have an egg tooth? 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.
A: No.

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


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.

New Hampshire:

Q: Is it a good idea to provide insects, such as fruit flies, for hummingbirds by hanging a small mesh bag with pieces of ripe fruit?
A: I haven't done that personally, but it sounds like fun. Banana peels should be good.

Q: Would it be potentially injurious to provide a sweeter nectar solution in the feeders? The usual recipe for hummer nectar is one part sugar to four parts water.  I've noticed that hummers prefer a sweeter solution.
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: How can I increase the chances of spotting the location of a hummingbird's nest? Many fledglings come to my feeders each summer, but I have never found a hummer 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: Did I witness a display of extreme fighting? I saw 2 male ruby-throated hummers fly up high 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 they flew apart with very ruffled feathers.
A: Yep, that's a territory dispute between equally-matched birds. The combatants rarely sustain serious injuries.

Q: How intelligent are hummers? 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 smart 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.

Q: Is it too soon to put out feeders if nighttime temperatures are near freezing?
I live in Indianapolis and we just got 8 inches of snow.  It is now 37 degrees.  Won't the syrup in the feeders freeze at night?
A: March 26th is too early this year. The recommended 1:4 syrup will start to freeze around 27°F. Watch the migration maps for hints on feeder timing.