2017-06-14 / Columns

Where are the Hummingbirds?

by Dan Stiles Wildlife Biologist

This Spring is unlike any other insofar as the number of hummingbirds at our feeders is concerned, because our total population thus far is between zero and one, a male. I have yet to see a female this year. At our cabin in Morgan County and at our home, hummingbird numbers are scarily low.

I have no way of knowing whether something awful has happened to them, perhaps they didn’t migrate this far north or they simply flew on by further northward. Maybe this happens once in a while, as I like to say, the business of “ebb and flow.”

Every Spring since 1995, when we bought our property in Morgan County, I’ve been feeding ruby throated hummingbirds. Frankly, I find them fascinating. At our cabin, I often have several feeders, and I’m sure by feeding them continuously, they nest in the vicinity, and over the years their population gradually increases, and it has, until this year.

I’ve always fearlessly predicted to friends and family that the first male hummingbird would arrive at our cabins feeder on the afternoon of April 23. I’m usually there that day because it coincides with the spring gobbler hunting season. The truth is that some years they do arrive a few days before April 23, but most years it is several days after that date. I remember very well the year a lone male hummingbird arrived before I had the feeder ready, and that poor, hungry fellow flew round and round around the wire that last year had held the feeder all spring and summer. It seems to me that it proves that the same individuals do return to the same area year after year.

Hummingbirds spend the winter in Central and South America. How amazing it is to realize these really tiny creatures fly by themselves, not in a big flock like geese, all those hundreds of miles to their traditional nesting grounds. On the way, they surely need nectar and a few insects for what must be their need for terrific quantities of energy. The males migrate a week or 10 days before the females, so it is riskier for them, because seemingly a late spring snow or frost or just plain miserable weather would lessen the availability of badly needed nectar (from blooming flowers) and insects.

Ordinarily at this time, I would expect to have 10 or a dozen male and female hummingbirds visiting my feeder(s) regularly. (After all, it is mid - June!) The feeder is most active when the sun comes up, and again at dusk. Almost always, a male hummingbird, unwilling to share the feeder, dominates the others with threatening “cheeps” and “dive bombing” other hummingbirds that approach “his” feeder. Whenever he is otherwise occupied, the others feed quickly and seemingly nervously, and the feeder’s content is always drained every few days.

Hummingbirds are strongly attracted to the color red. If you wear a bright red hat, one or more may hover close by, studying the situation. Sometimes you know when they are around because the sound of their wing beat is distinctive and relatively loud. They are attracted to the red tail lights of cars and trucks too, so that is the reason that hummingbird feeders are always a rather bright red color.

Remember, the water/sugar ratio is four to one. I usually make a mixture of one half cup sugar and add two cups of hot water (to dissolve the sugar quickly and completely). Some people experiment with other sugary mixtures like adding honey or artificial sugars, but I’m told this may be a lethal combination. I find that a four to one mixture of regular granular sugar works perfectly, and I understand it is just about the sweetness of a flower’s nectar.

Lots of people know a whole lot more about hummingbirds than I do. There are organizations that monitor their numbers and status of their migration. I just know that in my neck of the woods, ruby throated hummingbird numbers are way, way down, and I don’t know why, and wish I did.

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Mine are down this year too.

Mine are down this year too. I use to count around 18 and we use to film them at the feeder for some reason I think I only have 6. Last year is the first year I did not feed them so I thought that might be the reason but maybe not.

I've only seen a male too.

I've only seen a male too. Maybe the girls are late this year?

Great onfo

Great onfo

correct on honey being a

correct on honey being a poison to the hummingbirds perhaps the warmer than normal spring temps and weather pattern changes are responsible for the absence