Hummingbirds – Not Appearing

This August, 2009 article by naturalist Charles Seabrook in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes reasons hummingbirds don’t appear when we expect them.
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Late summer is when hummingbird feeder traffic really picks up. Georgia’s native ruby-throated hummingbirds have finished raising their babies and are gorging on nectar and insects to double their body mass in as few as 10 days. The extra weight will provide the energy for their arduous trek to winter grounds in Mexico and Central America.

So when the tiny birds fail to show up at backyard feeders this time of year, folks understandably get nervous. “Where are the hummingbirds?” they ask. It’s a perennially common question.

Wayne Wills of Marietta, for instance, writes: “Some weeks ago my 93-year-old aunt in Jackson, Miss., complained that no hummingbirds were coming to her feeder. We’ve had similar problems here in Marietta. Is this a particular problem in the Southeast?”

Actually, there are plenty of ruby-throats around. Why they bypass a feeder — or, on the other hand, regularly visit one — in any given year may be due to several factors, says ornithologist Todd Schneider of Georgia’s Wildlife Resources Division.

The “hit or miss” factor may be particularly true of feeders in urban areas, he says. If the birds seem to be avoiding your feeder, he says, it could be that they may have found juicier flowers and more enticing feeders in the yards of neighbors a block or two away.

“People tend to think only of what’s going on in their yards, rather than thinking of what’s going on at a landscape level, ” Schneider said.

Ruby-throats are very mobile birds, he notes, and they can cover a wide swath in search of desirable food.

“If you don’t have hummingbirds, you might blame it on your neighbors, ” Schneider said.

Another reason hummingbirds may be scarce at feeders now is that a lot of wild food is still available and — at least for the time being — the birds may prefer it over sugary water in feeders.

Schneider notes that one of the bird’s favorite nectar sources, trumpet creeper, has “had a very good flowering this summer.”

He also points out that although hummingbirds get a lot of nourishment from nectar, they also obtain much of their energy from small insects.

“A lot of people don’t realize that hummingbirds are insect-eaters as well as nectar eaters, ” Schneider said.

Some good news, he says, is that breeding bird surveys over the past 40 years indicate that ruby-throated hummingbird populations are slightly increasing.

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