One of the best ways to attract hummingbirds to your garden is by setting up nectar feeders. But timing is important when offering supplemental feeding. Understanding when hummingbirds arrive in your area, their yearly cycle, and their feeding behaviors will allow you to provide food when the hummers need it most. Here is a guide to optimal timing for feeding hummingbirds.
Early Spring – Start Feeders Before Hummers Arrive
Put up your hummingbird feeders 2-3 weeks before the first hummers usually arrive in your region. Having the nectar ready and waiting means they’ll quickly find this new food source. Spring migration leaves hummingbirds depleted after their long journeys, so they need plentiful nutrition.
Starting early spring feeding also conditions hummingbirds to return to the same sites year after year. Established feeding locations provide reliability along their migration routes. Avoid waiting to see the first hummer – they may pass your yard right by if no feeders are present.
Spring Migration – Keep Feeders Active and Full
Once hummingbirds discover your feeders, it’s critical to maintain a constant nectar supply throughout spring migration. Calorie-rich sucrose nectar provides the fuel they require to replace lost weight and prepare for breeding.
During peak spring activity from April through May, check feeders at least every 2-3 days. Refill any that drop below halfway so a fresh supply is always available. Strong sugar concentrations between 20-25% most closely match natural nectar. Only boil or sterilize feeders before the first use, not during refills.
Nesting Season – Continue Heavy Feeder Use
Your feeders will get a heavy workout during nesting season as adults make repeated visits to collect nectar for themselves and growing hatchlings.
Keep feeders freshly stocked through the summer as female hummers gather lots of calories to produce eggs and feed chicks after hatching. The protein-rich insects they eat are especially crucial for nestlings, but nectar provides essential energy.
Maintaining multiple feeding stations spreads demand during this high traffic period. Try offering different feeder styles and placements to accommodate diverse ages, sizes, and species in your local hummingbird population.
Autumn Migration – Gradually Reduce Feeding
As flowers bloom and other food sources become available later in the summer, hummingbird reliance on feeders decreases. Their visit frequency and numbers will dwindle as the first migrators depart your area.
Slowly reduce the number of active feeders and allow them to remain slightly emptier before cleaning and refilling. But maintain at least some nectar availability into September as stragglers pass through.
This gradual transition away from supplemental feeding prevents an abrupt loss of food that might impact hummers still bulking up for migration.
Winter – Take Down Feeders
Once hummingbirds have migrated out of your region, all feeders should be taken down and cleaned. The exception is in a few southern and coastal areas where hummers overwinter.
Leaving feeders up through winter in northern areas risks damaging frozen nectar and growth of fungus that could sicken hummers arriving the next spring. Storing feeders dry each winter ensures fresh nectar awaits the returning birds.
Follow this seasonal guide of when to offer supplemental nectar to meet the needs of hummingbirds through each phase of their annual cycle. Doing so provides a welcoming oasis that builds long-term loyalty to your backyard feeding habitat. Watching these energetic jewels glittering among flowers and feeders will brighten your gardens from spring through fall.
Frequently Asked Questions About Feeding Hummingbirds
What is the best homemade nectar recipe for hummingbirds?
Mix 1 part white sugar to 4 parts water. Heat until sugar dissolves fully then let cool before filling feeders. Never use honey, brown sugar, or artificial sweeteners.
Should I use red food coloring in hummingbird nectar?
No, red dyes and colorings are not necessary and may be unhealthy for hummers. The red feeders themselves sufficiently attract them.
When should hummingbird feeders be taken down?
In northern areas, take down feeders in late fall once hummingbirds have migrated away. In southern wintering zones, feeders can remain up year-round as long as fresh nectar is maintained.
How often should you clean hummingbird feeders?
Clean feeders every 2-3 days during peak usage periods, or whenever nectar becomes cloudy or has debris. Use a diluted vinegar/water solution and scrub all interior surfaces.
Can hummingbirds get sick from dirty feeders?
Yes, dirty nectar can allow dangerous mold to grow inside feeders or on nectar tongue scales. This may make birds ill. Frequent cleaning prevents contamination.
How do you keep ants and bees out of hummingbird feeders?
Use built-in ant moats or smear petroleum jelly on hanging wires to block ants. Bee guards also deter larger insects. Only fill feeders halfway to limit exposes nectar.
What are the best flowers to plant for hummingbirds?
Preferred hummingbird-pollinated flowers include bee balm, fuchsia, cardinal flowers, columbine, trumpet vine, salvia, and native honeysuckles, among many others.
Do hummingbirds drink plain water?
Yes, hummers will sip plain water from bird baths, drippers, and water features, especially while bathing. Provide a fresh water source near feeders to supply all their needs.
Should you provide food for fledgling hummingbirds?
No, let fledglings practice feeding on their own. The parents continue to care for and feed them as they develop flying skills around 2-3 weeks after leaving the nest.
Do hummingbirds migrate at night?
Yes, most hummingbird species migrate at night when air temperatures are cooler and flying requires less energy. They rest periodically during the strenuous overnight flights.
How often do hummingbirds eat?
Hummingbirds need to eat frequently due to their superfast metabolism, licking nectar up to every 15 minutes and consuming half their weight in food daily. Nectar provides needed energy between insect meals.