As hummingbirds start their migration south at summer’s end, what is the right time to remove the feeders? If we keep them up, will this delay their fall journey? We know sugar water gives extra energy but is there a time we should stop feeding them?
This is part of series on these well-loved birds. This shows how to make any size batch of sugar water.
Hummingbird Feeders During Fall Migration
When should I remove hummingbird feeders in fall?
Bird Health: Some worry that leaving feeders up might delay migration but there is no evidence of this. Hummingbirds migrate when the time is right and can use the extra energy from the sugar water for the big journey south.
If bees are taking over your feeder, this has practical tips to safely bee-proof your sugar water feeder.
Feeder Safety: To prevent damage—particularly with glass or fragile plastic feeders, remove them before freezing temperatures set in. The hummers are likely long gone by this time. Depending on your location, this may be September, October, or November.
For those of us in North America with hummingbirds in our summer gardens, it’s always a little sad as they gradually disappear in fall to make their great journey south to warmer winter locations. You can read more about the fall hummingbird migration here.
Here in Ontario, Canada, we see ruby-throated hummingbirds. Other species found in Canada and the United States include black chinned hummingbirds, anna’s hummingbirds, rufous hummingbirds, and calliope hummingbirds.
They start arriving in spring—you can see the spring migration map here—and we’re now at the time of year where they will be leaving us, migrating to warmer climates and staying there over the winter before returning next spring.
You may have occasional sightings as the days shorten but they won’t be around too much longer.
The question we wonder is, should I keep feeding hummingbirds in fall or could this interfere with their migration? In other words, will they stay because there is food when they should be travelling south to avoid the cold temperatures on the way?
It is fine to leave your hummingbird feeder up right until your first frost of the season. By this time, the hummingbirds will be long gone—and the presence of a sugar water feeder will not delay them. We do suggest removing the feeder at this time simply to prevent it from getting damaged from freezing temperatures.
The consensus seems to be that sugar water for hummingbirds, if prepared in the ratio shown in the recipe, provides much-welcome extra energy.
The main diet for hummingbirds is insects—lots of them—and nectar from flowering plants. Any sugar water we provide is just dessert. Their natural diet is what sustains them which is why avoiding any pesticides and herbicides and growing a diverse ecosystem of plants suited to your location is the best thing you can do to support them.
As fall sets in, their natural food sources slowly become less abundant and numerous natural cues (all part of phenology) that tell them it’s soon time to go.
One prominent factor in their timing is the shortening of the days and less intense sunlight we get once summer starts winding down.
If our feeders or anything else somehow tricked them into staying in a cold climate or delaying their journey, it would indeed be perilous.
But we have no indications this happens.
When the time is right, they go.
This has been coded into hummingbirds over millennia and it’s what they do every year. As lovely as your garden and your feeders are, they aren’t going to override what’s in the hummingbirds’ genes. They will still migrate at the right time, with or without your feeders.
Provide Food for Migrations
So, your feeders will not ruin their migration.
If anything, if you’re on a migration route, they may appreciate having some supplementary food sources available as they make their journey.
But they will just refuel and move on.
Once you’ve gone a couple of weeks without seeing a hummingbird, then you can bring in your feeder for the winter, clean it thoroughly, and have it ready to go again in the spring.
See the Resources section to grab your copy of the Hummingbird Care Tips.
This describes how hummingbirds migrate south to their winter habitat.
Recommended Hummingbird Feeder
Hummingbird Feeder | Amazon
I like this style of feeder for a few reasons. First, it provides a perch for the birds as they feed. This is important so they don’t waste energy. Also, it’s easy to clean, which helps prevent disease.
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