One of the biggest bird feeding myths is that leaving hummingbird feeders available in fall will stop these tiny birds from migrating. In fact, available feeders can ensure hummingbirds have safe, healthy food sources available for refueling along their journeys so they can migrate successfully. But exactly when should birders remove hummingbird feeders without risk of depriving birds of essential nectar?
Factors Affecting When to Take Down Hummingbird Feeders
The exact timing of when to remove nectar feeders without making hummingbirds go hungry varies in different regions and is affected by a number of factors, including:
- Location: Birders in northern regions will naturally remove hummingbird feeders earlier in the fall. Hummingbird lovers in northernmost hummingbird ranges in Canada and Alaska may even be able to safely remove feeders in late summer without harming any hummers. Southern regions typically leave feeders up longer. In areas where hummingbirds are year-round residents or where late migrants may overwinter, feeders may be left up throughout the year and hummingbirds will gratefully visit.
- Climate: In regions where summer flowers die quickly or where early autumn storms can impact bird migration, it is often wise to leave nectar feeders up later. This will provide hummingbirds with a reliable food source even if natural food sources are dwindling. If flower crops have been poor throughout the year, it is also wise to keep feeders available for longer so there is no shortage of healthy nectar.
- Migration: Learning when hummingbirds migrate can help birders plan when to take down hummingbird feeders. Male hummingbirds often migrate before females, and juvenile birds are among the last to start their journeys south. If feeders are available just when these birds need the nourishment to store body fat for migration, the birds will remember those locations and return year after year. Because of that, it is wise to leave feeders up and available throughout peak migration periods.
Exactly When to Stop Feeding Hummingbirds
The precise dates to take down hummingbird feeders not only vary from region to region, but can vary from yard to yard as individual birds take advantage of favored food sources. Ideally, feeders should be kept clean, filled, and available to birds for at least a week or two after the last hummingbird has been seen visiting. At the same time, birders must keep in mind that migrating hummingbirds or different hummingbird species may still be arriving as they pass through the area. When no birds have been sighted after at least 7-10 days, it is safe to remove the feeders and store them until next spring.
Many birders keep a personal birding journal, notebook, or calendar to mark when "their" hummingbirds arrive and depart each year. This can make it easier to be prepared to put out or take down hummingbird feeders on time.
Temporarily Removing Hummingbird Feeders
Even in the middle of summer when hummingbirds are visiting feeders every few minutes, it may be necessary to temporarily remove nectar feeders to solve problems and safeguard the birds. From just a few minutes to a few days, it may be essential to take down hummingbird feeders to:
- Clean and Refill Feeders: Hummingbird feeders should be thoroughly rinsed every time they are refilled, and the spoiled nectar removed. More thorough cleaning and disinfecting should be done every few days or whenever the feeders show signs of mold, mildew, or other contamination. If the nectar is prepared early, it will only take a few minutes to clean and refill the feeders, and the birds will return promptly. Some birders may keep spare feeders available so there is no delay in getting clean, fresh feeders available to the birds.
- Keep Insects Away: The sweet nectar hummingbirds love is also loved by wasps, bees, ants, praying mantises, and other insects. If too many insects are monopolizing a feeder, removing it for a few days will encourage the bugs to move on, and they are less likely to return once the feeder is replaced. At the same time, taking steps to minimize insects on hummingbird feeders can keep the feeders available to the birds while discouraging unwanted pests.
- Discourage Visitors: Larger visitors such as raccoons, bats, and even bears may try to satisfy sweet cravings at hummingbird feeders. Removing feeders for a week or two will deny them that food source and encourage other wildlife to seek more appropriate dining choices. The birds will return when the feeders are back up, but mammals will likely have left the area if they can't get the foods they want nearby.
- Stay Safe From Storms: Summer thunderstorms can tip hummingbird feeders and cause outrageous leaking, even if birders have taken steps to minimize hummingbird feeder leaks. Removing feeders during the worst part of a storm will also prevent any inadvertent damage if the feeders were to fall. If necessary, simply take the feeders down from their hangers and place them on a table, bench, or right on the ground in a protected area. Hungry hummingbirds may still visit the feeders even before they are rehung.
- Keep Nectar From Freezing: In early spring or late fall, unexpected frosts and sudden chills can accidentally freeze hummingbird nectar. If necessary, birders can remove feeders overnight and keep them indoors to stay liquid. Be sure the feeders are replaced in time for early morning feeding sessions, or take other steps to keep nectar from freezing so the feeders can stay accessible even on the coolest nights.
Knowing whether hummingbird feeders need to be removed temporarily or it is time in the fall to remove them completely until next spring can help birders always have a supply of nectar available to these flying jewels.