Answers From the Hummingbird Expert
Spring 201
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Special thanks to Lanny Chambers for providing his time and expertise to respond to your hummingbird questions.

  • This page contains questions and answers from 2015.

  • Find Lanny's answers from all other years.

  • Visit Lanny's Web site: Hummingbirds.Net

Lanny Chambers

From Indiana
. I live in northern Indiana. LaPorte. When should I start putting out my hummingbird feeders?
A: April 15th would be good, though you might not see your first hummer for another week or two. Watch the migration map to help you decide when they're approaching.

Q: How far apart should I keep my regular feeders from the hummingbird feeders?
A: Keep feeders several feet apart, at least; if there's a conflict, you'll see it and can move them again as necessary.

From Michigan
Evart Elementary
Q:. I've noticed that our hummingbirds will not drink the store bought mixture of food. What is the best food mixture for our hummingbirds in Michigan? Thanks.
A: Stir one part of ordinary granulated white sugar into four parts of tapwater until it dissolves — heat as necessary. No other ingredients are necessary or desirable. This simple mixture is nearly identical to natural flower nectar from the plants hummingbirds prefer, and is the only recipe proven safe in testing.

From Ontario
Q: Are the Ruby-throats ahead or behind historical schedules?
A: Pretty much consistent with an average of recent years, as I write this in late March. By the time they reach you, they may have been affected one way or the other by the weather they encounter. Over a longer time span, all bird migrations seem to be occurring somewhat earlier, presumably a result of climate change.

Q: I started putting out a hummingbird feeder three years ago. Last year I noticed a female arrived on the exact same day (May 12) as the year before. Could this be the same bird?
A: That's entirely possible.

From Pennsylvania
I very rarely see male hummingbirds at my feeders during the summer. I usually get several females, and I'm pretty sure I see juveniles midsummer, so there must be males around. Why don't they come to my feeder?
A: Perhaps there are more-attractive territories in your neighborhood that are drawing off all the males. Adult males start migrating south as early as the first week in July, so ones you see after that are probably passing through.

Q: During the summer months, I have observed a male and female doing something peculiar. Instead of the large arching, the female will partially hide inside a bush and the male will fly back and forth in a straight line and just making a fuss and a clicking sound. It's almost like a scolding, that she's entered his territory. After a few minutes of this activity, he flies off and she leaves shortly afterward. I don't think it's a mating ritual.
A: It is indeed a mating ritual. The large "pendulum arc" display is an act of aggression to intimidate an intruder into leaving a territory, but the buzzy "mating shuttle" you describe is the male's invitation to breed. If he flies off first, she probably has refused; if she flies away and he follows, mating likely will happen.

From Florida
Q: What stops a brother and sister from mating?
A: Females choose their mates, so I suppose they may refuse a male if they recognize them as kin. I don't think this has ever been studied, though, so I'm guessing.

From Colorado
I live in Denver, Colorado. The few hummingbirds I see, never seem to get along. Always the chase game. Why is it, that some people can have so many, feeding side by side? And I do put up multiple feeders, even for the very few.
A: The busy feeders you see west of you in the mountains host mainly Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, a species that is slightly more tolerant and less combative than your Black-chinned. There are also a LOT more birds nesting up there, and when the population exceeds a certain density the mayhem subsides somewhat and feeders are shared out of necessity, especially at dusk. Simple answer: if you want more hummers, move higher into the mountains.

From Alabama
Q: I have big problem with ants getting in my feeders. What can I do to discourage them?
A: Buy or make an ant moat, and keep it filled with water. Search online to see what they look like.

From Iowa
Q: What plants can I add to my garden for early spring blooms for the first Ruby- throats?
A: Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia), and Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) are good native plants that start blooming right when the first hummingbirds arrive. Also, you can set out flats of inexpensive red Texas Sage 'Lady in Red' (Salvia coccinea), available from any garden department, and plant them when the danger of frost is past.

From Texas
Q: We live near Houston, Texas, and we see the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. We also have been seeing a very light colored hummingbird almost a grey. I do understand the females are not as colorful, but we were wondering if this may be a different species.
A: It's unlikely. Some birds are just lighter and/or less colorful than others.

From Kansas
Q: A friend of mine uses red Gatorade in his hummingbird feeder and says he sees them around all the time. Is this good or bad for the birds, and does it really work?
A: No, no, no. Please don't do that. All they want from us is sugar and water. Nothing else is proven safe.

From Minnesota
Q:  Why are they so mean to each other at the feeder? They never seem to want to share!
A: It's because they are hummingbirds! :)

From Tennessee
Q: I love my Ruby-throated hummingbirds and I always worry about them during migration. Are there places where they can rest & refuel on their way over the ocean?
A: No. Flying nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico is an important part of the natural selection process that has made these little birds so tough, and not all of them pass this harshest of tests. Before leaving land, hummingbirds double their weight by gorging to add fat as an energy reserve; in good weather they can go 600 miles without stopping, and the crossing is only 500 miles. The ones that don't add enough fat won't make it, and their genes aren't passed on; that's how nature works. It's just a bit more dramatic with hummingbirds, because they're so small and we love them so much.

Q: Are there any plans underway on trying to find a way to help the hummingbirds during their flight over the ocean?
A:  No, that's not necessary. The birds have been doing this for thousands of years without any help.

Q: Does anyone follow or monitor the hummingbirds during migration as they fly over the ocean?
A:  No, so far that's not possible. Perhaps someday we'll have radio transmitters small enough for a hummer to carry, but we're not even close yet.