Hummingbird questions and answers

Published 5:39 pm Monday, October 8, 2012

Over the last couple of years of writing this bird column, I have had many people write to tell me their bird stories, ask for birding information or ask me questions about either the birds in their area or specific bird questions.
It has hopefully been a learning experience on both sides. I know that I certainly have learned a lot from other people’s experiences and hope to continue to for a long time to come.
I have decided to actively solicit bird questions from you and print some of the answers in this bimonthly column. This will enable the most pertinent and appropriate questions to be answered during the correct time period, such as bird feeding during the winter months, hummingbird questions in the summer etc.
So, to start all of this off, I will answer a question that I get asked many times over the fall season. Yes, it’s that timely hummingbird question again.
“When do l take my hummingbird feeder down?”
The truth is very simple and straight-forward. Hummingbirds, like all other birds, migrate south by instinct at the same time each year. It is not a single external factor that causes them to travel over the Gulf of Mexico into Central America, but a combination of many things, such as changing day-lengths, seasonal temperatures and food supply.
Food is very important for migrant birds, as they need an abundant supply in order to fatten up for their long southbound flight. They do not wait for the food supply to diminish before they head south, but move ahead of the waning season.
There are still plenty of flowers blooming in late September and early October, but their numbers are not reliable, and most of the hummingbirds have left us by these dates.
There are still many insects around as well, even though most of the swallows and martins will have left our area more than a month ago.
It would be very dangerous and foolhardy for any bird species to delay its regular migration solely because of the lingering food supply, and their instincts dictate this fact to them. Bad weather and an early frost could strand these late movers way north of their wintering range, and without a helping hand from us they would without a doubt perish.
Their instincts, coupled with thousands of years of migration patterns, have left the birds well able to cope with external forces, and leaving a hummingbird feeder up after their peak migration time will not delay them. The birds will leave anyway, and the feeder may actually help a young or ill bird recover and continue its journey south.
Also, should you leave your hummingbird feeder up through the fall and early winter, there is always a chance that a rare western hummingbird could grace your home. As I write this column, a couple of rufous hummingbirds have already been reported in North Carolina.
Over the next few months, I will be answering any of your questions, as well as writing on other relevant seasonal topics.
Until then, good birding!
Simon Thompson has lived in WNC for the past 20 years. He owns and operates his own birding tour company, Ventures Birding Tours.
He and his partner, Chris, also own and operate the Asheville Wild Birds Unlimited Store. For more information on any of the birding activities in the area, drop by the store or check his website at

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