Keep That Hummingbird Feeder Out (Video)

By Sarah Sinning

A well-stocked hummingbird feeder throughout September and October will not only give you hours of entertainment, but it will also keep your birds happy come migration time.

Conventional wisdom used to dictate that, come the end of summer, those bright red, flower-shaped hummingbird feeders, so greatly loved by birds and garden owners alike, just had to be taken down. As the days got shorter and the air a bit crisper, those fascinating beaked fairies, for their own protection of course, had to be discouraged from loitering around our browning yards and cooling back decks, for they could just stay too long and miss their migration window – and then they’d be in real trouble. Yes, the conventional wisdom of the time actually wanted us to believe that our cheery little plastic feeders with that irresistibly sweet faux nectar could have more of an impact than nature itself on our winged friends. Do you see the contradiction now?

It turns out that late summer and early fall are really the best times for feeding and enjoying those whimsical little creatures. In preparation for their yearly trips down south, hummingbirds actually use this time to pack on some serious weight, since they'll certainly need the energy to travel the hundreds and even thousands of miles to their final destinations around the southern U.S. and Central America. In fact, in the weeks leading up to departure time, the birds will gain anywhere between 25 and 40% of their body weights.

So proudly keep those hummingbird feeders stocked through the end of October, folks, for not only will you be helping your little friends out, but you'll also be treated to one heck of a show.

Just in case you're new to the whole hummingbird feeder scene, here are a few quick tips to get you started:

  • Choose feeders that have bright red accents, for hummingbirds are naturally attracted to flowers of similar shade. Do not be tempted to just add red food coloring to your sugar solution to attract birds this way, since this additive has been linked to cancer in birds.
  • If making your own sugar solution, be sure to follow a strict four to one ratio: 4 parts water to 1 part white granulated sugar. This is healthiest for the birds and most closely resembles the taste of flower nectar. Honey or any other sweeteners should never be substituted for white sugar.
  • Make sure you boil your solution for at least 30 seconds and then cool completely before adding to your feeders. This will inhibit unwanted fermentation or mold growth.
  • Homemade sugar solution can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.
  • If the weather is still quite warm – much more summerlike than fall – change your solution every four to five days. If it has already started cooling off, once a week is fine.
  • Solution and feeders should always be clean and fresh. To clean the feeder, some hot water and a little vinegar will do the trick, and be sure to rinse well.
  • Hang your feeder in a shady spot if possible, since this will help keep the solution from spoiling.

If you have the space for more than one feeder, be sure to place them at least 6 feet apart. Hummingbirds can be very territorial and have been known to fight each other if feeders are too close.

More on Birdwatching from Capper's Farmer and GRIT Magazine

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