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  • SC Sexton

My Hummingbirds are missing!

Updated: May 7, 2019

Male Ruby Throat, Nancy Melle, Georgia, USA

Why are Hummingbirds not coming to my Feeder?

Last month my husband and I were in a Home Depot in Southern California and we passed a woman who appeared to be pondering which prepackaged Hummingbird Nectar to purchase. I stopped and told her that she could make the mixture and she replied that she had tried, but was discouraged because the Hummingbirds had stopped coming to her feeder. Her concern was was that the Hummers didn't like the sugar nectar she had made or maybe what she was making was somehow bad. I asked her how long ago the Hummers had stopped coming and she told me it had been a couple weeks. I then explained that many Hummingbirds winter in the Southern US States of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas and then migrate March thru April to the north. Consequently, what she had experienced was an increase in the number of wintering and traveling birds on their way to their northern summer breeding grounds. Now, with the Spring migrations, the numbers of Hummers had dropped off significantly. I also told her that when the availability of flowers increases with Spring, the Hummingbirds choose these over the feeders, except early in the morning and in the evening. In the morning they need the extra energy to wake up and in the evening to enter and get through their sleeping torpor. (Torpor is a type of hibernation that Hummingbirds enter in order to save energy. See this link for the full explanation of torpor:

There are other reasons why Hummingbirds might be avoiding a feeder and below are some ideas on what to check if this happens at your location.

How old is the nectar in the feeder?

Bacteria growing in a Nectar Jar

Sugar water begins to develop bacteria as soon as the birds begin feeding since they introduce naturally occurring bacteria from their tongues into the nectar. The warmer the temperature, the faster the bacteria grows. To the left is a photo of one of my nectar bottles after 1 day in 85 degree plus temperature. You can see the strands of floating bacteria, thus, keeping the nectar as fresh as possible is a must during hot summer days. Also, keep in mind that even if the temperature is not above 80 degrees, the nectar will begin to ferment, collect bacteria, grow mold and maybe, sicken the birds if left unchanged for several days. To help keep the nectar fresher, clean containers before re filling, hang feeders in the shade and don't refill with nectar solutions that are more than a week old.

Are there Ants in or around the feeder or other predatory insects, reptiles or animals nearby?

Hummingbirds will rarely feed if there are any kind of ants, bees or wasps near or competing at the feeder. Large spiders, praying mantis, lizards, snakes or frogs possibly lying in wait are deterrents to Hummers and will keep them away.. Also, domestic cats can be problematic for easy to reach or low hanging feeders and staked feeders. My own cat used to climb trees and position herself on the branch above the feeder, so, beware of where you place the feeder and check it often! For Ants, consider an Ant Moat to keep the Ants out of the feeder.

What is the Best Nectar for Hummingbirds?

Hummingbirds are nectivorous, meaning they derive the majority of their food from the nectar of flowers. So, what is nectar? According to "Nectar, sweet, viscous secretion from the nectaries, or glands, in plant blossoms, stems, and leaves. It attracts fruit-eating bats, hummingbirds, and insects, who aid in effecting pollination by transferring from plant to plant the pollen that clings to their bodies. Nectar is the raw material used by the honeybee to produce honey. Mainly a watery solution of the sugars fructose, glucose, and sucrose, it also contains traces of proteins, salts, acids, and essential oils.". Humans help out by mimicking the nectar of flowers with common cane or beet sugar (sucrose) and water. I have seen some fancy mixes of sugars (fructose, glucose and sucrose) but common table sugar is the safest and best way to mix nectar for Hummingbirds. This link to the Hummingbird Society explains what is needed and how to make the nectar for Hummers:

Visibility and Accessibility.

Making your feeder visible with red colors (ribbons, bows, feeder itself) and close to flowers is a sure invitation to Hummingbirds to visit and feed, (flowers will provide needed insects for protein). Next, consider if the feeder is accessible. Birds don't like enclosed spaces since it hinders their ability to escape from rivals or predators, so make sure the feeder is in an open area. Try adding a bubbling bird bath, a swing or perch and the Hummingbirds will hang around to bathe and rest. The key is to not be discouraged. Once the Hummingbirds find your feeder, they will continue to visit, maybe build a nest and definitely, bring joy to your home, apartment or office.

Happy Birding!

Photo compliments of Nancy Melle, GA USA

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