Winter Feeding of Hummingbirds
"When should I take my hummingbird feeders down?" is a perennial question asked by nearly everyone who puts up a hummingbird feeder. Immediately following that question is "Won't I stop the hummingbirds from migrating if I leave up my feeders in the fall?"
The answers are very simple: "Whenever you wish to stop maintaining them" and "No."
A deceptively small yet incredibly profound fact has recently been discovered: It is being proven, by banding and recapture studies, that hummingbirds survive winter conditions in the United States very well on their own, and not only make it back to their traditional breeding grounds but actually return to the very same winter feeding grounds year after year after year. By making nectar plants, feeders, and natural habitat available all year you are helping hummingbirds, not hindering them, during the fall and winter months.
Hummingbirds are a lot tougher than they look. As one hummingbird bander has pointed out, could you survive outside in 4 degree F temperatures and nine inches of snow? Hummingbirds can and do so, given the right habitat and resources, and it appears to be the norm rather than the exception.
Responsibility for maintaining winter feeders is the same as in summer, of course, except that you may have to contend with your sugar solution freezing rather than "going bad". Many people use heat lamps to keep feeders thawed in sub-freezing weather; some keep extra feeders on hand inside and swap out frozen feeders as needed.
Some basic tips for those of you that normally do not get year-round hummingbird activity:
1) Keep those feeders up and maintained and gardens blooming as long as you can. You will not prevent a hummingbird from migrating, but your efforts might help a hummingbird survive.
2) If you have a hummingbird show up off-season in your yard (either a very late summer resident or a hummingbird not usual to your location), contact your local bird watching group (usually an Audubon society), both to make them aware of the bird and for professional identification and documentation.
3) Collect as much information as you can on any late season hummingbird that shows up in your yard. Get photos, if possible; describe it in writing as well as you can; identify it, if possible; note the date when the bird first appeared and when it was last seen; record any daily activity patterns of the bird, such as when it visits the garden/feeder and how often.
4) Notify hummingbird researchers (post a message to the Hummingbird Garden forum and we'll get you a contact) to report wintering hummingbirds and to find out if there is a permitted hummingbird bander in your area.
Please Note: Do not attempt to trap and relocate late-season hummingbirds. Not only is it illegal, but new information being gathered by hummingbird banders and researchers every year is proving that late season, out-of-typical-range hummingbirds are doing quite well on their own.