By C. Rae Hozer
An email inquiry from Diana, in Crossville, about hummingbirds came in two weeks ago: Master Gardener Rae, I read your article mentioning hummingbirds and want to ask a question about the migration of these wonderful birds. I still have several feeding daily. I wonder about continuing to feed them. I have read and have heard conflicting views about this subject. Several articles I found online said to continue feeding them until you haven't seen one at the feeder for two weeks. These articles say hummingbirds migrate according to their circadian rhythm, not because there is still food available, and that they will leave when it is time for them to do so. I have also heard to stop feeding after a certain date (can't remember what the date is). What is your view on this?
MG Rae response: Diane, I was not correct in writing earlier that Ruby-throated hummingbirds might have left our state’s Upper Cumberland region. The lapse in activity at my feeders was only temporary. Ruby-throated hummingbirds nest here but do not normally stay in Tennessee past Oct. 31. However, other hardier hummingbird species are seen after that date. (The scarcity of insects, which provide protein in a hummer’s diet, is another factor.) Those who band these birds have verified sightings of Rufous and Black-chinned hummingbirds in Tennessee after Halloween. Putting out or leaving out nectar stations will not entice hummingbirds that cannot take cold weather to stay during the winter and perish from cold and/or starvation, according to my research.
Follow-up message from reader Diane on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012: Master Gardener Rae, thank you for your reply. I do still have a Ruby-throated hummer and several Black-chinned ones. I don't think I have any Rufous hummers, but they are so fast it's hard to tell! I am glad to know I can continue to enjoy them for a while longer, and that they will leave when they are ready. I will make sure they don't leave on an empty tummy!
Much information about hummingbirds and other wildlife comes from ordinary citizens rather than scientists. People who band birds trap one, record its weight and other measurements then wrap a tiny strip of aluminum imprinted with a number around one of the bird’s legs before releasing it again. Others who capture banded birds report the band number along with when and where a subsequent trapping was done. Data gathered for an individual bird can be used when documenting movements and activities of the entire species. This information is also used to draw logical inferences about that type of bird’s migration and other habits. A source for this article was www.hummingbirds.net hosted by Lanny Chambers of St. Louis, MO. The ‘Species Listed by State and Province’ page at that site says hummers reported in our state are Ruby-throated, Rufous, Black-chinned, Allen’s, and Calliope. You may not band birds but do enjoy bird watching. You, too, can supply information on wintertime bird activities in North America. Use a computer to access Project Feeder Watch at www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/Overview/whatispfw. It is hosted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, NY. Project Feeder Watch is operated by Cornell University’s Bird Lab in concert with Bird Studies of Canada. Those who provide plantings, food and/or water to attract birds contribute by counting different species periodically starting in November. The bird counts are reported via computer or using paper forms. There is an annual participation fee of $15. Directions for bird counting and reporting are supplied in the website’s ‘Instructions’ section.
Plateau Gardening is written by Master Gardeners for gardeners in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland Region. UT Extension Cumberland County at P.O. Box 483, Crossville, TN 38557 (484-6743) has answers to horticulture questions, free publications and details on how to become a Master Gardener. Send email comments or yard & garden inquiries to Master Gardener Rae, firstname.lastname@example.org.