They're Coming! When to Expect Hummingbirds This Spring
This cold, wet, and dreary winter has been keeping us indoors a good bit lately, and many of us wonder if the beauty of spring will ever come to lift our spirits. Be patient, friends, because the hummingbirds are coming! Each spring, North America sees the homecoming of hundreds of species of birds returning from their winter homes in the warm climes of Central America and Mexico. Among them are a variety of hummingbirds, including the ruby-throated hummingbird so beloved in the southern United States. Now is the time, hummingbird watchers, to prepare your feeders in anticipation of the spring migration.
When Will They Arrive?
First arrivals can be seen in Texas, Louisiana and other sites along the Gulf Coast anywhere from late January to mid-March. As the spring progresses, hummingbird sightings are reported further north, even into Canada. The males will arrive before the females, scouting out food sources and claiming feeders as their own. Although there are differing views as to what triggers the start of migration, it is generally thought that hummingbirds sense changes in daylight duration and in the abundance of flowers, nectar and insects. They instinctively know when it is time to move on.
Prepare For Their Arrival
The spring migration can be hard on the hummingbird population. Strong cold fronts moving south over the Gulf of Mexico bring headwinds and heavy rain, make flying difficult over long distances with no shelter. Food is non-existent over the open waters. As a good Southern hostess, you always welcome your guests with a clean home and lovingly prepared food. Treat your tiny aviary friends the same way. Since many of your garden flowers that attract hummingbirds may not yet be blooming, your feeders can be the "first port in the storm" after miles and miles of flight. The hummingbirds will be ravenous and looking for a reliable source of energy. Having feeders set up in advance of the birds' arrival will increase the odds that the feeders are found.
Make sure your feeders are clean and free of broken or rusted pieces. Wash them with a vinegar and water solution or, if absolutely necessary, use a mild dish detergent and hot water. Bleach is not recommended as a cleaning agent. A bottle brush works great when scouring the inside of the container and a small brush, such as a toothbrush, helps when cleaning out the base and the flower feeders. Thoroughly rinse the feeders with hot water after cleaning (especially important if you used dish detergent). If your feeder contains black mold that simply won't wash away, your safest option is to toss the feeder and buy a new one. Since hummingbirds are so small with such tiny little organs, any particle in the hummingbird food can cause illness and/or death.
Once dry, fill your feeder with freshly made nectar, hang outside, and await your guests. Going forward, replace the nectar in your feeders every few days and thoroughly rinse the bottle each time. This is important. If you don't keep your feeder clean and filled with fresh food, the hummingbirds will not visit them.
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Prepare for an Extended Stay
Hummingbirds can live for more than a decade and have long memories, so if they come to rely on your yard as a source for food, they'll return season after season. Having a feeder ready for them whenever they want it is essential to building a great hummingbird habitat that will improve year after year. Most hummingbirds are very territorial about their food. They will sit nearby when they are not feeding just to ward off interlopers and protect their food source. For this reason, it is a good idea to keep multiple feeders at various locations in your yard.