Hummingbirds are Back! Put out Your Feeders!

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Yesterday Marion Smolinski decided to put up her Hummingbird feeders in her yard in SW Calgary. This morning, a Rufous Hummingbird was at the feeder. It is really early but Marion thought she would put out her feeders early due to the mild spring we’ve had.

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Rufous Hummingbird from a previous year. Photo by Dan Arndt

In Calgary the hummingbirds (Rufous, Caliope, and Ruby-throated) usually arrive back on about May 10. The way to remember when to put your feeders up is to do it on Mother’s Day.  Maybe if you have a feeder you should put it up now.

Of course we can still have hard frosts for quite a while yet so you may have to bring your feeder inside overnight if frost is forecast.

Due to their fast metabolism (the fastest of any animal that maintains a constant temperature), Hummingbirds are always just a few hours from death if they don’t have a food source. To conserve energy they enter a state of torpor when food is scarce and at night when not actively feeding, slowing their metabolism to 1/15 of its normal rate and dropping their body temperature to 18 degrees C from 40 degrees.

Rufous Hummingbirds breed much farther north than the other species and are able to tolerate overnight freezing temperatures. If the birds are here, they have likely followed the blooming of flowering plants and the availability of insects, and unless we get a prolonged cold spell with daytime temperatures below freezing, they will be able to survive. Putting a feeder out is mostly for the enjoyment of humans and is not necessary for the bird’s survival.

If you do have a feeder out, it is important to remove any perches so that the birds have to feed while hovering. I know it is nice to see them perched but it poses a danger this early in the year. When a bird comes out of its nighttime torpor and goes to a feeder, if it rests on a perch its metabolism may drop again, and since it can be much colder at an exposed feeder than at their nighttime roost, they can die of hypothermia.

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Anna’s Hummingbird at a feeder. Photo by Dan Arndt.

The bird in the above photo is perched on a ring on the feeder. I have one of these and have cut off the perching ring. Hummingbirds don’t need perches to feed.

The solution you put in your feeder should be made by boiling water and mixing one part white sugar (never brown sugar or honey) to four parts water, and then cooling it. It is not necessary to colour the liquid and that may actually be harmful. You don’t have to buy commercially available Hummingbird food, which is usually coloured red and can have nutrients added. Hummingbirds get all their nutrients from eating insects.

Good luck!

14 thoughts on “Hummingbirds are Back! Put out Your Feeders!

  1. I live in Douglasdale and have only seen them once in the 15 years I have lived here. I put out feeders and red flowers to attract them and flowers they love but no luck. Is it my area?

    • You should get them there on migration, in early May, and again from now until mid-September. But it will not be in large numbers and they may just stay briefly, so you have to be lucky to see them. I live in the SE and usually see one a year or so, usually for only a few minutes.

  2. I have two humming bird feeders that I just bought! Is it too late to put them out? Do they have to be hung where there are no other birds feeders? I have only one small tree in my back yard but I do have iron flower holders that stick into the ground. Which is the best way to attract these beautiful birds?
    Arlaine LeMoine

    • It’s not too late. The females and young will be moving through until mid-September. The best way to attract them is with flowers, especially red ones.

  3. Hi everyone,
    I don’t really know anything about hummingbirds (or birds in genera) except for the beauty that I get to see from them! I live in Sunnyside on the 4th floor of a condo. I’d really like to put up a hummingbird feeder on my balcony.

    Does anyone know if this might be silly to do? I’m not sure if hummingbirds are in this area or not, etc.

    Thanks very much,

    Whitney

    • I have seen hummingbirds going to feeders on a fourth-floor balcony in Griffith Woods, but there a lots of hummingbirds in that area. If you do it, it may take a long time to see one! I live in a house in an area where hummingbirds are sometimes seen on migration, and I have seen them occasionally in my yard, but I have never seen one at my feeders in 12 years of trying.

    • I live in Pineridge in a condo also. I put out a Hummingbird feeder too. I have not seen one yet. Maybe they don’t come into the NE part of the City?

  4. I never knew there were hummingbirds here. I grew up on PEI and sometimes we would take the feeders down so we could go outside and enjoy the patio because there was so many zipping by.

    • I have never seen PEI. I would like to go see it. Vancouver Island has lots of Hummingbirds too. But I have never seen one in Calgary. I used to go to the Glenmore Reservoir as well, and there are little birds there who will eat seeds right from your hand. But I never saw a Hummingbird.

  5. All valid comments. As for me and my household, we will leave the ring on. It is a marvellous photo when they are sitting still. Am putting out my feeder first thing in the am. Though I am in the Aldersyde area and rarely see them, we did have one late last fall, late in the evening, so thanks for the heads up!!

  6. In regards to cutting off the ring. Yes, they don’t need it to feed, but why wouldn’t you cut them some slack?? They have it hard enough, despite their exquisite design, why not give them as much help as we can?? After all, why do we even put feeders out but for our own wishes to see these lovely creatures?? They don’t need us, they were designed to not need us. So, keep the ring on, I am sure that they appreciate it!

    • You’re right, they don’t need us to feed them. They also don’t normally perch when feeding at flowers. I explained the danger of them freezing on a perch, which may be a rare occurrence. But if there is a perch, others birds might use it to get at the feeder. It might also leave the Hummingbirds more vulnerable to predators.

    • They fly into South America in our winter. Those delicate little birdies do get around. There is something very special about Hummingbirds.

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