[CT Birds] Response to my fall hummingbird feeder question

Susanne Shrader birdgirrl at comcast.net
Wed Jan 7 21:32:28 EST 2009

See this expert opinion on late fall hummers.

The nectar is an important part of the normal diet of a hummer.  It is, again in my opinion, the gas that fuels the insect foraging machine.  If you put a hummer in an enclosure with only nectar it WILL die.  If you put it in an enclosure with a supply of tiny bugs it will survive easily. Insects are available in winter in CT just as they are here.
NORMALLY, a healthy hummer will abandon an area after the food resources become unavailable.  No doubt in my mind that many hummers that do not use this strategy will perish in the colder winters of the northern US or here in Alabama.  
I cannot say one way or the other whether our actions as humans will "fool" the hummers.  My guess is that many hundreds of hummers of different species started this winter in CT.  We only found out about them once the banders became involved.  It is my belief the healthy hummers will depart you area in winter if there is not protein source.  If not, again, this is a genetic trait in my opinion that was never intended to be passed on to future generations.
I regularly capture and band hummers in the eastern US when temps are between 0* and 10* F.  I regularly recapture some of these hummers at the same location for up to 8 years in a row.  Most of these birds that I see year after year were originally banded in late November through mid-January, long after they would have left their breeding grounds in northwestern America.
By the way, where we live in Alabama our lowest low in winter is down around 10 degrees.  Our lowest ever in our yard was -11*.  There are no palm trees swaying for sure.  Many of the hummers that I have banded in states north of me were reported as disappearing in very cold weather and presumed dead (no body found).  Later, many of those birds were recaptured farther south by me or our other banders and were none the worse for wear.  
I know of no way to truly evaluate the effects of feeders in winter in CT, but sooner or later our ever expanding network of banders in the eastern US will start to recapture some of the disappearing winter hummers from your region.
Of one thing I am sure...in my own mind...it is unethical to assume that we as humans have the right to 
interfere with normal free flying hummers by capturing them in wintering them over in zoos or greenhouses.  In most instances such activities are clearly against the laws governing migratory birds.  I do understand those that believe, out of total ignorance, that they are doing the proper thing when they decide to "save" these birds because they know what is better for them than uncountable generations of natural selection.
I hope my opinions, based on 25 years and thousands of wintering hummers banded, is not offensive to you.  There is not a person on this planet that loves hummingbirds any more than I do.  I have probably banded over 100, 000 over the years.  Next to my wife and dog, I love them more than anything living.
God Bless and stay in touch.
Bob Sargent
In a message dated 1/7/2009 11:19:10 A.M. Central Standard Time, birdgirrl at comcast.net writes:
Thank you, Bob
Great answer.  So, the nectar is a quick fix, and the bird eats insects.   But as the insects hibernate or die, isn't the nectar seductive and the bird will expect that with a "flower" around, the insects will surely follow?  Especially if we heat the sugar water, it will die from lack of protein.
I am aware that these guys do not visit Connecticut for the feeders or climate, but after Nov 15 or so, haven't we fooled the bird's instincts? 

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Susanne Shrader
<birdgirrl at comcast.net>

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