While native flowering plants are the best source of nectar for hummingbirds, supplementing with a well-tended sugar-water feeder can provide additional sustenance during nesting season and migration. Consult our FAQ below to ensure your feeder does no harm—and helps your hummers thrive. (Read more about creating a hummingbird-friendly yard here.)
Q: Are there any downsides to supplying a hummingbird feeder to the birds in my yard?
A: No. Your hummingbird feeder will be a supplemental source of nectar for your local hummingbirds, and can help them through times when there aren’t as many blooming flowers available nearby.
Q: Do I need to buy special food for my hummingbirds?
A: No. The best (and least expensive) solution for your feeder is a 1:4 solution of refined white sugar to tap water. That’s ¼ cup of sugar in 1 cup of water. Bring the solution to a boil, then let it cool before filling the feeder. You can make a larger batch and refrigerate the extra solution, just remember to bring it up to room temperature before you re-fill the feeder.
Q: Should I put red coloring in the nectar solution?
A: No, red coloring is not necessary and the reddening chemicals could prove to be harmful to the birds. Natural nectar itself is a clear solution.
Q: Are hummingbirds attracted to red-colored things?
A: Yes, hummingbirds are attracted to red, as well as other brightly colored objects, because they have learned to associate high-quality nectar with red flowers.
Q: Should I use brown sugar, honey, or molasses instead of white sugar?
A: No, only use refined white sugar. Other sweetening agents have additional ingredients that can prove detrimental to the hummingbirds. Never use artificial sweeteners to make hummingbird nectar.
Q: How often should I empty and clean the feeder?
A: In hot weather, the feeder should be emptied and cleaned twice per week. In cooler weather, once per week is enough. If your hummingbirds empty the feeder with greater frequency, clean it every time it’s empty. Cleaning with hot tap water works fine, or use a weak vinegar solution. Avoid using dish soaps, as this can leave harmful residue in the feeder.
Q: When should I put out my hummingbird feeder?
A: In most areas of North America where hummingbirds leave during the winter, it’s best to put the feeder out about a week before they normally arrive in your yard. This date varies regionally. If you don’t know when your birds usually arrive check with your local Audubon center, chapter, or local bird club.
Q: When should I take down my feeders in the fall?
A: You can leave your feeders out for as long as you have hummingbirds around. You can even continue to provide the feeder after your hummingbirds disappear—late migrants or out-of-range species can show up into early winter. Follow the guidelines for keeping the feeders clean, even if the nectar goes untouched. Always discard any unused nectar in the feeder when you take it down for cleaning.
Q: Won’t it make my hummingbirds stay too late if I continue to leave the feeder out for them?
A: No, hummingbirds are migratory species and are genetically programmed to head south in the fall. It’s not a lack of nectar source or colder weather that makes them leave—they know it’s time based on changes in the length of the day and the angle of the sun.
Q: I live in an area where we have hummingbirds year round. Is it okay for me to feed them year round as well?
A: Absolutely! Just follow the guidelines for keeping your feeders clean.
Q: I put a feeder up, but no hummingbirds have come. How can I get hummingbirds to visit my feeder?
A: Planting red or orange tubular flowers that attract hummingbirds may help them discover your feeder, if you hang it nearby. (Of course, make sure to change the nectar solution and clean the feeder regularly, even if you have not seen any hummingbirds.) You can search for native plants that your hummingbirds naturally visit using our native plants database. Learn more about planting for hummingbirds, and other ways to make your yard hummingbird-friendly, here.
Q: I have a hummingbird in my area past migration time and I’d like to feed it as long as it stays around, what do I need to know?
If you live in an area where the night-time temperatures dip below freezing regularly you will need to make sure your nectar feeder does not freeze. In areas where the nighttime temperatures only dip slightly below freezing your hummingbird nectar may not freeze as the sugar solution has a lower freezing point than plain water. However, it’s better not to have your hummingbirds drink very cold nectar; this can actually cold-stun them. For cold weather feeding, either bring the feeder indoors overnight when it gets cold and put it back outside first thing in the morning (hummingbirds need to feed as early as possible, especially when it’s cold, to keep their energy up) or you can hang an incandescent light bulb near the feeder. These bulbs give off enough heat to keep the feeder warm.
Some areas of the U.S. do see hummingbirds normally over the winter. Several species of hummingbirds regularly overwinter along the Gulf Coast, southern Arizona, and south Florida. Anna’s Hummingbirds are resident from northwestern Baja California along the Pacific coast to British Columbia, Allen’s Hummingbirds are resident in coastal Southern California, and Costa’s Hummingbirds are resident in Baja California, southeast California to western Arizona.
To learn more about the hummingbirds visiting your yard and the winter range of a particular species, download our free Audubon Bird Guide appor refer to Audubon’s online field guide.
Some North American Birds Can’t Keep Up With Shifting Spring Blooms
As climate change makes the seasons less predictable, one in five studied species
are struggling to time their migrations with the greenery.
April showers bring May flowers . . . unless they’re already in bloom, that is. This proverb might soon need an update because the onset of spring has shifted in North America, as the leaf-growing start dates of trees and plants have changed by as much as a day each year over the past decade. In the West, spring is arriving later; in the East, it's arriving sooner.
That shift is bad news for migratory birds, many of which follow a strict schedule to get to their breeding grounds in spring. Once they land, they expect to feast on a bounty of insects, which are themselves gorging on the fresh foliage. If the birds miss the peak plant emergence, chances are the best food has already been snatched up—or, if they arrive early, they'll struggle while they wait for it to become available. This isn't just problematic for adults: The birth and survival of their chicks depends on nature’s seasonal buffet, too.
A new study published in Scientific Reports confirms the growing disconnect between birds’ internal clocks and the changing seasons. Researchers from across the country studied 48 migratory songbirds, and found that nine (Great Crested Flycatchers, Eastern Wood-Pewees, and Northern Parulas, to name a few) are struggling to keep pace with the onset of blooms. Across all the species they looked at, the gap between avian arrivals and the growth of spring leaves in prime breeding locations has increased by an average of half a day each year.
Scientists have tracked spring bird arrivals for decades, but this research offers a broader perspective across species. “What we were trying to do was for the first time scale this up to get a bigger picture,” says Stephen Mayor, lead author of the study and an ecologist at the University of Florida. “We haven’t been able to do that kind of thing in the past because we just haven’t had good data.”
The new analysis paired more than a decade’s worth of data from the citizen-science website eBird with information from a NASA satellite that tracks the yearly arrival of spring greenery. “A single scientist can’t study the globe, can’t study a continent, so tackling these questions requires a new approach,” says Morgan Tingley, an ornithologist at the University of Connecticut and co-author of the paper. Layering the two data sources showed that certain birds are rescheduling their migratory journeys as spring green-up starts on alternate dates. The question, however, is if they’re adjusting quickly enough, Tingley says. Mayor echoes that concern. “One week per decade can really add up pretty quickly and leave birds out of sync with their environments,” he says.
Tingley is particularly worried about the Yellow-billed Cuckoo, which is already in danger of losing its riverside habitat. He also points out that three of the most popular spring migrants—Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Scarlet Tanagers, and Indigo Buntings—are facing jarring changes to their calendars.
To further complicate matters, the seasonal shifts are divergent on opposite sides of the continent. “As soon as we put these things up on a map, we recognized that something very different was happening in eastern North America than in western North America,” Mayor says. In parts of the West, spring is arriving later,
and out-of-sync birds are arriving before it’s in full swing. Where Eastern birds might miss the big feasts, Western birds may have to tough it out before they have the chance to rebuild their fat deposits after a long migration. “There’s lots of regional variation, but it’s a pretty stark difference,” he says.
Yet timing is only half of the climate change puzzle. Some of the northern breeding habitats that birds are flying to are becoming less suitable in terms of temperature or yearly rainfall—a double whammy for struggling populations. “They’re going to have to figure out both where and when they’ve got to arrive,” says Brooke Bateman, the director of Audubon’s Climate Watch program, who wasn’t involved in the Scientific Reports study. “That’s kind of a lot to deal with at one time.”
Because long-distance migrants have to plan their journeys from afar, they may rely solely on environmental cues. “It’s not like these birds have an app on their phone that can tell them the weather in New York,” Tingley says. “We’re changing weather patterns and changing what’s going on without giving birds an ability to respond.”
This article was originally published on Audubon.org on May 16, 2017.
The new eBird Mobile app makes it possible to collect and submit observations directly to eBird from the field. iOS and Android users who were accustomed to entering eBird data using the BirdLog app are encouraged to switch to eBird Mobile, the new and official app for entering data to eBird.
Merlin Bird ID
In a breakthrough for computer vision and for bird watching, researchers and bird enthusiasts have enabled computers to achieve a task that stumps most humans—identifying hundreds of bird species pictured in photos. Build in concert with the exceedingly popular Merlin app, the Merlin Bird ID tool lets you upload an image of a bird that you’ve photographed, and if the photo shows one of the supported species, it returns the correct species in the top 3 results, 90% of the time. It currently supports 400 species in North America, but will eventually be expanding to more species in North America, and worldwide. Give it a try.
borrowed from Audubon At Home
Plants for Birds and Wildlife
|Spicebush, photo courtesy USDA-NRCS Plants Database
Birds and wildlife have adapted to utilize native plants that provide food, cover, nesting sites or a combination of resources. Native plants provide food at different times of the year to birds in the form of seeds, fruit or as invertebrate host sites. The growth habits of native plants present recognizable, safe nesting sites and cover that protect birds from inclement weather and predation. The importance of these plants to birds, insects and other wildlife cannot be overstated.
Using native plants in your backyard landscape will offer the most resources to birds and wildlife and serve as rewarding attractants. On these pages you will find some examples of plants that are particularly valuable to specific birds and other beneficial organisms. A more comprehensive database with regional references is in the works at Audubon At Home and will be available online in the near future.
Plantings for birds in our area:
Nuttall's Woodpecker, Oak Titmouse, Yellow-rumped Warbler- California Live Oak
Wrentit, California Towhee, Spotted Towhee - California Wax Myrle
For more information about native plants please visit:
California Native Plant Society
Master Gardener's Program in San Joaquin County
Plants for Beneficial Insects
Predators. Parasitoids. Pollinators.
Welcome them into your Healthy Yard.
These are the insects, bugs and other organisms on the front line of pest control in your yard, guarding against destructive bugs and helping plants reproduce. Nature supplies these beneficial bugs of course, but you can encourage them to remain in your yard by providing them with some essential elements.
Nearly every plant in a natural environment will sustain at least some damage by pests…it is part of the natural balance. But pests don’t overpopulate a natural ecosystem due to the presence of natural enemies. In a healthy yard with its native plants and pesticide-free environment, pests will appear—and so will natural enemies.
THE INSECTS – Wild Friends, Natural Enemies
|Ladybug feeding on cottonwood leaf beetle eggs, photo by James Solomon, USDA Forest Service
Move Over, Lady - It has long been known that ladybugs (or lady beetles), especially in their larval stage, are "good bugs" with voracious appetites for aphids. Without dismissing the value of ladybugs as garden friends, there are other natural pest enemies that are much less conspicuous but even more valuable. The lowly "gnat" that flies by your ear may in fact be the tiny eulophid wasp – a full-grown one is just one-eighth inch – on her way to lay up to one hundred eggs in the pupae of tree-destroying beetles.
Predatory and parasitoid flies and wasps are key players in the biological control of insect pests. Many, in fact, are reared in laboratories and dispersed into crops, forests and neighborhoods to control exotic insect pests (i.e. elm leaf beetle). Click on the link below to learn more about the tiny denizens of your yard and other beneficial organisms.
THE PLANTS – Nectar for Natural Pest Enemies
|Syrphid (hover) Fly, photo by Carl Dennis, Auburn University
Nectar is an important dietary supplement for beneficial wasps and flies. Asters and their cousins (such as daisies and goldenrod) offer excellent resources and there are native varieties in every part of the country. Flowers that are composites - where many small symmetrical flowers occur in a central disk - are perfect for small wasps and flies such as the common predaceous hover fly (pictured left). Many of the beneficial insects are small and require a short flower structure in order to access the nectar.
These same flowering plants will attract a wide range of important pollinators such as native bees, butterflies and honeybees. When they produce seed, these plants will provide a valuable food source for birds and other wildlife in the fall and winter.
Plant a variety of plant types such as groundcover, trees, and shrubs, mimicking natural growth patterns to form complex habitat that will be home to a greater variety of beneficial insects.
THE INSECTS – Information and pictures of the lesser-known but effective natural enemies that occupy your backyard.
PLANTS TO ATTRACT BENEFICIAL INSECTS – Your guide to some stellar examples of the useful plants that will attract a variety of beneficial insects. Look for examples of similar native flowers occurring in your region.
For more information about beneficial insects please visit:
Beneficial Insects in Your Garden
If you’re interested in finding out what rare and unusual birds are being seen in California (or anywhere in the US, for that matter), you should check out Sialia, aka The Birding Lists Digest. Sialia (http://digest.sialia.com) was created to help birders find out "what's going on lately" in various regions of the U.S. with a minimum of hassle. The Digest automatically compiles all posts to dozens of birding email lists and organizes them by region, by day, and by list. Birders can view the current day's messages, or browse messages from the last 30 days. This system allows birders to find information about rare bird sightings and other goings-on around the country in a timely and efficient manner. Check it out!
San Joaquin Audubon Society
PO Box 7755, Stockton, California 95267
For more information contact:
San Joaquin Audubon Society President: Susan Schneider: email@example.com
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