Feeding Winter Hummingbirds

Go ahead and leave your hummingbird feeder up!

There are hummingbirds that overwinter in North Carolina

Yes, it’s true!  There are hummingbirds at sugar water feeders across our state during the cooler months.  They are not common but they are widespread and not as rare as we once thought.  Although most of the individuals investigated have been Rufous Hummingbirds, there have been a variety of western species.  Very few have turned out to be our summertime Ruby-throated Hummingbird.  To-date twelve species of hummingbird have been documented while visiting North Carolina during the non-breeding season.  But identification of these birds is difficult since most are nondescript females or juveniles.  They tend to look very similar; their identity is often based on color, shape or size of just a few feathers. 

The early view that hummingbird feeders left hanging in the fall deter Ruby-throateds from migrating is false.  These tiny marvels begin to head south as early as late July due to hormonal changes when the days begin to shorten.  Food supply nor the weather has any effect on their behavior. Therefore feeders left up can only help late migrants or supplement the diet of winter visitors.  Although hummingbirds in general eat mainly small insects, nectar is a significant component of their diet year round.

“If you see or hear about a hummingbird anywhere in the greater Charlotte area between November 1 and March 15.  Please use the contact form to reach the state’s hummingbird researcher, Susan Campbell. Susan is an affiliate with the Museum of Natural Sciences who is studying and documenting these individuals. “

No special care is required for these hardy winter hummingbirds.  The birds will appreciate a feeder with the usual 4:1 (water: sugar) nectar solution.  The solution will not freeze unless the air temperature around the feeder drops below 27 degrees F.  Most days during the winter this will not be a problem.  And on colder nights, the feeder can be taken indoors at dark since hummers do not feed at night.  Due to slower fermentation rates during cooler weather, the feeder should only need cleaning and refilling about once every two weeks.

If you live within a half mile of a wet area (lake, river, stream, pond or even a golf course water hazard), your chances of attracting a winter hummer are quite good.  Just be sure your feeder is hung so that you can monitor it easily—especially early in the day when hummingbirds are most active.

For more information go to www.naturalsciences.org