Thoughts on giving a hummingbird out of reach

out-of-range hummingbird

On November 6, 2021, I learned that a female hummingbird belonging to the genus Selasphore — either an Allen or, much more likely, a Rufous — had come to a manger on my block in Duluth, Minnesota. The next morning, a neighbor and I set up our own feeders, and the bird quickly started visiting our yards too. She stayed in the neighborhood through a few snowstorms and a cold spell when temperatures dropped to 11°F, holding it until December 4. No hummingbird banders were available, but photos confirmed she was a rufous hummingbird, a life sentence for many of the dozens of birdwatchers who showed up to see her.

On days with west or northwest winds, it arrived at my feeders, on the east side of my house, half an hour before sunrise, but when the winds were from the east, it arrived much later. . Three different feeding stations gave him options.

At noon, she was spending a lot of time away from all of our feeders. I watched her pick up droplets of oozing sap and dart insects from the tips of white spruce branches. Our block has several native plant gardens, and she would often disappear into my raspberry bushes, interspersed with weedy native plants, or into my dogwood trees and Virginia creeper – plants that harbor many tiny insects. On colder days she stayed closer to the feeders, but even then she took wilder dishes.

The ratio of sugar to water in flower nectar varies between about 1:5 and 1:3. The best diet recipe is a quarter cup of sugar per cup of water. In cold, wet weather during spring migration, I usually bring the sugar up to 1/3 cup, which is the recipe we used in this situation.

A winter hummingbird feels like a gift, but loaded with responsibilities in freezing weather. Every morning, I prepare warm feeders before the first light of day. On the coldest days, I replaced ice feeders with warmer feeders two or three times an hour throughout the day. It is labor intensive, impossible for people working away from home. So many people with out-of-range hummingbirds seek guidance and companionship on social media. Some have invented all sorts of makeshift heaters to keep sugar water thawed. I was thrilled to find a small company, Hummers Heated Delight, that sells heated hummingbird feeders with a 7 watt bulb. Founded in Oregon to help people who overwinter Anna’s hummingbirds, it is now run by the nephew of the original owner in Two Harbors, Minnesota, less than 20 miles from my home! I bought two feeders, which worked perfectly, and now I won’t have to worry about my sugar water freezing overnight during spring migration here in the frozen north.

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On December 4, the hummingbird gnawed all day; the temperature was a mild 41 degrees with strong winds from the southwest. By mid-afternoon the wind had calmed down and veered to the northwest, ideal for a southerly trip. Sure enough, the hummingbird has disappeared.

Next fall, I’ll save my feeders until at least Thanksgiving.

This article appears in Laura’s “Attracting Birds” column in the March/April 2022 issue of BirdWatching magazine.

Listen to Laura’s radio episode about this hummingbird and read the transcript on her blog.