“How Long Should I Keep My Hummingbird Feeders Up?” – Answers To All Your Fall Hummingbird Questions

Watching hummingbirds zip around a garden or gracefully sip from a hanging feeder are enduring pleasures of a Maine summer. But as the seasons change the hummingbirds leave Maine, flying south to look for warmer temperatures and blooming flowers.

So there’s no reason to keep your hummingbird feeders up in the fall, right?

No! Keep them up! It sounds crazy, but you should keep your hummingbird feeders up and filled for as long as you can, up until just before they freeze.

The reason why is because you could hit the lottery. Not a financial lottery (sorry), but a bird lottery: you might get a visit from a very rare species of hummingbird.

There’s only one species of hummingbird regularly found in Maine in the summer: the Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris), which arrives at the end of April and has pretty much completely migrated south by the first week in October. Though Maine has only one species, there are more than a dozen other hummingbird species found in the American West and Southwest, and many more in Mexico. Those species sometimes accidentally migrate east instead of south, and show up in the fall and winter looking for something to eat.

For example, the tiny Calliope Hummingbird is typically found throughout the Rocky Mountains, but one was seen on Monhegan Island in October 2005. A lovely western species called the Rufous Hummingbird has been seen several times in Maine, including this bird in Biddeford Pool in late October 2012. The craziest Maine hummingbird record has got to be a Mexican Violetear, a bird that usually lives no further north than Guadalajara, but was seen in Bar Harbor in August 2007. Other species — including Allen’s Hummingbird, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Anna’s Hummingbird — have all been seen in nearby states in the winter and are possible here.

So keep your feeders up in case one of these western birds visits your yard and needs a drink. If you’re one of the lucky ones, please let us know!

Here are some answers to other common fall hummingbird questions:

Does Leaving Feeders Up Prevent Hummingbirds From Migrating?

No. If anything, it probably helps. More important than food in hummingbird migration timing is the change in photoperiod. As days get shorter, hummingbirds are ‘cued’ that it is time to migrate south. Food is too variable a migratory prompt for hummingbirds, but they need an abundance of it to bulk up before making their long journeys. By putting feeders up late in the fall, you could be giving these late or vagrant hummingbirds a boost of food that they need before they can make the next jump in their migration.

What Should I Feed Them?

Use a mixture of four parts water to one part plain white sugar. That’s all you need. Don’t use honey or other types of sugar. Don’t use red dye or other commercial mixes. Just plain ol’ water and sugar.

How Do I Keep My Feeders Up When It’s Cold?

You don’t want the sugar water to freeze, and you don’t want to it get really cold either, which could harm the little birds. When the temperature looks like it’ll start dipping below freezing at night, bring your feeders inside and re-hang them early in the morning. Hanging a light bulb or other minor heat source near the feeder will also do the trick.

What Do I Do If I See A Hummingbird In Maine In October?

We want to know! Any hummingbird seen in Maine after October 15 should be reported to naturalist@maineaudubon.org so we can make sure the bird is properly identified and recorded. Good luck!