2009-11-05 / Community News

Managing Winter Hummingbirds

Don't take your hummingbird feeders down in October. Many hummers are seeking a winter home in Texas and they might be depending on you to provide them with the groceries needed to survive the winter.

It has been very common for people to take down their feeders after Halloween, or just leave them up as empty holiday ornaments because they thought all hummingbirds had left. They were misguided in believing their feeders could stop the birds from migrating.

Researchers have shown through banding that hummingbirds visiting during the winter do survive and will come back in subse- quent years. Researchers believe a certain percentage of hummingbirds have the wrong map for where their traditional wintering grounds are located and will try to winter in Texas whether there are feeders available or not. Furthermore, research in a rural sub- division near Victoria has shown that at least 9 spe- cies (Allen's, Ana's, Blackchinned, Broad-billed, Broad-tailed, Buff-bellied, Calliope, Ruby-throated, and Rufous), will spend the winter in the area and as many as 160 individual hummingbirds will occur in that subdivision during winter. This is a large number and highly diverse group of hummingbirds that were previously thought to be rare for the area. Management of available habitat and large numbers of hummingbird feeders were the key to attracting and maintaining large numbers of wintering hummingbirds.

Wintering hummingbirds prefer dense thickets covered with vines at the edge of woods in areas that have lots of insects and nectar or sugar water. How can landowners use this information to provide for more hummingbirds wintering in their area?

Wintering hummingbirds are attracted to lots of food in settings where they feel protected from severe weather, predators and other hummingbirds. Hummingbird hosts should focus on increasing the amount of suitable habitat and food offered to the birds. Dense shrubbery and vines are prime habitat. Yaupon, privet, grape and honeysuckle vines, and different species of shrubs are attractive. Provide as many flowering plants suitable for hummers. Some of the preferred fall and winter hummer plants are shrimp, native Turk's-cap, Mexican Turk's-cap, cape honeysuckle, and red sage. Place and maintain hummingbird feeders within this dense shrubbery spaced at about 5 yard intervals. The research area near Victoria manages 75 feeders. This site focuses on placing some feeders in exposed settings and others within the dense bushes. Researchers have found that dominant hummingbirds like Rufous are likely to use the feeders in the open and the more timid hummers like Allen's, Calliope and Black-chinned are more likely to use the feeders within the bushes. Do not place feeders in clusters, as frequently done for migrating Ruby-throats, because this allows for one hummingbird to control use of all of the feeders.

Keep your feeders clean, and inspect them twice a week. Enjoy your winter visitors.

If you wish to contact your local biologist for assistance, see our website: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/wildlifebiologists

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