September 11, 2013 —
While autumn brings a welcome array of rich colors to the region as the light sharpens and foliage begins to change, it also signals the departure of the brilliant green ruby-throated hummingbirds that enhance our lives throughout spring and summer.
By early fall, hummingbirds begin their long journey south, bound for Central America. Many will cross the Gulf of Mexico in a single flight. Males may begin migration by early August, with females lingering into mid-September.
At this time, a popular myth surfaces—that if feeders are left out too long, then hummingbirds won’t migrate. Disputed by avian experts from Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (CLO), feeding is encouraged throughout the migration period and for several weeks after the last hummer has been sighted.
According to the CLO, various factors trigger migration, but the most significant one is day length. As the days shorten, hummingbirds move on, regardless of whether there are still feeders available. One good practice to begin this year is to keep an annual record of the date when the last hummingbird was sighted in fall and also to note when the first one arrives in spring.
Another persistent myth is that food syrup must be red in order to attract hummingbirds. While the birds are indeed drawn to orange and red flowers such as bee balm, heuchera and cardinal flower, most feeders feature red parts that draw their attention. Purchasing mixes that contain red dye, or adding food coloring to your own water/sugar mixture (one part sugar to four parts water) is unnecessary.
As always, keep feeders scrupulously clean and change the mixture every 2-3 days to avoid harm to hummers from mold and bacteria.