Column: Changing seasons change birds' feeding activity
Fall arrived in dramatic fashion this past week with the last day of summer bringing an incredible deluge, followed by crisp early morning temperatures producing frost at our home. As we transition from one season into another, I am being asked the same question over and over again, "When should I take down my hummingbird feeders?"
With the exception of Anna's hummingbirds, most of our summer and migratory hummingbirds are gone. Anna's are very hardy, they are the last to leave in the fall and the first to come back in the spring. This past January, on New Year's Day, I had a male Anna's bathing in my water feature when it was only 25 degrees outside. Talk about a bird brain.
Anna's usually stay in the area four to six weeks later than other hummingbird species. Personally, I take down my last hummingbird feeder around the end of October. The rule of thumb is to leave one hummingbird feeder up two weeks beyond the last time you see any hummingbird activity. If you haven't seen any hummingbirds at your feeder for two weeks, it is safe to take your feeder down.
Having said that, I want to point out that there are isolated examples of Anna's hummingbirds wintering over. A very small percentage of Anna's (usually males) will sometimes stay here all year. In these situations, the homeowners will leave up one hummingbird feeder all winter long. If you keep a feeder out beyond October, I would recommend bringing it in at night once we start experiencing hard frost.
Leaving your feeder out at night, and allowing it to freeze into a chunk of ice is detrimental to hummers who are so frantic to eat first thing in the morning after enduring a long, cold winter's night. A better idea is to bring the feeder in after dark, and put it out at first light each morning so the sugar water is accessible.
If your hummingbirds leave in the fall (as mine do) and you are saddened by their departure and want to know what you might do to attract other kinds of birds this time of year, I recommend putting up one or more suet feeders.
Suet is a great sup-plemental food source for many of our winter visitors such as yellow-rumped warblers and ruby-crowned kinglets, which will arrive during the month of October. Placement of suet feeders is critical. Suet appeals to insect-eating birds, and since many insect-eating birds glean in foliage for insects, it is best to put suet feeders in trees rather than out in the open.
While some larger birds, like woodpeckers and jays, will use suet feeders out in the open, it has been my experience that most small insect-eating birds prefer the cover and shelter afforded by vegetation.
The more native trees and shrubs you have on your property the better. Depending on where you live, hanging a suet feeder in a piñon, juniper, ponderosa, or scrub oak tree is a great way to bring into your yard a variety of birds such as bushtits, mountain chickadees, bridled and juniper titmice, Bewick's wrens, ladder-backed, acorn, and hairy woodpeckers, as well as northern flickers.
I saw my first white-crowned sparrow of the season this past Tuesday. With the sudden onset of cooler temperatures, it should translate into increased migration activity. I encourage you to check your feeding areas on a regular basis for new arrivals. Happy Birding.
If you have specific questions or issues related to wild birds which you would like discussed in future articles, you can submit them to Jay's Bird Barn, 1046 Willow Creek Road, Suite 105, Prescott, AZ 86301 or log onto www.JaysBirdBarn.com and click on Ask Eric, which will link you with my e-mail address Eric@JaysBirdBarn.com.
Eric M. Moore is the owner of Jay's Bird Barn, a backyard wild bird store located in the Safeway/Kmart shopping center on Willow Creek Road. He has been an avid birder for over 40 years.