Column: In the fall, replace your hummingbird feeders with suet feeders
In my column last week, one of the topics discussed was when hummingbird feeders should be taken down in the fall. I was certainly glad this past week that I still had two feeders out, as a rare hummingbird showed up in my yard!
Last Wednesday, as I doing some yard work, I heard the distinctive chattering sounds of a hummingbird. However, it was a different vocalization, not one of the usual hummingbirds that I see in my yard. Upon further investigation, I discovered that a female broad-billed hummingbird was coming to the hummingbird feeder in the backyard.
Wow, this was significant! I made some phone calls, and several individuals from the Prescott Audubon Society chapter came over and photographed my unusual visitor. The Sibley Guide says this is a species found "in riparian woods and low elevation wooded canyons." This does not describe my yard at all-I live off Rosser Street, right in town. This bird was way off course. Range maps in my Sibley Guide shows this species is normally found in extreme southeastern Arizona, in the Huachuca and Chiricahua mountains and in Patagonia.
As of Tuesday, Oct. 20, the broad-billed hummingbird was still in my yard.
I couldn't help but think that if I had taken my feeders down I would have totally missed out on this rare bird. This is the seventh hummingbird species I have had in my yard here in Prescott over the last 24 years. My yard list now includes the following hummingbird species - Anna's, black-chinned, rufous, broad tailed, Costa's, calliope and broad-billed.
When you do take down your hummingbird feeders, may I suggest replacing them with suet feeders? Some folks provide suet in winter, but I feed it year round in my yard. In fact, I keep four suet feeders going-two are in juniper trees, one in a pinyon pine and another in a choke cherry.
A variety of bird species love suet, from giant northern flickers to small insect-eating birds such as bushtits, yellow-rumped warblers and ruby-crowned kinglets. It is important to point out, however, that suet does not work in all habitats; it works best in areas that are at least partially forested. Generally speaking, insect-eating birds (suet-eating birds) spend most of the day foraging in trees and shrubs. If you don't have a lot of trees on your property, then suet might not work well where you live.
There are many different kinds of suet. You may wonder which ones are the best, as not all suet is the same. Some brands use a lot of filler ingredients which makes the suet inexpensive, and nutritionally it does not provide a lot of benefit for wild birds.
When you read the label on suet cakes, the first ingredient should always be rendered beef suet (fat). Never buy suet cakes that substitute beef suet with vegetable oil. Also, stay away from suet cakes with milk. Birds are not mammals and do not need milk in their diet. The old adage, "you get what you pay for," is true, even with wild bird supplies. When you buy quality, you need to be prepared to pay a little bit more.
There are many different kinds of suet cakes such as raisins and nuts, fruit, nut and berry, insect, blueberry, sunflower heart and peanut butter. Read the label and see what you are feeding your birds. The benefit of feeding suet is that you attract a wider variety of birds to your yard - primarily non seed-eating varieties. Try it and you will have more bird activity in your yard this winter.
Until next week, Happy Birding!
Eric Moore is the owner of Jay's Bird Barn with two locations in northern Arizona - 1046 Willow Creek Road in Prescott, and 2360 State Highway 89A in Sedona. Eric has been an avid birder for 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.