ruby throated hummingbird

Hummingbird Migration, and Bees

For the next 4 weeks here in mid-TN we will be experiencing peak hummingbird activity at our feeders. Now it is crucial that your nectar is fresh and your feeders are clean for best results. Our summer resident hummers are mostly done nesting and youngsters are coming to and beginning to understand feeders. Just days ago an active nest was observed at Radnor Lake. And already we are probably experiencing hummingbirds that have been north of us beginning to move through TN and visit feeders as well.

If you have given up on hummingbirds because you did not see any activity earlier in the summer it’s time to give your feeder a good cleaning and make some fresh nectar. This is the time that hummingbirds are most interested in your feeders and are packing on as much weight as possible before making their long journey back to Central and South America.

Perhaps the most encountered problem at hummingbird feeders this time of year is bees and wasps. There are a variety of things one can do to alleviate the competition between bees and hummingbirds at feeders. Mind you these strategies are, and should be, passive given the challenges honey bees are faced with now. Killing bees is not what we advocate. So, try any or all of the following tips and we’re pretty sure you will have fair to good results.

  • It’s a fact; bees prefer sweeter nectar than the recommended hummingbird nectar (1 part sugar, 4 parts water). Making it more sugary (1 to 3 ratio) is of no benefit to hummers and may attract more bees. Lure the bees away with a bee feeder. In a shallow container add gravel and a 1 part sugar (white cane sugar) to 2 parts water solution. Fill so that bees can land on the gravel and get the sugar water. Offer this feeder relatively close to where your hummingbird feeders are. This offering should begin to pull the bees away and each day move it a little farther from the hummingbird feeder.

  • If you experience year to year problems with bees you may consider a feeder that does not have yellow decorations (flowers, etc.) It is believed by many that yellow is more of an attractant for bees than for hummingbirds. If you have yellow flowers on your feeder try painting them red with non-toxic paint. I’ve tested this theory at my house and found there is no negligible difference. Bees seem to be just as attracted to feeders with just red. Again, results may vary.

  • Very Important. Keep feeders clean. All too often when consulting with customers about feeding hummingbirds we find many are not cleaning their feeders regularly, nor are they changing nectar as often as they should. In 90 degree heat nectar is only good for about 3 days. Maybe less if the feeder is getting several hours of sun. Consider a shadier location and put only enough nectar in the feeder that the birds can consume in 2 or 3 days. And regular cleaning will reduce trace amounts of nectar that settles around feeding ports that bees are drawn to.

  • If you have a feeder with yellow flowers try applying a little vegetable oil around and on the flower. The bees are not fond of landing on the oil and the hummingbirds do not make contact with them. This is a method I’ve used for many years with decent results.

  • Start over next spring with a bee resistant feeder like one of the Hummzingers by Aspects. Not only are they much easier to clean but they don’t have yellow flowers and by their design more bee resistant. They also have nectar guard tips that can be added for a more bee proof offering. They come in 8, 12, and 16 oz capacities.

Hummingbird action will be fast and furious for the next month, so don’t miss out. Use the proper nectar recipe (no coloring) and remember, there is not a specific time to take down your hummingbird feeders. The presence of feeders will not cause them to stay.

Also Saturday August 24th the Warner park nature center will be having their Hummingbird celebration from 9am - 2:30pm. There will be lectures, bird banding, and activities for all ages. For more information Click Here or visit the nature centers event page on facebook.

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Fall Migration Notes

Fall Migration is underway and while your birdfeeders will slow down as we approach October birdwatching will only get more interesting.  Have your binoculars with you and ready because warblers are pouring through middle Tennessee stopping to feed in the early mornings on insects and berries.  Mornings are the best time to see lots of different species of warblers.  And mornings after a storm tend to be even better.  Make time to visit one of the many great local birdwatching areas this fall to see some of them.  For information about great places to birdwatch click on the links below…

  • Tennessee Birding Trails is a great website for locating trails for specific types of birding.

  • Tennessee Birding Facebook group has an active community of birders who post often.

  • Tennessee Ornithological Society (TOS) Nashville Chapter is having their Radnor Lake Wed morning bird walks September 19th and continue each Wednesday through October 10th. Please meet in the west Parking lot outside the Visitor’s Center at 7:30am. Come rain or shine. With the exception of ongoing downpours or thunderstorms.

  • TN-BIRD email list is a free list that allows you to get updates of bird sighting from other birders in the area. to receive emails simply click on “find and join” at the top right of the tn-bird page, search for list name tn-bird, and follow the instructions on signing up your email.

One of the more interesting, easy, and fun things to see in the fall is the migration of Chimney Swifts and Common Nighthawks. In the evenings, particularly in areas where there is outdoor lighting, like high school football games and shopping malls, Common Nighthawks gather and feed on insects. Downtown areas tend to be very productive areas to see both.

The Common Nighthawk, a member of the Goatsuckers family, measures around 9 1/2 “in length. They are gray-brown with slim, long wings that have a distinctive white bar near the tips. They are most active at night but can be seen midday as well. They fly with long easy strokes but can quickly change direction and appear erratic as they catch flying insects. Male Nighthawks have a white throat and white band across a notched tail. Listen for the unusual “peent” call of the Nighthawk.

The Chimney Swift is a short swallowlike bird with long, slightly curved wings. Peterson’s field guide to Eastern Birds describes it as a “cigar with wings”. Always in motion, Swifts appear to continually fly never landing to rest and constantly “twitter”. They measure about 5 ½” in length and are uniformly grayish to brown. During migration Swifts have been known to roost together by the thousands in a single chimney. On more than a few occasions I have witnessed a “funnel” of swifts descending into the chimney of a downtown building while on my way to a Predators game. It is a fascinating sight.

And About Hummingbirds

We may see Ruby-throated hummingbirds well into October so keep your feeders out with fresh nectar as there may be several waves of hummingbirds still coming through TN on their return to Central and South America. The belief that feeders should be taken down to cause the birds to migrate is incorrect.  They will leave when they are ready whether there is a feeder present or not.  

Hummingbird Happy Hour

The Warner parks have been conducting bird research since the 1930's. Today, Park staff and volunteers conduct extensive banding and bird counts, and take part in Project FeederWatch, a survey of winter bird populations across North America conducted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada.

Join the Warner Park Nature Center for the second annual Hummingbird Happy Hour on Friday, September 7, 2018 from 6:00pm- 9:00pm. Proceeds from ticket and art sales will support the Bird Information, Research and Data (B.I.R.D) programs, keeping these programs free and available for schools, families and Park visitors.

Tickets are available for purchase at the Warner Park Nature Center or online through the Friends of Warner Parks website. Click Here to purchase tickets.

The Hummingbird Wave is Coming

Soon hummingbirds will ramp up their interest in feeders and the action will be fast and furious.  August through mid-September is peak time for us to see hummingbirds at feeders.  Based on frequently asked questions at the store there's a lot of confusion surrounding Ruby-throated hummingbirds and the first few months they are here.  It is true Ruby-throated hummingbirds begin migrating through and into TN as early as mid-March.  This year the first reported sighting by a customer was March 30.  My first sighting was April 6th.  By the way, I've recorded first of spring (FOS) hummingbird sightings for over 20 years and it's always between April 3 and April 12.  And the first has always been an adult male. 

Occasionally we here a customer say "I have all kinds of different hummingbirds" when in fact they really only have one kind, the Ruby-throated hummingbird.  Only the adult male has the bright red throat while both sexes have an iridescent green back.  Adult females and juvenile's look very much alike but will vary somewhat in plumage.    

Although all Tennessee summer resident hummingbirds are here by mid-May, most people will see very little of them, and activity at feeders will be infrequent and minimal until at least early to mid-July when there is a sudden surge.

It is thought by many the reason for this sudden surge is they have just "come back" from where they've been.   Actually, it is that the summer resident hummingbirds have concluded raising one or even two broods of offspring and are ready to begin taking advantage of the free nectar in the feeders you've provided. Also, the added activity is indicative of recently fledged hummingbirds beginning to understand and visit feeders.  Then as we move into August hummingbirds that have been north of us, as far as Canada, will begin their migration south and stop at feeders along the way.  

It must be remembered hummingbirds don't travel all the way from central and south America because there are hummingbird feeders here.  They DO NOT NEED the feeders but will take advantage of them when they are ready.  Hummingbirds have been migrating here for thousands of years to breed and to take advantage of the abundance of insects, which is their primary food source.  They would come here even if hummingbird feeders did not exist.

Since hummingbirds feed on small insects there is an alternative to offering only nectar. Try placing some fruit in a mesh sack or container with holes, and hang it near your hummingbird feeder.  The fruit will draw fruit flies which the hummingbirds will readily devour.  It is quite interesting to see a hummingbird dart its specialized tongue out to snag the flies. Last year we introduced a new feeder called the Humm-Bug that is designed to hold fruit and draw fruit flies.  

Aspects high view Hummingbird feeders are some of our favorite feeders. They are easy to clean, fill, and come with a built in ant moat. The high view refers to the new perch design which is raised up compared to older models. This helps keep the feeder from obscuring the bird while perching.

Hummzinger high view excel holds 16oz and has 6 ports.

Hummzinger high view feeders come in three different sizes. 8oz, 12oz, and 16oz.

Hummzinger high view feeders come in three different sizes. 8oz, 12oz, and 16oz.

Humzinger high view mini holds 8oz and has three ports.

Humzinger high view mini holds 8oz and has three ports.

Humzinger high view holds 12oz and has four ports.

Humzinger high view holds 12oz and has four ports.

Hummingbird Nectar

A question frequently asked at The Wood Thrush Shop is “what nectar is best for hummingbirds”? 

The best nectar you can offer hummingbirds is a simple 1 part sugar to 4 parts water solution.  It is not necessary for the water to be brought to a boil before adding sugar.  The nectar is ready after the sugar has been stirred in and fully dissolved.  Do not add color. Color is absolutely unnecessary and potentially harmful. When hummingbird feeding activity is slow, like it tends to be in early spring to mid-summer, make small amounts and avoid refrigerating large quantities.  Think in terms of making fresh nectar each week in small amounts until feeding activity becomes vigorous, like it does in the latter summer months.  This is when it makes sense to make larger batches and refrigerate extra nectar.  Remember, nectar in the feeder is only good for about 3 days in summer heat.  Fill your feeder according to the activity level and you will waste less nectar and reduce your maintenance on the feeder.  The peak time for hummingbird feeding activity typically starts mid-July and lasts through September, and even into October.

So, if you’ve been disappointed and concerned because you haven’t seen much of hummingbirds now is the time to make sure your feeders are clean and the nectar is fresh.  It’s going to get very busy!

Hummingbird Myths

Hummingbirds have "scouts".  Not really sure how this got started but likely because people would see an early arrival and then other hummers would eventually follow.  There is no way an adult male Ruby-throated hummingbird would actively help or encourage others to share "his" territory.  Everyone sees how territorial they are as they fight for the rights to a feeder.  It is believed an adult male can and will defend a territory of up to an acre.

Hummingbirds and Geese.  I haven't heard this one in a long time so hopefully it has gone away for good.  It was believed by some that hummingbirds would ride on the backs of larger birds, specifically geese, during migration.  This does not occur. 

Feeders must be taken down in the fall.  We still hear this one quite often.  People believe that hummingbirds will not migrate in the fall if feeders are left out.  Not so.  It is in their DNA to migrate.  Again, hummingbirds do not NEED sugar water, so why would an artificial food source keep them here?  If we had to take away all food sources to make them migrate we would also have to eliminate all of the various insects they feed on.  




First annual hummingbird happy hour

Art by Anne Goetze. This and many others will be available during this event! 

Art by Anne Goetze. This and many others will be available during this event! 

The Wood Thrush Shop is proud to be a sponsor of this event put together by Friends of Warner Parks and The Warner park nature center. Come celebrate the first annual Hummingbird Happy Hour. Join us on Thur. Sept 14th from 6-9pm for a beautiful evening in the Warner Parks for cocktails & hors d'oeuvres, hummingbird viewings, a Bird art/photography exhibit by Nathan Collie & Anne Goetze and live music on the patio by local well-known Jazz duet Annie Sellick & Pat Bergeson. Ticket and art sales will support the Bird Information, Research and Data (B.I.R.D) programs, keeping these programs free and available for schools, families and Park visitors.