Hang feeder now to welcome hummingbirds to Western New York

rubythroated hummingbird from Donna Brok in Niagara Falls NY
Photo by Donna Brok.

Hummingbirds will be arriving soon in Western New York. Get ready for them by hanging your hummingbird feeder now.

“It may still be a bit early, but you really want the feeder up ahead of their arrival so that they find a food source as they are coming through,” said Penny Durnin of North Tonawanda, moderator of the Hummingbird Forum. “There will be very few natural resources available to them for a while.”

If you want to track the hummingbirds’ progress as they make their way north, check out the map of first sitings at the Hummingbird Forum.

To fill your feeder, don’t use commercial mixes, red food coloring or any other additive, Durnin said. She encountered people who were recommending adding 7Up to the hummingbird feeder, but that could actually kill the birds because they have no way to expel the carbonated gas, she said.

The best mix is the one closest to natural plant nectar: plain granulated white sugar and water, she said. Mix one part sugar with three or four parts water.  Either ratio is in line with the natural percentage of sugar found in the flowers they use.

“I personally use the 1:3 ratio because it provides a little more energy and the hummingbirds can go just a little bit longer without food if they are still in migration mode,” Durnin said.

Having a feeder makes it easier to take photos of hummingbirds. Get other tips on photographing hummingbirds at Garden Walk, Garden Talk, a blog by Donna Brok of Niagara Falls.

41 Comments on “Hang feeder now to welcome hummingbirds to Western New York

  1. Are the hummingbirds coming early this year? Thought they came in May first? After I read your post tho, I am going to put my feeders up tomorrow, thank’s for the hint

  2. Thank you Connie. Did you know those images were taken with the lens you now own? Ask about how to keep ants out of the hummingbird feeders. I don’t hang mine in summer for this reason.

  3. Donna, I love that lens and got a few good photos of birds. I look forward to trying it out on hummingbirds and butterflies, as well as flowers and gardens. I’ll see if Penny can respond to your question about ants.

  4. Donna the best way to deter ants from nectar feeders is with an ant moat. They can be purchased at many stores that sell feeders or you can make your own. They are small cup like containers that hang above the feeder and are filled with plain tap water. The ants don’t like the water so they will not cross it. An added advantage to an ant moat is that it will attract smaller birds like chickadees, that like to drink out of them. Here is a link to a site that shows several different styles: http://www.bird-house-bath.com/hummingbird-feeder-moats-guards.html I make most of my moats because I hang so many feeders and I use the caps from large detergent bottles or fabric softener bottles.

  5. Dee,
    Chances are that they hummers will return close to the same time as they did the previous year but it is suggested to have a feeder up at least 2 weeks before you expect yours to return. The reason being that there are usually migrants already moving north and may even pass through your yard on the way to their breeding grounds. Having a feeder already available will help provide them with the necessary boost to make that last leg of their 2000 plus mile journey. Also if the feeder is already in place and your hummer does arrive early due to a change in wind speed and direction and they find a nectar source they will stay put rather than moving on to look for a nectar source. I was in Honduras last month at the peak of the migration from Central America so I didnb’t get to see many hummers but it just blew my mind to think of those tiny birds traveling from Central America over the huge Yucatan Peninsula to reach the Gulf Coast and then push northward as far as Newfoundland just to breed and raise their young. Having an early feeder or two just in case will certainly help these little daredevils of nature especially here in the northern half of the country when their is very little in bloom.

  6. One more point that I would like to mention is that once the temps get into the high 70’s or low 80’s any nectar left in your feeder after two or three days should be dumped and the feeder cleaned and refilled with fresh nectar. Nectar ferments quickly and black sooty mold can form in the feeder making the birds sick if they do drink it. I use lots of small 3 or 4 ounc feeders early in the season or use larger feeders that I only put 4 ounces of nectar in. In this way I am not throwing out a lot of sugar water. I usually make my nectar at night when I am cleaning up the dinner dishes and refrigerate it until I am ready to clean and refill my feeders in the morning. Nectar can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks if necessary. Also, making your own sugar water nectar is much more cost effective than buying the commercially made mix. A 5lb. bag of sugar can make many gallons of nectar.

  7. You’re welcome Connie. For what it is worth there is a confirmed report in Poland OH which is only about 200 miles southwest of Buffalo so they are moving in our direction now.

  8. I just thought I would let you know that the first confirmed sighting for western NY was reported in Holley, NY, Orleans County on April 22, 2013.

  9. I plan on now using your natural white sugar and water for my humming bird feeders now, but I am curious why when you purchase it threw the stores it’s always red?? I thought that was part of what attracted them to the feeder. Can you please clear this up for me. Thanks.

  10. Using the red dye in commercial nectar mixes is a marketing ploy to make the consumer think this is the only thing hummingbirds will use and this becomes a constant source of sales for them. A person may buy one or two feeders that will last for years but then they will buy the liquid nectar or the powdered mix all season and every season thereafter. This is where the companies like Perky Pet, First Nature, or Opus really make their money. Commercial mixes are mainly made up of sugar, water and red dye #40 which is derived from coal tar and banned from being used in food products in many countries but not in the US.
    It is true that hummingbirds do recognize the color red but there is usually plenty of red on the feeder itself. Natural plant nectar is completely clear. Another reason not to use the red commercial nectar is because in extremely hot and dry conditions Honey bees will access feeders. Bee keepers have discovered that bees that got nectar from feeders with the red dye had honeycombs full of red honey and it is not able to be used and has to be destroyed which drives up the price of raw honey. Using the red nectar has a trickle down effect that eventually reaches our food prices too. There could also be a link to the red dyed nectar that honeybees are getting from feeders and the colony collapse disorder but that hasn’t been proven.

  11. Thank you for your quick response and clearing up the facts for me. I would also like to take this opportunity to correct my grammar – lol – I meant to use “through” rather than “threw”. Face red here!

  12. If you want to learn more about Hummingbirds or providing the best nectar plants for them and where to find these plants feel free to click on my name which will take you directly to our Hummingbird Forum where you can learn about the best nectar plants, see some incredible photos by our members and get questions answered by people who have been studying hummingbirds for years.

  13. I think I get tiny dark spiders, they march up my Shepard’s hook in a non-stop parade and right to the hummingbird feeder, or are these just a different ant (and my eyes are failing me??) How do you stop these? And how do you make the home-made moats? And what about hornets and yellow jackets constantly hogging the feeder?

  14. Laurie
    Those are very good questions that we all deal with if we use feeders. I really don’t think you are seeing spiders on the shepherds hook but ants will most defintiely march in a line to get to that feeder. I will post the directions for making an ant moat in a separate post. Whatever you do, do not use any kind of oil or petroleum jelly on or near the feeder to keep insects away because it could come in contact with the birds and harm them.
    Yellow Jackets can be a problem later in the season. They usually won’t bother the feeders early in the season as they are searching for protein but later they are looking for the sweet stuff. I use two methods of keeping them away from my feeders as much as I can. Method #1 is to hang yellow jacket traps close to the feeder and as the yellow jackets find the trap you can move it further away. I pour a small amount of the old nectar that I am going to dump out of my hummer feeders into the trap as an attractent. The second method is to use a shallow bowl with nectar again close to the feeder. The yellow jackets will gorge themselves and drown in the bowl. A tiny drop of dish soap mixed in with the nectar in the bowl insures that they won’t fly off.

  15. Below is the link to the design for making your own ant moat. Each piece is labeled so you can see exactly what you need to use. You can adapt the design to meet your individual needs. It is fun to watch the ants when you first add a moat because they will march right up to the moat and then stop dead in their tracks and turn right around and go back the way they came from. You do have to make sure to keep the water level up (small birds like chickadees like to drink the water). Here is the link to the labeled design drawing http://www.network54.com/Forum/439743/thread/1147823739/Want+to+build+your+own+ant+moat-

  16. We live in Clyde NY and have had the feeders up for 3-4 weeks and have not seen any hummingbirds this year. We’ve always had them, and I’m missing them this year

  17. Hi! Wondering would it be good to use the 3:1 ratio now, then the 4:1 during bloom time. Although live in the alleghany mountains area not really a big bloom time.
    Thanks for your help and this great website.

  18. Laurie talked about methods to deter yellow jackets. One was to put a shallow dish near hummingbird feeder with nectar and a drop of dishwashing detergent in it. Isn’t there a risk that the hummingbirds will drink this?

  19. Jean, the hummers will not bother the shallow bowl with nectar that has a drop or two of dish soap in it. It will jenerally draw yellow jackets if they are in the immediate area right away so if a hummer does come to check it out they will stay away because of the yellow jackets.

  20. Cheryl,
    Yes you can safely use the 3:1 ratio. I usually use 3:1 in spring when they first arrive and there is little available in the way of natural blooms. When the temps heat up and there are more plants available I switch to 4:1 but you can safely stay with 3:1 all season if you prefer.

  21. Sorry I am late responding to your readers questions Connie. I had heart surgery and have been way behind reading emails etc.

    My first adult male Hummer arrived on Mothers’ Day this year. Still no adult females yet but it is still early and the females usually arrive a week or two after the males. Not much in bloom yet but my dwarf Red Buckeye tree is getting close to exploding and all of my native Eastern Columbine burst into bloom yesterday as well as several of my Heuchera. Those along with the feeders will help until the native honeysuckles and salvias take over.

  22. Penny, it’s great to hear from you. Thank you so much for all the great information! I’m so sorry to hear about your health issues. I hope you’re feeling better. Thanks for helping out our readers.

  23. Hello Connie
    When it comes to hummers I am more than happy to help when I can and if I don’t know the answer, I will find someone who does.
    I saw my second hummer this morning. Again, I couldn’t get a close enough look but I think it may have been an adult female.

    I just came back from the N. Tonawanda Farmers’ Market at Robinson and Payne ave. One of the flower and veggie stands had the most beautiful Salvia guaranitica Black and Blue plants that I have seen in a long time and they were only $3.50. This plant has been a staple in my hummingbird garden for more than 10 years. It is only hardy to zone 7 but it is well worth including in your garden as hummers love it. I currently have 4 new plants and at least one that has come back from last year. The New World Salvias are a wonderful addition because many are drought tolerant and don’t need much care once planted and once they start to bloom they will bloom until a killing frost takes them out. Their main requirement is well draining soil so I amend my planting areas with pea gravel and a sandy soil mix. I will post a list of good hummer plants in a separate post.

  24. The following is just a partial list of nectar plants for Hummingbird gardens.
    1.Salvia g. Black & Blue (as previously mentioned) (hardy to zone 7 -6?)
    2. Salvia coccinea ‘Lady in Red’ (annual)
    3. Salvia coccinea ‘Coral Nymph’ (annual)
    4. Salvia coccinea ‘Forest Fire’ (annual)
    5. Salvia greggii ‘Cherry Chief’ (reliably hardy to zone 7)
    6. Salvia greggii ‘Furmann’s Red’ (reliably hardy to zone 7)
    7. salvia microphylla wild watermelon (reliably hardy to zone 7)
    8. Cuphea ignea ‘David Verity’ (can overwinter or do cuttings zone 9 hardy)
    9. Cuphea micropetala (Giant cigar) (overwinter or do cuttings z. 9 hardy)
    10.Russelia equisetformis Coral Fountain plant) (overwinters inside easily)
    11.Agastache Rupestris (hardy to zone 5 in well drained soil.
    12.Monarda ‘Jacob’s Cline’ (Perennial)
    13.Lobelia cardinalis (Perennial)
    14.Lornicera sempervirens (native honeysuckle) (Perennial vine)
    15.Aquilegia Canadensis (native Columbine) (Perennial)
    16.Penstemon barbatus coccineus (Perennial)

    All the above plants do best in full sun. The Black & Blue and the Salvia coccineas as well as the Jacob’s Cline Monarda and the Columbine will do fine in part sun.

    The Cupheas love water as does the Lobelia cardinalis. All these plants are easy to find online so you can check out their growing requirements and that is why I used the botanical name instead of just the common name as quite a few plants can share the same common name.

    Hope this helps anyone who is looking to start a hummingbird garden or add plants to an existing garden.

  25. Thanks for the tips! It you make larger batches of nectar, so you how long it will last in the frig?

  26. I generally make a quart at a time and I only put 3 or 4 ounces in each feeder. Any nectar left depending on the number of feeders goes into the fridge for the next filling. I usually only make what can be used within a week. Some say it will be safe for 2 weeks but if I am changing the feeders 2 or 3 times a week, I end up using the nectar within the week and it doesn’t take that long to make a new batch.

  27. You’re very welcome Connie.
    For those wondering when they will be arriving in western NY, I can tell you that they are starting to arrive in Ohio. I just notified my daughter that they are in her area of southern Indiana. f you want to keep track of migration here is the link to Lanny Chambers map: http://www.hummingbirds.net/map.html

  28. Penny, are you still moderator of the Hummingbird Forum? I can do a post to let readers know that hummingbirds are on their way. I can link back to the article we did in 2013. I want to make sure your title is still correct.

  29. Thank you for the Hummer info. I would like to be in the loop and start attracting them in my backyard.

  30. We are in East Otto, New York for the summer. Since it is now September 4th, how long would you say the hummingbirds stay around for? We haven’t seen any at our feeder all weekend. Do you think they’ve migrated south already?

  31. I have had hummers into October. In 2005 when we were hit with the October Surprise storm on Columbus week end I had a female show up and she stayed around until Oct. 28th. Adult males are the first to leave usually by late July or early August at the very latest. The adult females will generally leave within a couple of weeks of the males. The last to leave are the newly fledged young.

    Right now I still have at least 4 but possibly more and even though they are hitting the feeders and plants all day they are still spending a lot of time chasing one another rather than putting on fat reserves for their journey so they could be here for a while. Also there are still hummers coming through from Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and the other Canadian provinces. A rule of thumb is to keep at least one feeder up with fresh nectar for at least 2-3 weeks past your last sighting. You can leave a feeder up until you start getting freezing temps.

    In spite what people think, leaving a feeder up will NOT deter hummers from migrating and it will help those who are late migrating for whatever reason.

    As of today (Sept. 5) I have 5 feeders still up with 2/3 cup or 1 cup of nectar in each feeder and they are being drained daily.

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