For Release August 6, 2002

Drought May Be Good For Hummingbird Feeder Watchers

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

I have been amazed by the large increase, in recent years, in the number of people who are feeding hummingbirds. I can tell by the number of calls that I receive from homeowners and the number of hummingbird feeders that I see being sold in stores, that this is an activity that is attracting more and more people every year!

I always try to find a silver lining in every situation. While the drought that is plaguing Kansas and most of the western United States is causing a lot of problems for ranchers, farmers and homeowners, it may also bring a noticeable increase in the number of hummingbirds visiting Kansas the next two months.

South bound hummingbird migration started about the middle of July and will peak in late August or early September. Unlike the spring, when the birds are on a mission to get to their breeding area, the fall migration is much more leisurely and wandering. The Rocky Mountains are the typical home and migration route for many species of "hummers" that we seldom see in eastern Kansas. ,But the drought in the mountains, plus the many wildfires, has greatly reduced the hummingbirds normal food supplies. When that happens, hummingbirds start to wander away from their normal range.

Already in western and west central Kansas, good numbers of at least four hummingbird species are being seen at feeders. Locally, many of us are noticing more hummingbirds than normal. So far, all that we've been seeing locally has been the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, but the season is still early and I am hopeful of a western vagrant.

Hummingbird feeders are readily available and fairly inexpensive. You should be able to find one for under ten dollars. You can hang hummingbird feeders almost anywhere and have hummers find them. The more cover you have in your yard, trees, flowers, shrubs, etc., the better luck you will have attracting hummingbirds. Try to locate the feeder in the open, not obscured by hanging branches. Many times you can hang the hummingbird feeder off a deck railing or the overhang of the house.

There is nothing magical about hummingbird nectar. It is nothing but sugar water. You can buy the packaged dry mix and use that according to directions, or you can make your own by mixing one part sugar with four parts water, then bringing this mixture to a boil for about a minute. This helps sterilize it and keeps it from developing bacterial growth as quickly. Let the sugar water cool and then fill the feeder. It isn't necessary to add red food coloring.

In hot weather it is ideal to change the sugar water about every two or three days. So as not to waste a lot of sugar water, I often only fill my feeder one third or one half full. If you find that the hummingbirds are drinking all that in one day, then you may need to fill it fuller. It may be a little more work to fill it every day, but at least you aren't wasting a lot of nectar!

Most of your visitors will probably be our most common hummingbird, the Rubythroated Hummingbird. The adult males are a metallic green and have a dark gorget (throat) that will be a deep ruby red only in bright sunlight. The females and immatures will have a white throat and the same metallic green back and wings. Some young males and adult females may also have very faint lines or red flecks in the throat. Now, if you see a hummer that looks rufous or rusty or has an all red head or seems real small with bright red streaks on the throat, call me!

Leave your feeders up until well into October. You don't need to take them down to encourage the birds to migrate further south. They know when to leave. Feeding hummingbirds can be very enjoyable. Join the fun!


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