Outdoors

Should you be feeding hummingbirds this winter?

Annabelle, an Anna’s hummingbird, sits in a bush in December outside Jim and Sheryl White’s home.
Annabelle, an Anna’s hummingbird, sits in a bush in December outside Jim and Sheryl White’s home.
WILDLIFE WATCHING — Supposing you could keep it from freezing, would leaving a nectar feeder out in your yard in late fall tempt hummingbirds into staying around when they should head south for winter?
 
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists say most research on whether feeders of any kind keep birds from migrating indicates that the impact is insignificant.
 
It's possible that a few individuals might linger longer, maybe even be stranded in winter conditions when they should be someplace else. The photo above shows an Anna's humming bird hanging around this area in December 2011. But for the most part, birds that migrate seasonally will do so, even if feeders are left out.
 
The agency says biologists agree that a greater long-term impact on bird migration is probably climate change and associated changes in available natural habitat across the landscape. Birds have many triggers that drive them to migrate, not the least of which is changing daylight hours.
 
Biologists also agree that feeders of any kind are not necessary for any birds, they simply make viewing birds easier for us. For most birds, feeders are bonus food troughs but not necessarily food traps.
 
“We need to support natural winter processes,” said WDFW biologist Chris Anderson of Mill Creek, “and that includes shifts in foraging areas for migrating species like hummingbirds. Taking nectar feeders down at this time of year is probably more natural and avoids the potential for keeping birds dependent on them when they should be moving on. Wild birds are not pets that need to be taken care of through feeding. But if you want to maintain feeders, be responsible and committed to it. Keep those feeders clean, filled, and heated with lights if necessary.”



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Rich Landers

Rich Landers’ Outdoors blog


Rich Landers writes and photographs stories for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including a Sunday feature section and a Thursday column. He also writes the Outdoors Blog.


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