How Long Should I Leave my Hummingbird Feeders up in the Fall?

Rufous/Allens Hummingbird (c) 2009 Cynthia Allen

Rufous/Allens Hummingbird (c) 2009 Sylvia Armstrong

(Carole’s note: This is a guest post by Pat Sutton. You can learn more about Pat here).

I was recently asked:

“Should we still be feeding the hummingbirds? I wasn’t sure when to discontinue our feeders so the hummingbirds can move on for the winter.”

It’s a good question.

Actually when it’s time to migrate, it’s time to migrate, no matter what: feeders full of fresh solution or gardens full of flowers. Most Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have already migrated south (big numbers moved through late July through early September). They left and my garden was still in full flower. That said, I still maintain a few feeders and keep them 1/2 full (no need to fill them to the top this time of year). I will continue to clean & refill them with fresh solution every week (if the temperatures are cool) or every 3 days (if the temperatures go up & the days are hot) through early December, maybe even later.

Why? Because there may have been a few late Ruby-throated Hummingbird nests and some late youngsters still moving through. Also because NOW is when rarities show up, hummingbirds from the west. Cape May County has documented many Rufous/Allen’s Hummingbirds, like the one found TODAY by Cynthia Allen in her garden in Cape May Court House (Cape May County), NJ (see the photos). The rusty sides are a give-away that it’s NOT a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Rufous/Allens Hummingbird (c) 2009 Cynthia Allen

Rufous/Allens Hummingbird 2 (c) 2009 Sylvia Armstrong

Western hummingbirds that have been documented here (nearly all very late in the fall or early in the winter) include: Black-chinned, Calliope, Allen’s, Rufous, and some that are either Allen’s or Rufous Hummingbird, but can’t be ID’d for sure like the one seen today.

So, YES, keep a feeder or two or three up and see what you attract. The western hummingbirds that appear might be young-of-the-year and not in jazzy, breeding plumage, so look closely at ANY hummingbird that comes to your feeder this time of year and, if it looks a bit different, be sure to report it to the Cape May Bird Observatory or another group of birders near where you live that might be able to positively ID it for you.

Enjoy your late fall garden. Mine is still full of blooming salvias (thanks to Ward Dasey), New England Asters, Seaside Goldenrod, Mistflower, and more.

(Carole’s plug: Pat Sutton is the author, with her husband Clay, of Birds and Birding at Cape May, How to Spot Butterflies, and How to Spot Hawks and Eagles, and have contributed a prodigious number of articles to many publications. They are truly amazing writers and naturalists!)

More about Pat Sutton can be found at the following:

Who are Pat and Clay Sutton?

The Birder’s Guide to Cape May

A visit to Pat Sutton’s Garden

Pat Sutton talks about Butterfly Declines

Ask Carole–Have a burning question about Ecosystem Gardening?  Or habitat gardening for wildlife? Sustainable landscaping? Or attracting more wildlife to your garden? Ask your question here, and I’ll post the answer at Ecosystem Gardening.

© 2009 – 2012, Carole Sevilla Brown. All rights reserved. This article is the property of If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us

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  1. sue rouda says

    I saw a hummer yesterday & quickly refilled the feeder. I have been seeing “odd” hummers and I was told they were just young ruby-throated but I am glad (I think – Is the range expansion a good thing?) I wasn’t making it up.

  2. says

    Thanks for the tips. I had wondered about this very thing. I’ve had to change my solution every 2-3 days, even though the temperatures have been cooler. The mixture starts to turn a bit cloudy. Today I tried using boiled water – I’m hoping that will make it last longer.

    The only disappointment at my feeder is that one male is ruling the roost and buzzing any other hummers which try to sneak in. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for “exotics”. Those little guys, and gals, must be really lost to turn up all the way over on Cape May – maybe they’ll be passing through Kansas on their way to you!

  3. says

    Great post – there have still been ruby-throat hummers moving through New England in the past week too…I always leave a feeder up right into November even though you usually don’t see them here after late September. 7 or 8 years ago, I never got around to taking a feeder down off our sliding door, and we had a rufous hummingbird visit it in late November! In Central Mass. the week of a snowstorm!! It was a vagrant rufous – maybe his internal migration map was skewed, but we couldn’t believe our eyes. He stayed around a day and then disappeared – not sure if he made it through the snowstorm.

  4. Teresa Brown says

    I had an odd hummingbird at my feeder today but he is the only one I’ve seen in two days. There were at least 5 or 6 all summer long but I haven’t seen them since Saturday.


  1. […] 65. How Long Should I Leave my Hummingbird Feeders up in the Fall? I was recently asked: “Should we still be feeding the hummingbirds? I wasn’t sure when to discontinue our feeders so the hummingbirds can move on for the winter.” It’s a good question. Actually when it’s time to migrate, it’s time to migrate, no matter what: feeders full of fresh solution or gardens full of flowers… ~Pat Sutton […]

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