Feeding Hummingbirds in Winter

by Rausa McManus, EMGV

If you’ve heard that you need to take your hummingbird feeders down in October to let hummingbirds know when to migrate, read further for another viewpoint. The idea that the availability of nectar in man-made feeders will keep hummingbirds from migrating south is a myth.  Birds are genetically programmed to migrate due to their hormones, circannual rhythms, triggered by the length of the days and the changing angle of the sun. Leaving your feeders up with fresh nectar will help the late-migrating stragglers as they travel through North Carolina and also feed some winter-hardy hummingbirds who may live here year-round. 

It can be difficult to identify hummingbirds by sight in the winter.  However, banders have helped confirm the identification of certain species. The most common hummingbird species seen here in the Piedmont is the ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) (left photo). In recent years, however, volunteer banders have recorded rufous (Selasphorus rufus) (right photo), black-chinned (Archiloches alexander), and calliope (Selasphorus calliope) hummingbirds in the Carolinas during winter migration.

In order to keep the nectar edible for these winter feeders, the water to sugar ratio should be 4:1, with no food coloring. The nectar also needs to be changed every three to five days to keep it fresh. At this concentration, the liquid will not freeze unless the temperature gets below 27 degrees. Keeping your feeder full and fresh will help the late-migrators replenish their energy stores so they need to make it to their southern destination. 

There are many researchers interested in collecting data on winter-migrating hummingbirds. If you do see hummers visiting your feeders between November 1 and March 15, make a record of the type and number of the birds you see. The North Carolina Museum of Sciences is studying hummingbirds that overwinter in the Carolinas. They would like to hear from Piedmont residents who spot these little hummers and they encourage you to leave those feeders up through the cold months.

Photo Credits: Ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) by Bill Gordon/Great Backyard Bird Count at audobon.org. Rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) at naturalsciences.org https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Other photos by R. McManus.

Resources and Further Reading

To Do in February

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

It’s February!! Those of us who are die-hard just-can’t-help-ourselves gardeners are

bluebird and box
male eastern bluebird and bluebird box. photo credit: Patricia Pierce on Flickr

nearly beside ourselves—right? I mean, we can do stuff! We can dig in the dirt (well, at least the dirt that isn’t moisture-saturated or frozen)! YEA!! Besides, it is almost March when we really get to do stuff. In addition to breaking out the shovels, rakes and hoes the chem-heads out there can start spraying and fertilizing. So, here goes. A prelude to Spring in the key of D# major.

Lawn Care
Cool season grasses (i.e. fescue and bluegrass) should be fertilized with a slow-release fertilizer following the recommendation of your SOIL TEST.

Late February/early March is the best time to apply a pre-emergent crabgrass preventer. There are several easy to use granular products on the market. Be sure to read and follow the directions on the label for safe and proper handling and application. Calibrate your spreader to ensure accurate application amounts; Too little will not give you effective control and too much may damage the turf.

See Lawn Care above and Planting below.

And so it begins: The vegetable garden. The reason for some gardeners’ existence, for frozen fingers in February, summer sunburn and the endless supply of liniment in the medicine cabinet.

It is time for root vegetables and salad (and beef Bourguignon—which you can’t grow in the garden).  Plants that can go in the ground in February include cabbage, carrots, leaf lettuce, onions, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, spinach and turnips. Work a little fertilizer into the soil that was tested in October (while it was still free to do so) following the recommendations of said SOIL TEST.

Be cognizant of soil moisture levels. It appears that Mother Nature is going to maintain that for now, but she can be really fickle.

If you have been ignoring previous posts, now would be a good time to prune bunch grapes and fruit trees. Also due for judicious trimming are summer flowering shrubs and small trees.  That list includes Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus seriatcus) crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia species), butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), and hydrangeas that bloom on new wood (Hydrangea arborescens & H. paniculata).

While you’re out there, whack back the ornamental grasses, too. The new blades haven’t emerged yet and the plants are looking a bit tired anyway.

Got some overgrown shrubs that you’ve been meaning to (or reluctant to) prune heavily? Go for it now.  I understand that if you’ve never done it before it can be a bit intimidating, trust me. The plant will almost always not only survive, but thrive. I am aware of the never-more-than-a-third rule, but sometimes that is not enough. If it needs to go back to 12”-18” … go for it.  Chances are, you and the plant will be glad you did.

The orchard needs attention. Peaches and nectarines should be sprayed with a fungicide to prevent leaf curl. Spraying a dormant oil on the fruit trees will help control several insects later in the year.

Other fun stuff to do outside in February
– Perennials can be divided if the soil ever gets dry enough.

– Many landscape plants can be propagated via hardwood cuttings this time of the year.  Some of the plants in the category are crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia sps), flowering quince (Chaenomoles sps), junipers (Juniperus sps), spiraea (Spiraea sps) and weigelia (Weigelia sps).

– Bluebirds will be most appreciative of a thorough house cleaning before the spring nesting season. Remove all the old nesting materials and let them start afresh. It’s like clean linens for them.

Oh, yeah. Lest we forget … order flowers or other living things from the plant kingdom for your significant other. Just for the record, guys like flowers and plants, too. Happy Valentine’s Day y’all! Think positive thoughts about an early Spring and no late freezes.


Photo credit
Creative commons, copyright Patricia Pierce,  https://www.flickr.com/photos/47602497@N06/26758856348