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


by Ann Barnes, EMGV

We are having some mixed up weather. Today (1/4/07) I went outside without a jacket and enjoyed the sunshine. A few days ago, we had rain and even some thunder. This weekend’s forecast calls for snow. Have you wondered if thunder can really be used to predict snow, as the “old wives’ tale” suggests? I did, and found this article by local meteorologist Don Schwenneker. Take a look at his article – I was a little surprised at his findings from local data and would love to see a larger study someday.

Even if it doesn’t snow in Durham, we are in for some cold nights at the end of the week. Several forecasts predict lows in the teens. Plan ahead to protect your home, garden, family and pets from the cold and (maybe) snow, and keep an eye on the forecast over the next few days.

If you have a cool season vegetable garden, you will want to protect your leafy greens – even hardier plants like kale and cabbage can be damaged by temperatures in the teens. Floating row covers are a great way to protect plants and can be left in place for days. In the photo below, hoops constructed from flexible plastic tubing hold the row covers away from the plants. Since we have had mild weather recently, covering will trap warmth from the soil, essentially making mini greenhouses. If you don’t have tubing and frost protection fabric, covering plants with blankets, sheets, or towels overnight will provide protection. Anchor your covers with bricks or rocks to keep them secure. A thick layer of dry leaves or straw can also be used to protect low growing plants.

Floating row cover photo: Ann Barnes

If you have landscape plants that are new or are sensitive to very cold temperatures, cover these plants as well. You can use the same protective methods in your landscape as you use in the vegetable garden. Protect plants growing in containers by moving them to a sheltered location such as a garage or porch. If they are too large to move, wrap containers with blankets, bubble wrap, or other insulating material.

Since the threat of wintry weather is a few days away, check your landscape for broken or dead tree branches that could come crashing down when weighted by snow or ice. Safely removing them ahead of time could protect your plants and possibly your property. Plants that are frequently bent or damaged by frozen precipitation can be wrapped to shield them from the weight of snow. See instructions here.

This sky pencil holly has suffered damage from snow and ice in previous years and will be wrapped for protection. Photo: Ann Barnes


Source, with links to more information: https://pender.ces.ncsu.edu/2014/01/protecting-garden-and-landscape-plants-during-cold-weather/


Preparing for Winter Weather

by Ann Barnes

Once again, forecasts of ice and snow have Triangle residents nervous. Once we’ve purchased all the bread and milk in our stores, perhaps we should take a few minutes to prepare our homes and landscapes for the weather.

First, make sure you are prepared for a weather-related emergency. Fill containers or purchase bottled water and make sure you have plenty of non-perishable food that can be eaten without requiring cooking. Locate a manual can opener and flashlights in case the power goes out. Once severe weather arrives, stay off the roads if conditions aren’t favorable for driving.

For more Winter Weather Preparedness tips, follow this link.

Once you are prepared for a few days indoors, you may want to take a look at your landscape. Some plants are more susceptible to breakage when weighted down by ice or snow than others, but a little preparation can help to protect them.

Tall, narrow trees, such as sky pencil holly, arborvitae, and Leyland cypress are prone to damage by winter precipitation. Branches may break or become permanently bent over during a storm. If your narrow conifers aren’t too tall to reach, you can wrap your trees with rope or strips of cloth (even those old pantyhose would work). Smaller trees can be wrapped together (see the first tree below), while tying branches of trees together 2/3 of the way up will help to protect your larger trees (second tree, below). Remember to remove the ties once ice and snow melt.

Graphic: extension.umn.edu
Two ways to protect trees from winter precipitation damage. Image: extension.umn.edu

Trees with dead or damaged branches or those with narrow branch angles (such as Bradford pears) are also more likely to suffer damage when weighted down with ice and snow. Unless you have an arborist on speed dial, there is probably little that can be done to prepare these trees for tomorrow’s storm, but future pruning may be beneficial.

More preparation and pruning tips are covered here and here.

Stay warm! I’m off to wrap my beloved sky pencil holly.