If your hummingbirds don’t seem to like new feeders, here’s why – and how to fix it.
You wanted to switch your hummingbirds to a new hummingbird feeder. Should have been easy, right? But, when you put out the new hummingbird feeder, the little buggers ignored it. Or maybe you threw away the old feeder and put out the new feeder to surprise your hummingbirds but they didn’t even give it the time of day. It’s bad enough that they won’t share, now they thumb their noses (quill their beaks?) at your generosity. Don’t take it personally or blame the new feeder. It’s perfectly normal behavior. When you look at it from the hummingbirds’ perspective, it’ll make sense and you can, then, easily switch your hummingbirds to a new hummingbird feeder
Motivation is key to making a switch
It helps to know a few interesting facts about the little sprites. You probably already know that hummingbirds need lots of calories, almost all of the time, to survive. They live on the edge of starvation. So, understandably, they’re motivated by food more than anything else. This strong motivation makes them remember where food is, especially the dependable food sources, because they can’t afford to fly around guessing. Their amazing memories are what helps them stay alive so it makes sense that their habits aren’t easily changed.
What we know so far
Since we’ve been banding hummingbirds for several decades, we’ve learned that migrating hummingbirds return to the same yards, and feeders, every year. They know and remember your feeder and it’s location. This is why so many people tell us that their hummingbirds come to the window when they first arrive in Spring. It’s best for your hummingbirds, however, that you have your feeders out before they arrive. If you happen miss the moment they arrive, there will still be food waiting for them when it’s crucial. There will be more about this in a upcoming blog. Here’s an interesting article about hummingbird banding and how incredibly small those leg bands have to be.
Why don’t they do what we want?
For now we’ll focus on how to switch your hummingbirds to a new hummingbird feeder with a better understanding of their actions, or inactions. Whether they learned it from their mother or figured it out their own, your hummingbirds know that your feeder has food in it. Keep in mind that it’s possibly the only hummingbird feeder they’ve ever used. Then you put out a new feeder. Of course it’s a hummingbird feeder. Isn’t it obvious?? Nope, not to your hummingbirds. YOU know it’s a hummingbird feeder because, for one thing, you read the tag. But your hummingbirds don’t know that it’s anything more than another yard decoration. Maybe you should have left the tag on? So how do you motivate your hummingbirds to try the new feeder? Motivate is the operative word. What motivates them? FOOD. The tried & true “Bait & Switch” technique works because it uses food.
Ye olde BAIT & SWITCH:
Hang your old feeder in it’s original location. BUT… make sure it’s EMPTY. Hang your new feeder next to it, FULL of fresh nectar. If you’re going to switch your hummingbirds to a new hummingbird feeder, it’s important to have that old feeder out there so your hummingbirds won’t fail to stop at your yard because they didn’t see that old, familiar feeder. When they try that old feeder, and find it empty, they’ll predictably start checking around for another food source. This works very well because it’s actually the way they naturally feed from flowers. Each bloom only produces a little nectar each day so, when they finish one bloom, they move to the bloom next to it. When they finish with one plant, they start on the plant next to it.
Position your new feeder next to the old one:
The mistake most people make is leaving nectar in the old feeder. It should be empty.
Most hummingbirds make the switch to a new feeder in a few minutes. Some may take a couple of hours. At most, a couple of days but that’s really unusual. Patience is key. Don’t jump to the conclusion that they don’t ‘like’ your new feeder. They just don’t know it contains food… yet. Remember, if that old feeder has nectar in it, they’ll have no reason to look elsewhere for food.
Different groups of hummingbirds can have different tolerance levels. For instance, some are more accepting of humans nearby while other groups are very shy. Many hummingbirds won’t need the Bait & Switch to try a new feeder. Your hummingbirds are most likely not unusual and will eat out of anything with nectar in it but they still may require the Bait & Switch. It’s interesting that male hummingbirds are usually slower to make the switch than females. Huh.
Unusually stubborn hummingbirds?
You can still easily switch your hummingbirds to a new feeder
The Modified Bait & Switch: Put the old feeder out with a very small amount of nectar in it – just enough to lick off the bottom or keep them for a day or so. Make sure that it’s just a little so it will run out pretty fast. When your hummingbirds dry up the old feeder, they’ll move to the one next to it, as they do with flowers. Most likely, your hummingbirds are not genetic anomalies and will succumb to the Bait & Switch like it was the Borg. This modified Bait & Switch can also be helpful if you’ve got a lot of neighbors, also feeding hummingbirds. No one wants their hummingbirds defecting to the neighbor’s, right?? For some reason, we all want ALL of the neighborhood’s hummingbirds.
For migrating hummingbirds
In the beginning of the season – for migrating hummingbirds – it’s a good idea to just put out your old feeder, filled with nectar until it looks like all of your hummingbirds are back and feeding regularly. Then go ahead with the Bait & Switch. Their migration is very difficult and you’ll want them to have a few days to bulk up. When the early ones arrive, often it’s too early for flowers or bugs so there’s nothing to eat. They’ll really need your feeder to keep from starving.
A word about late, wintry weather: If the weather is not very Spring-like, don’t make the mistake of not putting out a feeder! They’ll need it more than ever in cold/inclement weather. Save the Bait & Switch for better weather. Check out our earlier blog about keeping hummingbird feeders warm and thawed.
Crazy, long tongues are essential
If you’re switching to one of our hummingbird feeders, the raised feeding ports allow only hummingbirds to reach the nectar. So you may see your hummingbirds give the new feeder a quick, cursory try and go back to the old feeder. Don’t fret. They’re simply expecting the nectar to be sitting right at the port opening – just the way those blankety-blank wasps like it. The hummingbirds will quickly learn that they’ll have to use their crazy long tongues to reach the nectar, just like they do with deep, trumpet-shaped flowers. Be patient. They always figure it out. Once they do, you can bet they’ll prefer feeding without fighting wasps. There are three different styles and all of them deter ants and wasps plus they easily wash up in seconds. The Lil Sweety, our Extra Large Hummingbird Feeder, and the beautiful Garden Pole Mounted Hummingbird Feeder.
Many people have thrown out perfectly good feeders…
assuming that their hummingbirds don’t ‘like’ the new feeder they’ve purchased. Hopefully this sheds some light on why hummingbirds do what they do, and don’t do. The person who made this video of hummingbirds, has unfortunately blamed the retailer for her hummingbirds’ natural behavior. This person isn’t alone, they just went a bit more public than most.
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