Dealing With Hummingbird Feeder Wars

Immature Ruby-throated Hummingbird on Pineapple Sage

Immature Ruby-throated Hummingbird on Pineapple Sage

The question I get asked the most regarding hummingbirds is “How do I keep the bully hummingbird from dominating my feeder?”   Unfortunately, hummingbirds do not have the “share gene” like we humans are  typically taught by our parents and teachers.  When they find a reliable source of food, they want it and are usually not willing to share with other hummingbirds.

Years ago the theory was to put out more feeders on the other side of your house so the birds couldn’t see each other.  But if you have a square or rectangular-shaped house, that means you probably would only have 4-8 birds fighting over those feeders.  I don’t know about you, but I’m greedy too and I want LOTS of hummers in my yard!

I planted dozens of nectar flowers for them and for many years we saw maybe 10-20 hummingbirds each summer.  When I was doing research for my book, The Wildlife Gardener’s Guide to Hummingbirds & Songbirds From the Tropics, back in 2000, I interviewed about 100 people and asked them questions about their birds.  I used that info in the book to share with others what worked for these folks.

One guy I interviewed was Bob Sargent, a long-time bird bander, founder of the Hummer/Bird Study Group, and author of Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, a Wild Bird Guide published by Stackpole Books.  Bob and his wife, Martha have been studying and banding hummingbirds for many years.  When Richard and I were speakers at the Rockport-Fulton Texas Hummer/Bird Celebration many years ago, we met the Sargents, and have since become good friends.

Bob & Martha Sargent banding hummingbird at Rockport TX Hummer-Bird Celebration

Bob & Martha Sargent banding hummingbird at Rockport TX Hummer-Bird Celebration

Now according to Bob, the way to attract more hummingbirds is to put out more feeders.  And rather than separate them as I used to, he says they should be clustered together.  When the birds all feed in a central area at numerous feeders, a dominant bird cannot hog a feeder.

Bander measuring Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Bander measuring Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Bob and Martha Sargent not only band hummingbirds themselves, but they also train future banders in late summer and fall.  Bob says that at all of their training locations, the hummer hosts maintain as many as 75 feeders in roughly a 30’ x 30’ area.  He suggests clustering feeders in close proximity to each other and using as many feeders as you can afford and maintain.  “Start increasing the numbers of feeders about the 4th of July which is when the first southbound migrants start to arrive in ever increasing numbers.”

Bander putting band on Ruby-throated Hummingbird's leg

Bander putting band on Ruby-throated Hummingbird's leg

He adds that it’s not necessary to completely fill the feeders until you start seeing empty feeders.  “It’s important to not wait until you see more hummers in your yard to begin putting out more feeders.”  He stresses, “The feeding and fighting sounds of many hummers at feeders will attract more and more hummers into your feeding area.”

So a few years ago I decided to take Bob’s advice and every year I’d add 10-12 more feeders.  And you know what?  Bob is absolutely right!  Each year our numbers have increased, and this year we have more hummingbirds than ever.

We now have 12 bottle feeders hanging from hooks under the eaves around our enclosed back porch where Richard and I eat all our meals.  People have asked if birds fly into the windows with feeders so close to the house and it has not been a problem.  We spend time on our gazebo that overlooks our hummingbird gardens and have 24 feeders hanging in the shade there as well.  Another cluster is beneath our redbud tree near the gazebo, and we have others on another deck near our living room.  All are in partially or fully shaded areas because this is what hummers prefer, and it also keeps the nectar from spoiling as quickly as in full sun.  Hang them about head high, if possible, so you don’t need a ladder when refilling. This also keeps predators, such as cats, from having access to hummingbirds on feeders.

Richard on our back porch looking at hummingbird feeders

Richard on our back porch looking at hummingbird feeders

This past week has been amazing with more birds than we’ve ever seen in our yard!  Sunday Richard replaced 6 of the 8-ounce feeders around our back porch with 6 32-ounce ones because we were filling the 8-ouncers every day!  We used to see one bird at a feeder at a time—at least briefly until another one chased it away.  Now it’s common to see 2-3 birds sharing a feeder and that is really really neat to watch!

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Dropmore Scarlet Honeysuckle

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Dropmore Scarlet Honeysuckle

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