Bird Watcher's General Store

Where are the Hummingbirds? - 4/30/04


Dear Bird Folks:

I have had my hummingbird and oriole feeders out since the first week in April. It is now the last week of April and I haven't seen either bird. Is there something wrong? Has all of this cold weather been keeping them away? I'm starting to worry.

-Rita, W. Yarmouth

Let Me Guess Rita,

When you are standing on a subway platform, you are the person who keeps leaning forward, twisting their head to one side, looking down the tracks. Perhaps you are hoping that this one gester will somehow make the train arrive sooner. Are you that person? Well, the same thing applies to spring migration. Putting out your hummingbird feeders out weeks earlier, doesn't make them or spring arrive any earlier. Because no matter what we do, spring always arrives here on Cape Cod the same day every year, July 12th.

For backyard feeder watchers, the return of hummingbirds and orioles is one of the most anticipated events of the spring. Which evidently, Rita, seems to be anticipated by some people more than others. The bulk of both the oriole and the hummingbird North American populations winters in Central America. Which means they have a long and dangerous journey to their breeding grounds, which can be thousands of miles away, in our backyards.

Believe me, Rita, these birds want to be back here even more than you want them to be back. You want them back because you enjoy their company and the birds want to be back because there is going to be mating as soon as they arrive. In fact, birds are the ones that invented "spring break". Or maybe it was the bees. No, I'm pretty sure it was the birds. Yup, birds.

But the dangers of migration are many and early arrival can mean big trouble. Harsh weather, lack of available food, and perhaps a permenant spring break, are all possible consequences. That is why, with few exceptions, the arrival of most mirgrants can be predicted within a very few days. Even though we actually did have a few nice days in early April and you had your feeders out, that has absolutely nothing to do with, or effect on, the built-in instinct hummingbirds follow to head back at the right time to avoid any nasty pitfalls of early arrival.

We usually suggest Mother's Day as the day to put out your hummer and oriole feeders, although both birds usually start trickling back sooner, even by the end of April. So don't fret, Rita, the hummers won't forget to come back. Just like the subway train, their return is predictable, however, I think you'll find that the birds smell much better and have a lot less graffiti.

Artwork by Catherine Clark


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