I have received a number of emails from Monroe Countians wanting to know why they are not seeing many hummingbirds. The current hummingbird drought follows on the heels of March and April when hummers were also scarce. This has caused people to wonder whether something has happened to our beloved hummingbirds.
Ever since I began watching hummingbirds decades ago, I have noticed that hummingbirds seemingly disappear from our backyards in May. Based on my experience, I have concluded there are four main reasons for hummingbirds being largely no-shows this month.
First, the spring hummingbird migration is over in Middle Georgia. While the migration is in full swing during the latter half of March into April, literally thousands of hummingbirds pass through Monroe County. How quickly they pass through our neck of the woods is greatly affected by temperatures. When we are experiencing cold weather during these months the birds linger longer before moving on north. During the years when this happens, we get to see larger numbers of hummingbirds over a longer period of time than we do during a warm spring. As we all know, temperatures have been above normal since the first of the year. Consequently, it is logical to assume hummingbirds had no incentive to dally in Monroe County before proceeding north. This led to fewer hummingbirds gathering at our feeders to refuel before resuming their migration.
Therefore, by the end of April the only birds we were likely to see at our feeders were those that were raised locally. The male segment of the population quickly scatters out across the countryside seeking places where they can establish breeding territories that contain an abundance of food and suitable nesting sites. Each territory can vary in size from one to two acres or more. When this happens, you might not see a male at your feeder unless your yard happens to be within one of these breeding territories.
This is why at this time of the year we often see more females at our feeders than males. However, once they begin to fan out across the Monroe County landscape looking for places to nest, you can eventually be left with a single female that is nesting in a breeding territory that includes your yard. If your yard is not part of a breeding territory, it is possible you will not see a hummer until the year’s first nesting effort is over.
To make matters worse, once female hummingbirds begin nesting they have little time to visit our feeders. It seems while she is incubating she will spend upwards of 80 percent of her time perched atop her clutch of two tiny eggs.
On top of that, during the month of May a number of wild nectar plants are beginning to bloom. They and swarms of tiny insects that are hatching out right now provide the birds with an abundance of food.
Unfortunately, one of these plants is the invasive alien Japanese honeysuckle. Locally, when it is in full bloom hummingbirds seem to spend more time feeding on the sugary nectar found at the bottom of their long, white tubular-shaped blossoms than the food we offer them in our feeders.
As you can see, at least four natural occurrences are working against us this month. Therefore, we are forced to resign ourselves that you cannot argue with Mother Nature. However, there is no better time to begin preparing for the upcoming flood of hummingbirds. One of the best ways to do this is by planting a wide variety of hummingbird nectar plants that will provide food for the birds from summer into fall. It has been my experience that the folks that consistently attract the most hummers are those that offer the birds a combination of nectar plants and feeders.
I hope that I have alleviated your fears that the hummingbird population has plummeted. Rest assured the hummingbirds will return.
Terry Johnson is retired Program Manager of the Georgia Nongame-Endangered Wildlife Program. He has written the informative column ‘Monroe Outdoors’ for the Reporter for many years. His book, “A Journey to Discovery,” is available at The Reporter. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.