One of the biggest bird-feeding myths is that leaving hummingbird feeders available in fall will stop these tiny birds from migrating. In fact, available feeders can ensure hummingbirds have safe, healthy food sources available for refueling along their journeys so they can migrate successfully.
So when should birders remove hummingbird feeders without risk of depriving birds of essential nectar?
You can leave your hummingbird feeders up as long as hummingbirds are visiting them. And then a week or so longer, just in case a straggler comes through. It's not the lack of food that tells a hummingbird when to go south. It's the bird's internal biological calendar.
Fall migration is underway for the hummingbird. Most North American hummingbird species migrate to Central America or Mexico for the winter; they travel nearly 4,000 miles—a long journey for such a tiny creature.
But if you keep your feeders up, will it interfere with their migration? Will they stick around rather than take the trip nature intended? Hummingbirds migrate according to their internal, circannual rhythms and leaving the feeder up will not deter them from migrating. In fact, sugar-water feeders are important refueling stations for them along the way.
In the Autumn we recommend leaving your feeders up for approximately two (2) weeks after you have seen the last hummingbird. There might be one or a few travelers migrating in need of a stop-over meal.
They might stay for one day or several. Yes, this is a commitment because the nectar needs to be changed every 3 to 5 days even if the feeder has not been visited. In the event that a hungry passerby might stop to feed, we wouldn’t like to sicken the bird.
It should be noted that more and more people are seeing some species of overwintering hummingbirds in southern and northwestern states along with some provinces of Canada.
If you are interested in the possibility of having one stop at your location, don't stop feeding hummingbirds. Keep your feeders up until early November.
These hummingbirds such as the Rufous are more cold tolerant but require a greater commitment from you. If you are surprised with one, you might need to keep your nectar warm for them.