When my wife and I left on vacation July 21, I felt pangs of guilt. I had been hosting a growing number of ruby-throated hummingbirds at my feeders since early May. Young birds had begun using the feeders in early July.
Using the formula that banders recommend, I counted the most hummingbirds I could see at any one moment (12) and multiplied by five. That suggested a total of 60 hummers were visiting my backyard before we left. I made sure the feeders were full that morning, but I know they would be drained by the end of the day. I felt nagging guilt over whether any hummers would still be around when we got home.
We returned about 7:30 p.m. July 28, and I immediately cleaned and refilled the feeders. By 9 p.m. I hadn't seen a single hummer. I feared my hummer summer might be over.
The next morning I took a cup of coffee onto the porch and waited. Cardinals, towhees and Carolina wrens provided background music, and at exactly 7:28 an adult male zipped to one of the feeders.
Satisfied that at least one hummer returned, I went about a variety of chores the rest of the day. During that time I saw a few more birds, but not nearly the numbers that I had seen before our trip.
When I got up Wednesday morning, about 36 hours after our return, the hummingbird activity had picked up. Within just a few minutes, I could count five or six hummers at once. By noon, hummer numbers had returned to nearly what they had been before vacation.
Those results did not surprise me. Hummingbirds are obviously very mobile and easily fly a mile to a reliable food source. In nature, they return to productive nectar patches after depleting them. They know that flowers can replenish nectar supplies in just a day or two, so it seems they treat nectar feeders the same way.
If you're having a good hummingbird year and plan to travel this month, chances are your hummers will return shortly after you do. Just clean and fill the feeders, and give the hummers 24 to 48 hours.
Biologist, author, and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 8-10 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling) and online at www.wvly.net. He can be reached at www.drshalaway.com, email@example.com and 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, W.Va., 26033.