Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can I help?

A: Unfortunately, No. The nature of this project doesn't lend itself to a large group of volunteers. We have a small crew of well trained helpers who do a fabulous job of managing the birds and the banders.

Q: Do you have a Facebook Page?

A: No. Facebook makes it very difficult to manage the location information.  Because the location of the Hummingbird Roundup is private property, we wish to respect the privacy of the property owners. 

Q: Can I visit on another day?

A: No. The property owners are gracious to open their home once a year.  We do not want to abuse their hospitality by inviting ourselves throughout the year.

Q: What species live here?

A: Five species of hummingbirds have been identified at Rudeen Ranch. Calliope hummingbirds are the most common species found there. They prefer higher elevations with mountainous habitat. Broad-Tailed and Black-Chinned Hummingbirds are also seen at the banding. Black-Chinned Hummingbirds are the most common species in the drier Snake River Plain. Rufous hummingbirds are typically seen here on their southern migration in the fall, but are occasionally found at the spring banding. We banded the first two Anna's hummingbirds in 2013!  Several hybrids have also been recorded.

Q: Why band hummingbirds?

A: We are studying the migration routes and distribution of hummingbirds in southern Idaho.  We are also studying the year to year population changes.  We place uniquely numbered bands on the legs of hummingbirds and report this information to the National Bird Banding Laboratory.  We then learn about migration routes if any of these birds are reported somewhere else.  For example, we recaptured a bird originally banded in New Mexico and we had one of our birds reported in Arizona. This project also gives us information about breeding success, lifespan, survival, and site fidelity.

Q: How long do hummingbirds live?

A: About 4 years on average. The record is 12. So far the oldest bird recorded here was 11 years old!

Q: Do hummingbirds migrate on the backs of geese?

A: In a word, no. This is an old myth.  Hummingbirds migrate at different times and using different routes than geese.  Hummingbirds are surprisingly strong fliers and are known to migrate over the Gulf of Mexico from the tip of Florida to the Yucatan peninsula, Mexico (500 miles non-stop).

Q: When should I hang my feeder?

A: Hummingbirds show up in southern Idaho from early to mid-April.

Q: It's winter and I still have hummingbirds. Aren't they supposed to migrate?

A: Go buy a lottery ticket!  You just got lucky! Anna's Hummingbirds are a year-round resident on the Pacific Coast as far north as Victoria, BC.  Anna’s hummingbirds are uncommon in Idaho. They are found in small numbers in the winter (October – February) from Boise to Pocatello, also in Lewiston and Moscow. They are cold hardy at least into the teens (Fahrenheit) and aren't bothered by snow. A spot or flood light will keep a feeder from freezing. 

Q: When should I take my feeder down?

A: Leave your feeder up until you are certain all the hummingbirds in your area have left.  Leaving a feeder left up will NOT prevent them from migrating.  Migration is triggered by a hormone change caused by the changing daylight length.  In this area most people leave their feeders up through September.  Leaving your feeder up through October increases your chances of having an Anna’s hummingbird winter at your house!

Q: How fast do hummingbirds flap their wings?

A: About 55 times per second. Normal flight speed is about 25 MPH.

Q: Do you have plans for a hummer house?

A: Hummingbirds won't use a house. They build a cup shaped nest from spider webs and small bits of fluff such as thistle down. A hummingbird will reuse a nest if she is successful at raising a brood and it stays intact over the winter. Several homeowners have told us about birds using the same nest on their porch year after year.

Q: What should I put in my feeder? Should I add red dye? Should I buy “Nectar”?

A: Fill your feeder with 1 part table sugar and 4 parts water.  You don’t need to boil it.  Adding dye is not necessary and may be unhealthy for the birds.  Likewise purchasing “nectar” from pet shops is unnecessary because hummingbirds get their protein and nutrients from catching bugs.  Flower nectar is 21% sucrose (table sugar).  Never use honey!  Honey can contain fungus and bacteria that will grow when diluted with water and can make hummingbirds very sick. Nectar and sugar water are simply fuel for these little bug catching machines.  Some people also hang banana peels from a wire near their feeder to attract fruit flies, which the hummingbirds will eat.

You may also want to consider planting flowers that attract hummingbirds.  Some local favorites are Honeysuckle, Petunias, Canna Lilies, Trumpet vine, and Butterfly Bush.  Almost any tubular flower will attract hummingbirds.

Q: How often should I change the water in my feeder?

A: If it is cloudy, you should have already changed it.  You should change the water in the feeder every 2 to 3 days if you hang the feeder in a sunny location.  If the feeder stays cool and shady, you might not need to change it for 5 days.  I use the smallest feeder I can so that the birds drink most or all the sugar water before I need to change it. Clean your feeder at least once a month with vinegar or a mild bleach solution. Be sure to rinse it out well.

Q: Can I tell how many hummers I have by the amount of syrup they consume?

A: Not precisely, because you can't know what they're eating elsewhere, but you can make a reasonable estimate. One study suggests 1000 birds per gallon consumed daily. Another method is to count the highest number of birds on your feeders at one time, then multiply by 6. Can you count the birds at the Rudeen Ranch?

Q: Did I see a baby hummingbird?

A: If it had stripes/spots/antennae, it was a hummingbird moth.  The smaller green hummingbirds at your feeder aren't juveniles; they are probably Calliope hummingbirds (the smallest species in North America).  By the time juvenile hummingbirds leave the nest they are as big as, or bigger than, their mother and can only be identified by their bill corrugations (you need a magnifying glass to see the corrugations).

Q: How long before the eggs hatch?

A: Hummingbirds lay 2 jelly bean size eggs which hatch after 2 to 3 weeks. The chicks will leave the nest about 3 weeks later.  The young birds will be as big as or bigger than mom-ma when they leave the nest.

Q: Do hummers reuse nests? If not, I'd like to keep one.

A: Some hens reuse them.  Collecting bird nests and feathers is illegal without a Federal and State permit.

Q: How big are the bands?

A: We make our own bands.  The bands are aluminum and are 2.3 mm wide.  There are 4,500 bands per oz.  The bands are 0.19% of the bird’s weight (about the same as a belt buckle to us).

Q: Where do they go for the winter?

A: Most go anywhere from central Mexico to Central America.  A few of these birds (<1%) go to the Gulf Coast.

Q: Is there camping nearby?

A: Indian Springs Resort is close and Massacre Rocks State Park is also popular.  You can also try Willow Bay Recreation Area.