Everyone looks forward to receiving their hummingbirds from the previous year, but are you reaching your full potential in hummingbird sightings? People put out feeders according to the times they previously saw hummingbirds, but are they catering to just a select few? To increase your numbers you have to understand there's a greater potential than what many realize. There are 3 significant groups of birds that we have to focus on and not just the few we expect to return from the previous year.
First we have to break down the birds into categories. Your "Locals" are Your birds. They are the ones that specifically use your garden or yard as a significant part of their territory and return year after year, knowing that garden belongs to them. They rely on food in your garden, and know that every time they arrive they'll have sufficient amounts of nectar and protein. They depend on you as a main source of food. They will nest relatively close by, and bring the young when mature. These are the birds we highly depend on as our regulars.
Secondly, we have Migrants. Every hummingbird must feed, and feed a lot on its way to its chosen or "yet to be chosen" breeding territory. The further south you live, the greater number of migrants you'll have because every migrating bird has to travel through the southern regions to get to its territory somewhere north of that. The further north you are, the less migrants you'll attract, as some people will live at the furthest north part of the hummingbirds' breeding territory, with no migrants needing to travel further. Many young males and females from the previous year will go to their previous summer location, but will be forced to find their own territories. This is another group within the migrants that we try to attract.
Thirdly, we get Casuals or Random birds. This is a group of birds that have a already established territories. However, they will always search out regions around their territory for alternate food sources. They won't limit themselves to just one garden, but they will remember every location of significance.
If we put out feeders on the day we normally do earch year, we potentially lose more sightings than what's possible. The hummingbird migration lasts for several weeks, which means many people that cater to their locally arriving birds could lose out on a large number of migrant birds. Many leave a lot earlier than others. Your locals could be days or even weeks behind some that need to get to a region far north of you.
If I could give a few pieces of valuable advice, this would be it.
1. Get your feeders out at least 7-10 days before the normal arriving times of your locals.
2. Create the greatest visibility of feeders and flowers around all sides of your property. No matter where birds are flying, you want them to have clear visibility of food options. Don't just place feeders where you want to see them, place feeders where your greatest potential can be reached.
3. Feeders are valuable! This is not to say flowers are not, but in Spring time when it's entirely adult birds moving north, they know that basically all feeders contain a consistently rich nectar that requires little energy to feed from, but with a huge gain in return. Don't confuse the young birds from the previous year with Spring hummingbirds. Young often times have to figure out what a feeder is before they'll use it, but adult hummingbirds will know their value and rarely refuse one.
I believe that if you apply these tips, you will increase your numbers each year, including building up your local population.
Author of Jewel of the North. Please post your comments and questions.