Are we negatively affecting hummingbirds with feeders?
This is a moral question that many people ask, not because they necessarily have problems with feeders, but because they sincerely want what's best for hummingbirds.
So here's my take on it. Hummingbirds will find food wherever they can. They are very opportunistic, just like most species. They will find sweet sap in a tree, or sugar from fruit in order to get what they want or need. In both these cases there is no benefit to the tree or the fruit, but it's there as a supply to the hummingbirds. If we place feeders out, it's much the same, other than the fact that feeders are extremely abundant across the country. So, one might ask, "Is it hurting the hummingbirds to feed them home-made nectar, or are we taking them away from the flowers they should be pollinating?" We've got about 70 years of feeding history to tell us that hummingbirds are definitely not being hurt from our feeders, nor are the flowers. We'd probably see some kind of evidence by now, but the population seems to fluctuate like many species, with no signs of suffering. Here's the facts with hummingbirds - They love feeders because they are a quick easy source of nectar, but here's the other fact - they will NEVER pass up on flowers. They were built with the desire for flowers, and even though I've seen my hummingbirds choose territory based on feeders, they notice every bloom of every day, and don't neglect to fulfill their purpose. I believe what we are doing is providing them with a supplement to help them fatten up in locations and times where food may be short, and when they are ready to migrate, they'll have the necessary energy to complete the migration without struggle. They also don't need to expend a lot of energy at the time of year they should be conserving it. Here's another thing - Hummingbirds don't eat until obesity kills them. I doubt very much that hummingbirds get up in the morning and question the size of their hips, and say I think I should lay off the sugar. They consume what they need, depending on the time of year and current situation, and NOT by the supply available. The vitamins or minerals required for hummingbirds to migrate, breed, or raise young, has all been provided for them. They will find what they desire and require in order to survive, from one source or another. They won't over eat because we've provided extra nectar for them. They will, however, eat more during the seasons that it's necessary. Up to this time we haven't needed a support group called Hummingbirds with Obesity, because they consume only what they need. They won't overeat out of boredom, and they won't deny their purpose of pollination.
This young male Ruby-throat's desire for flowers was very clear every time he made a point to hit every Clematis flower before going to the feeder.
Mid August 2018. N.E. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
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