I sat motionless as the young hummingbirds fluttered around me, excited about the Delphiniums. This photo was taken through the leaves and branches while this young male sampled all of the goodness in our garden. As long as I sat completely still, the juveniles would sit on branches literally inches away. This led me to questions that many people have asked over the last few years. These are the questions all condensed into one: I just saw a hummingbird and I scared it away from my window, flowers, and feeders. Will it return? This may seem like a ridiculous question, but in fact it's a very good one that requires a bit of explanation, especially for those who are new to the hobby of hummingbirding. Many newbies immediately feel they've scared the hummingbird away permanently, and in some locations where hummingbirds aren't very common, some people go into panic mode.
Here are my observations, and I believe these to be very accurate, as I've seen countless hummingbirds in every situation possible. First you have to understand that there are major differences between the juveniles and the adults. With the Northern migrant hummingbirds, when you first see them in Spring, they'll all be adults from the age of six months to approximately 10 years. The Males are looking for territory, and the females following days after will be spotted by those males. Females can be incredibly cautious, and for very good reason. They'll not only be looking out for themself, but for the young in the near future. The Males can be very curious but not foolish.
If an adult male is new to a territory, it'll be far more cautious, and far easier to scare away in its first arrival. Once it's checked out surrounding territory and returned a few times to your feeder, nothing will keep it away. Both adults familiar with your feeders and garden will pick the most opportune time to feed. A male that's been around your garden in past years will show up and act as though it's never left. It felt secure in the past, and security is one key component of Males returning. The adult females, being far more cautious, can spook easily, but also return to their common place if they've been there before. If it's a newly arriving male or female, and you startle it, the male is a bit more likely to return than a female. New birds to a territory are always more cautious because they know the territorial ways of their own kind. This is why a new bird approaches a feeder with extreme caution. This brings me to another question. Should I avoid yard work or mowing the lawn with hummingbirds around? Here's the simplest answer. When you're expecting new birds to show up in your garden, whether in Spring or when the young first start leaving the nest, avoid anything involving noise and frequent movement. I've driven within 6 feet of one of my regular Males, with the lawn tractor, without scaring him from the feeder, and let me tell you it's not a quiet one. It's virtually impossible to get that near a female without her flying off. Young birds can be extremely naive and curious, but they're not typically used to lawnmowers and people in their natural nesting surroundings, therefore may fly off with movement and noise 50ft away or more. In their initial encounter with these unfamiliar noisy objects, you can scare young birds away permanently. However, once they become very familiar with your yard and feeders, they'll typically return repeatedly.
In saying all this, this is how I would act in respect to these circumstances. In Spring when I anticipate their return, I mow the lawn and complete all the necessary yard work before they arrive. And for the next 2 to 3 weeks, all of these activities are halted. This means you have to know when the hummingbirds will arrive in your garden, and once you do this for several years you'll be able to narrow down the arrival time to one or two days. Later in the season, when the young birds are about to leave the nest, the yard work is halted again.
Ultimately all of this is done to prevent all new birds to my garden from being scared away before they've learned just how great it's been prepared, just for them.
Author of Jewel of the North. Please post your comments and questions.