A common question that I get from the eastern region of the US in midsummer is, “Where have my hummingbirds gone?” or “I only have one, did they all die in that recent storm?”

My first question is, “How old is your nectar?

Hummingbird nectar goes bad after two days if it’s in direct sun and five days if it’s in the shade. If they assure me that their nectar is fresh and they are cleaning the feeder out on a regular basis, then it’s usually a territory dispute.

This question usually comes from people living in urban areas and in reference to Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (that’s a male in the above photo). For people who aren’t as involved with their bird watching like I am, huummingbirds seem so cute, it’s easy to imagine them raising cute tiny families in little cabins complete with tiny straws and cups, tiny hats and tiny, little table and chairs and the family all humming along in perfect harmony.

Alas, mating is a down and dirty affair and the female ruby-throat drives off males faster than the crazy girl at a party weeping into her cranberry vodka lamenting how her five cats have given her more satisfying companionship than any male who has dared ever ask her on a date.

Once the female has mated, she will build the nest and raise the chicks on her own. If her territory happens to include a hummingbird feeder, she will stake it out and drive out any other hummingbird that dares to feed from it–male or female. Above is a female chasing a male off of “her feeder.” I used to say they were the Murphy Brown of the bird world, but my husband advises me against using such a dated reference.

Food can be at a premium for hummingbirds, especially in urban areas. Not only do they need nectar rich plants, but hummingbirds eat quite a few tiny insects. Think of all the pesticides that get used in cities and not everyone keeps nectar rich plants in their yards. If a female finds a reliable clean feeder with nectar, she’s going to take it over to keep good food sources while she’s raising her chicks on her own.

There she is, queen of the castle. Once the chicks fledge and hummingbird migration kicks in, the rules seem to relax a bit more and you can get several hummers coming to the feeder from August through October though if you are in an urban area, there may still be some squabbling.

And because it will inevitably asked in the comments at some point:

Hummingbird Nectar Recipe:

4 parts water
1 part sugar

Written by Birdchick
Sharon Stiteler was given a Peterson Field Guide to Birds when she was seven years old and snapped. She loves birds - it’s just the way she’s wired. Since 1997, she has made it her goal to get paid to go birding. She runs the popular birding blog, Birdchick.com, and has been in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and on NBC Nightly News as well as making regular appearances on Twin Cities’ TV and radio stations. She’s a professional speaker and story-teller and her writing can be found in several publications including WildBird Magazine, Outdoor News, and Birding Business. She wrote the books 1001 Secrets Every Birder Should Know, Disapproving Rabbits and City Birds/Country Birds. When she’s not digiscoping, tweeting or banding birds, she’s a part-time park ranger and award-winning beekeeper.