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Seeing Very Low Numbers of Birds

September 8 2017 at 2:18 PM

Kathi and Michael Rock  (Login kathirock)
Hummingbird Member 2006

As I have mentioned many times before, we have kept careful written records of our hummingbirds for almost 19 years. We are seeing UNUSUALLY LOW numbers of hummingbirds for early September (the slowest early September we have ever seen, with just an isolated sighting during the day and some sightings at dusk). The weather here has been exceedingly cool and overcast during August and September (40's at night and 60's during the day.) Needless to say, with our garden tour coming up on Sunday, we are panicking and almost considering cancelling the tour.

What are other members in the Upper Midwest currently seeing in terms of numbers? Any information would be helpful so we can explain to people attending the tour on Sunday what might be going on.

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Michael and Kathi Rock
Madison, WI
Zone 5

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Joe M.
(Login flhummer)
Hummingbirder 2012

Re: Seeing Very Low Numbers of Birds

September 8 2017, 3:49 PM 

I have always been puzzled by the number of hummers you folks in the Mid-west have in Sep. but the reports you folks submit always indicate higher numbers than we, in MA, have at the same time in Sep.
Your low numbers this year are probably only a local anomaly this year, nothing to draw any conclusions from.
Your location in Madison is about a degree in Lat. north of Sturbridge (about 60 mi.) so one would think your numbers would be somewhat similar to ours but that has never been the case (you folks always seem to have more passing through). This year we will probably leave 3-4 hummers for the neighbors to feed when we leave on the 11th. We usually leave none or one.
If I were having "garden tours" I would be having them a couple of weeks earlier, if the presence of hummers was an important aspect of the event, Sep. is not a particularly good month to reliably expect hummers to be present just about anywhere in the US. Most have passed through by this time on their fall migration south.
Hopefully you experience a late surge and the garden tour will be a resounding success!

Joe M.
Lakeland, FL

 
 

I love Hummingbirds
(Login nmotz06)
Hummingbird lover 2013

Re: Seeing Very Low Numbers of Birds

September 8 2017, 4:32 PM 

Man that's a total bummer. I remember when I was a kid growing up in Austin, TX it was a crap-shoot what kind of migratory season we would get. Some years my yard was filled with dozens of hummingbirds, other years there were only slightly more birds than during the breeding season. Some years we'd get a few Rufous and Black-chinned hummingbirds and other years none at all. In fact, the years I saw Rufous hummingbirds were years in which the migratory season was generally poor. In all the years I put out feeders in Austin, I only remember 2 being exceptional in terms of overall numbers. Sorry that this is an off year, I hate those too.
Nathan Motz
Deridder, Louisiana

 
 
Dan
(Login hawkeye_wx)
Hummingbird lover 2009

Re: Seeing Very Low Numbers of Birds

September 8 2017, 10:09 PM 

I saw an uptick in activity today. This evening, a couple feeders that have been going unused were occupied simultaneously a few times. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of a trend upward.
East-central Iowa
Zone 5a

 
 

Kathi and Michael Rock
(Login kathirock)
Hummingbird Member 2006

Re: Seeing Very Low Numbers of Birds

September 9 2017, 2:32 AM 

Thank you Nathan and Dan---I appreciate your kind comments and updates.

Joe, I couldn't agree with you more---what gardener in their right mind offers a garden tour in the fall? Of course, for us in terms of just the plants, all of the tender salvias are at their peak bloom and these are plants that most people never see at nurseries or in gardens. Well, we don't set this date based on plants (so many have finished blooming and look awful, such as Monarda or are in great decline, such as Jewelweed), but on our historical (based on almost 20 years of data) peak date for numbers of hummingbirds. A few people who come to our garden tour come to see the plants, or us, but most are coming to see (and many photograph) hummingbirds.

I know that someone like Nancy could explain this in detail, but the Upper Midwest and the East (even areas on the same latitude) are not on the same timeline for hummingbirds. People living in the East generally see their first hummingbird in the spring earlier than someone in the Upper Midwest and then the situation is then reversed in the fall (your peak numbers are earlier than ours). And, keep in mind, it is called "the fall migration", not "the summer migration"---fall does not actually begin until September 22.

I would see no point in hosting a Hummingbird Garden Tour in late July or early August when we are only seeing occasional hummingbirds.

This year we are facing some very unique challenges---week after week of cooler than average temperatures combined with overcast skies (and no rain either) has not helped our garden at all---many salvias and other tropical have still not bloomed (even those that have always bloomed in past seasons)and other plants are either fading earlier than normal or not blooming as well as they should. The worst though is that our number of hummingbirds is extremely low and we have never seen this few hummingbirds on this date in 19 years!

I guess there's always next year. Many people say they would come to our Garden Tour hummers or not, which is very kind, and that's what makes this situation bearable.
Michael and Kathi Rock
Madison, WI
Zone 5

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Pete
(Login Sundodger)
Hummingbirders 2010

Re: Seeing Very Low Numbers of Birds

September 9 2017, 2:54 PM 

Plenty of activity here in Green Bay as of today. A couple of weeks ago it seemed to tail off for about three to four days and then picked back up.

Hope some veer west/south/west for your party on their way south. Also still good activity at my sister's house up near Iron Mountain, MI in the U.P. So there are more coming south at some time.
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Green Bay, WI
Plant Zone 5

 
 
Marilyn Gruber
(Login MarilynGruber)
Hummingbird Lover 2015

Seeing Very Low Number of Birds

September 9 2017, 5:29 PM 

Kathi and Michael,

I am sure your activity will pick up soon!! I am glad for the news others have posted as Green Bay is not so far away and nice to hear Pete and his sister are still seeing lots of activity because I sure never have large numbers. But, I can tell you we have at least a few in our yard yet (most we have ever seen together in our yard is 4 and that was in past years). But, this year, I have four feeders and a camera on two of them. I check the cameras every three days and about a week ago, one caught over 400 photos in the 3 days and one had 239 captures in the same 3 days. Now, I am sorry for it does not tell me if the birds are the same....you know just multiple uses by the same birds? Just today, I cleaned feeders and again check the cameras, 252 for the one camera and 337 for the other camera.....the feeders do not swing and they are clear of other objects that could set them off. I usually find at least 25% of the photos do not have hummingbirds feeding from the feeders but pictures are dated and time recorded too and have multiple visits each day. I hear chatter and see chasing between hummingbirds but that is all I can report to you. I am SURE they are on their way to your beautiful gardens!!

Marilyn
Marilyn Gruber
Wisconsin
Zone 5

 
 
Dan
(Login hawkeye_wx)
Hummingbird lover 2009

Re: Seeing Very Low Numbers of Birds

September 9 2017, 9:54 PM 

This evening was equal to the busiest of the season... although still a couple levels below typical peak action.
East-central Iowa
Zone 5a

 
 
Indy Steve
(Login SteveWnindy)
Hummingbird lover 2007

Re: Seeing Very Low Numbers of Birds

September 10 2017, 1:06 AM 

To the best of my knowledge this evening I had 3 birds and the reason I say this is that I had one hummer at all 3 feeders at the same time, which are on opposite sides of my house, all supposedly immatures.
Steve
Martinsville In.
Zone 6

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Indy Steve
(Login SteveWnindy)
Hummingbird lover 2007

Re: Seeing Very Low Numbers of Birds

September 12 2017, 7:31 PM 

The last 2-3 days not seeing many but what I am seeing is a hummer sitting at the feeder for minutes at a time, not necessarily eating just sitting there biding its time.
Steve
Martinsville In.
Zone 6

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Nancy Newfield
(Login humband1)
Hummingbird Member 2005

Re: Seeing Very Low Numbers of Birds

September 13 2017, 5:41 AM 

Numbers down here seem to be lower than usual for mid September. That said, we generally see migration in waves, so it is possible that our banding days are falling into the troughs rather than at the crests.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Nancy L Newfield
Casa Colibrí
Metairie, LA USA
nancy@casacolibri.net
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Nathan
(Login nmotz06)
Hummingbird lover 2013

Re: Seeing Very Low Numbers of Birds

September 13 2017, 10:42 AM 

Nancy, if I was closer ya'll could come out here and band. Biggest migratory season I've ever personally witnessed. Looked like Rockport, TX in my backyard this morning. For some reason, all I can think is "next year I'll probably have no birds at all." That's how it is sometimes.

It was weird, in California I had wonderful breeding season numbers but absolutely zero migration whatsoever. My black-chins would all just slowly disappear without any real increase in numbers due to migrants passing through. Here it's the other way around, modest breeding season numbers and a HUGE migratory influence.
Nathan Motz
Deridder, Louisiana

 
 
Dan
(Login hawkeye_wx)
Hummingbird lover 2009

Re: Seeing Very Low Numbers of Birds

September 13 2017, 8:43 PM 

I saw ten hummers in my yard this evening, which isn't too bad, although the action is clearly still a couple levels below what I typically see in mid September. The big deal is I did not see a single hummer use one of the backyard feeders all evening. That is unprecedented. Every year, feeder use maxes out from September 10-24. I should be seeing two or even three hummers on a couple of the feeders just before dark. Seeing zero feeder use is very strange.
East-central Iowa
Zone 5a

 
 
Nancy Newfield
(Login humband1)
Hummingbird Member 2005

Re: Seeing Very Low Numbers of Birds

September 13 2017, 11:16 PM 

Today was a really long and productive day. I left home at 0530 to demonstrate banding for a LSU wildlife management class. Normally the drive is about an hour and 15 minutes, but traffic was so heavy that it took almost 2 hours for me to reach the site. The site is one that another bander, Dave, has been working. The yard has very little in the way of enticing shrubbery, but the host hangs 50 or more feeders in September.

The yard was really hopping by the time I arrived and Dave was already hard at work. Since Dave already had traps out and had a number of birds waiting, I just laid out my tray of equipment and got started. In an hour and a half, I banded 15 Ruby-throateds. Most were pretty fat, but a couple carried no fat.

We finished by 0900, when the students had to return to their classes on campus. So, since the day was still pretty young, I wended my way home, stopping to visit at several of my winter sites. Because I had missed most of last winter banding, I wanted to let the hosts know that I am back in business and ready to work hard. Every yard had a lot of action.

My yard was very busy with about a dozen hummers when I arrived home at 1430. Because I have a lot in flower, most birds ignored the feeders. I saw no adult males, one female [age unknown], and the rest were scrappy immature males. I don't have to go anywhere tomorrow, so I will be up and outdoors early to enjoy the show.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Nancy L Newfield
Casa Colibrí
Metairie, LA USA
nancy@casacolibri.net
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Marilyn Gruber
(Login MarilynGruber)
Hummingbird Lover 2015

Seeing Very Low Numbers of Birds

September 14 2017, 2:02 PM 

Nancy,

I am so glad to read your news and to learn you are "back in action"!! Although I know you have been doing some banding in the past it's good to know you seem to be feeling better than last season and able to do more this year. I am happy to learn your area is filled with hummingbirds and hope some may have come from my yard. What a thrill it would be to see a banded hummingbird in my garden! I still see a few in my yard and hear lots of chatter. Last few days have been warm for our area so I hope to see more before season end. Those I see appear to be young females but I really am not sure. Wishing you great success in capturing and banding large numbers of hummingbirds this year.

Take care and try not to do too much,

Marilyn
Marilyn Gruber
Wisconsin
Zone 5

 
 
Dan
(Login hawkeye_wx)
Hummingbird lover 2009

Re: Seeing Very Low Numbers of Birds

September 16 2017, 8:56 AM 

I'm still seeing very little feeder use, but hummer numbers have increased to at least twelve this morning.

If numbers up here are indeed low in general, perhaps some of it could be due to the severe drought affecting the ruby-throated breeding ground across southern Canada and into the northern plains. Drought is quickly expanding around here as well due to an extreme lack of rainfall over the last seven weeks. If I didn't keep my garden watered, it would mostly be dead by now.
East-central Iowa
Zone 5a


    
This message has been edited by hawkeye_wx on Sep 17, 2017 9:13 AM


 
 
Tom
(Login tbyrnes)
Hummingbird Member 2006

Re: Seeing Very Low Numbers of Birds

September 16 2017, 8:59 AM 

Looking forward to hearing about the success of your garden tour, Kathi. I'm sure it will go well, because you will be able to educate those who attend. The more educated people are about caring for hummers the more hummers there will be.
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Kathi and Michael Rock
(Login kathirock)
Hummingbird Member 2006

Re: Seeing Very Low Numbers of Birds

September 17 2017, 3:08 AM 

I want to thank everyone for their insightful and very kind comments and support. Overall, it has been an extremely tough year for us in terms of the weather (torrential rains in late spring and early summer, fall-like weather and overcast skies in August, and now the unrelenting heat and drought---our garden is a dried up mess despite hours of watering every day and every leaf on most trees in the area is now on the ground.) Despite these unusual weather patterns, our hummingbird season began normally enough and then seemed fine through the end of August, but September has been truly dismal and we only see two or three (and sometimes just one) hummingbird when we would normally be seeing 10-12 or even more. The garden is hauntingly quiet, kind of like a party hall set for guests who have sadly not yet arrived. I guess it has been a learning experience and we grow stronger from it. We believe that our well attended garden tours continue to have value despite the lack of hummingbirds and many people have been coming for years and stated that they come and love it hummingbirds or not. This year I definitely realized the value of those long term friendships and partnerships and how they enhance our lives, hummingbirds or not.

Here is what I wrote to a friend who was unable to attend our event:

"The day before the first garden tour I came down with a viral infection and my temperature was 101 degrees and I felt awful. After resting, I was able to pull everything together later that night and the next morning, but we were down to the wire. Many things about the event were not up to my standards---the number of hummingbirds, neatness of the garden, lack of blooming from many plants, and a few other things, but we made it and we had more birds than we thought and a huge crowd of people---because of the really great weather, they came out in huge numbers! It was very gratifying to see people who have come to the event year after year and hear about the impacts we have had in their lives. Despite the lower number of birds, it was all very positive---Mickey banded one bird, a young male (they saw so many flying around, but were unable to catch them for banding), but disseminated a whole lot of information about the banding process and the importance of it and Larry and Emily presented a wonderful class about hummingbirds. Additionally, we had tons of Monarchs and people enjoyed seeing our little "butterfly nursery" in the front (four different chrysalis) on plants. Luckily, I was feeling well enough to carry things off."

Only one bird was banded at the second tour as well. We could have banded two birds, but one flew into our sun room (the very first time we have had a hummingbird in our house!) and the bander's assistants were able to rescue it without injury, but they decided to release the bird without banding since it seemed very stressed.

People continue to love our door prize drawing (feeders, books about hummingbirds including Nancy's "Hummingbird Gardening" and "The Fastest Things on Wings", calendars and other hummingbird-related items. Wildbirds Unlimited donates some, some friends donated a few other things, and we purchase the rest on Amazon---there are many great prices to be had.) Every year we have children attend and we always assign a small child to draw our names. Anyhow, it's a huge hit and we hope it encourages people to apply what they've learned and get into hummingbirds.

I guess, all in all, we did the best we could and the events were successful despite a lack of hummingbirds. I could really see this year in particular that the scope of the event has grown and we've been successful through all of our publicity (and the help of social media!) to bring in many new people and keep the past attendees coming back year after year. We've added the banding and educational session and people really enjoy those.

Thank you again for all of your interest in our Hummingbird Garden Tours!! This Forum inspires us and keeps us going despite our deep disappointment.


Michael and Kathi Rock
Madison, WI
Zone 5

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Marilyn Gruber
(Login MarilynGruber)
Hummingbird Lover 2015

Seeing Very Low Numbers of Birds

September 17 2017, 3:58 PM 

Kathi and Michael,

Although I was not able to attend your hummingbird garden program this year I am sure those who did had a wonderful time. I will admit seeing the number of hummingbirds in your garden is a wonderful experience for those of us (me) who never have more than a few at one time. But the real benefit to those that attend is the knowledge the two of you share. Seeing your gardens, the plants that attract hummingbirds and work for our Wisconsin weather. Different ways and location of feeders (and different styles) and a great hummingbird water feature. Seeing a hummingbird banding station and talking with the hummingbird bander herself. Sharing stories with other people who share the same interest as you. I am sure all these things are appreciated and enjoyed by those who attended. All of us never stop learning and I have learned much while in your garden hummingbirds present or not!

Hope you are feeling better and can relax and enjoy the rest of your summer.

Marilyn
Marilyn Gruber
Wisconsin
Zone 5

 
 
Tom B
(Login tbyrnes)
Hummingbird Member 2006

Re: Seeing Very Low Numbers of Birds

September 18 2017, 9:19 AM 

So glad it turned out well, Kathi. I was thinking of you this weekend and hoping that things turned out okay.

I hope you are feeling better now. Often stress makes us more vulnerable to sickness.

Now that the tours are over you can relax and enjoy the last weeks of hummers.
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