By Molly Daly

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Now that fall is here, you might think that it’s time to put away the hummingbird feeders. But a lot of birders are keeping the welcome mat out well into the winter.

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Ruby-throated hummingbirds are still heading south, and author and bird researcher Scott Weidensaul says keeping the feeders stocked with fresh nectar will help the birds, not hurt them:

“That’s an old myth that if you leave the feeders up, somehow it’s gonna prevent the hummingbirds from migrating. Migration is the second-strongest instinct in a bird’s life. You couldn’t stop a bird from migrating if you tried.”

Once the ruby-throats have gone, your feeders could attract some Western travelers, which appear to be establishing a new migration pattern.

“Species like rufous hummingbirds coming through from the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, which migrate through this area, primarily in October or November, but as late as December or January,” says Weidensaul.

Then, Weidensaul says, they’ll move south to the Gulf, then back west, and north to their breeding grounds in spring.

When the sun catches the iridescent gorget of a male rufous hummingbird, it glows with red-orange brilliance. (Credit: Scott Weidensaul)

When the sun catches the iridescent gorget of a male rufous hummingbird, it glows with red-orange brilliance. (Credit: Scott Weidensaul)

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As for what to feed your avian guests…

“The only thing you should put in your feeder is four parts water to one part table sugar,” Weidensaul says. “That mimics almost exactly what the birds are getting from flowers.”

Make sure it’s only white sugar. Using any other kind of sugar, honey, or molasses will kill the birds.

Weidensaul says insects make up 60-70% of a hummingbird’s diet, but “the nectar is critical for them. It gives them the carbohydrate boost, the energy boost that they need. But no bird can survive just on nectar,” Weidensaul says.

Even tough little birds can use a boost, so leave those feeders up.

Hear the extended interview with Scott Weidensaul in this CBS Philly podcast (runs 12:16)…

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