A few folks have contacted me lately to report less activity at their feeders and to express concerns over what has happened to their regular backyard birds.
This is an annual fall occurrence to a greater or lesser degree for all of us that feed birds. Sometimes referred to as the “fall feeder hiatus,” it's the result of increased availability of natural food sources in fall; fruits/berries, acorns, nuts, seeds, etc. As the season progresses and natural food supplies dwindle, the “regular” birds will return to take advantage of your offerings.
Another concern of a few folks recently has been a number of hymenopterans (bees, wasps, etc.) crowding their hummingbird feeders. First off, if you feed hummingbirds for any length of time, eventually you will have this experience. Whenever you provide food for wildlife, everything that can take advantage of it will do so. There are a few reasonable solutions. One is to remove the feeders for a few days. Remove the food and there's no reason for the insects to hang around. After a few days hang the feeders back up. Another method is to relocate the feeders. Hymenopterans (esp. honeybees and yellow jackets) communicate the precise location of food sources to one another, and by changing the feeder location you can buy a bit of time before the insects re-discover them. Another trick is to alter the sugar concentration used in the feeders from 1 part sugar/4 parts water to 1 part sugar/5 parts water. The lower sugar concentration is less appealing to insects, and the hummingbirds will normally just make more frequent visits to the feeder.
Of last resort is use of a commercially available wasp trap which can be found at most home improvement or big box stores. Prepare it according to included instructions and place in the spot where the feeder is currently located, then move the feeder itself to a new location approx. 10ft. or so away. Never use any pesticide/poison on or around a hummer feeder, or any area where birds are being fed. The use of items such as petroleum jelly on or around a hummer feeder (such as on a hanger or pole) also puts these tiny birds (and other birds) at great risk. If birds happen to ingest it or get it on their feathers, they're doomed. To keep ants from swarming hummingbird feeders there are commercially available “ant moats,” which are small cups that hang between the feeder and its hanger. Once installed, merely fill the moat with water. Ants won't cross the water barrier, and are excluded from the feeder itself.