hummingbird

Hummingbirds are among the rarest birds we might see in Monroe County during the winter. However, according to a report recently released by the National Audubon Society, our chances of spotting one of these aerial acrobats on a frigid morning from December through February are on the rise.

I saw my first wintering hummingbird in Monroe County in 1989.  This rare winter visitor had taken up residence at the home of Bubba and Rosemary Evans in Smarr. In September of 1989, I had written a column in The Reporter urging hummingbird enthusiasts to keep a hummingbird feeder year round. 

Rosemary and Bubba did just that and a few weeks later Rosemary spotted a tiny brownish hummingbird making frequent visits to their feeder. Later, when the bird was captured and banded by pioneer hummingbird banders Bob and Martha Sargent, it was identified to be a rufous hummingbird.

Back then wintering hummers were so rare in Georgia that the Evans’ bird was one of only three reported in Georgia that year.

Since that time, the numbers of wintering hummingbirds reported throughout the country have dramatically increased. This is particularly true in Georgia and the rest of the Southeast.

It has been estimated that some 50-100 hummingbirds are spotted in Georgia each winter. Over the past couple of decades at least one wintering hummingbird has been spotted in Monroe County each year. As many as five hummingbirds have been seen in a winter.  However, some years none are reported.

The National Audubon Society is basing its claim on data collected by volunteers participating in the Annual Christmas Bird Count. These data suggest that while the total numbers of birds seen in the winter in North America are trending upward, hummingbirds are appearing places where they have never been seen before.

 In recent years, wintering hummingbirds have been reported up and down the Atlantic Coast from Florida northward to South Carolina and as far north as North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

In Georgia and the rest of the Southeast the hummingbird that most often winters here is the rufous hummingbird. It is also the only western hummingbird that has been documented as making its winter home in Monroe County. This hummingbird nests from southeastern Alaska to northern California.Typically it winters in Mexico; however, for decades these migrants have been regularly wintering in the Southeast.

One surprising finding is that ruby-throated hummingbirds are also more frequently wintering in the sunny South.  I banded one rubythroat that took up residence one winter in the yard at Nongame Wildlife Conservation Section office on the Rum Creek Wildlife Management Area. That being said, the vast majority of wintering rubythroats pop up along the Georgia Coast and Southwest Georgia.

Hummingbirds are nowhere near as abundant here in the winter as summer. However, more different species of hummingbirds can be seen in the Peach State in winter than summer.  Some of the other hummingbirds known to winter in Georgia include the black-chinned, Rivoli’s, Anna’s, calliope, and Allen’s.

There are probably a number of reasons why hummingbirds are wintering more frequently in North America. Some suggest it is because each year more people are maintaining hummingbird feeders in the winter than ever before. Some say it is because winters have become milder throughout the Southeastern United States.  Another theory attributes the upward trend to an increased abundance of late-blooming nectar plants.

One thing is for certain, if you want to have a chance to see a wintering hummingbird in your yard this year, you must provide the birds with food.  The best way to do that is to hang up at least one hummingbird feeder this winter.

If you do so, I recommend that that you only partially fill it with nectar. Also, if you want to prevent the feeder from cracking on a cold winter night, bring it in when the temperature is below freezing. If you fill your feeder with a sugar solution consisting of four parts water to one part sugar, the nectar will normally not freeze until the thermometer drops to 25˚F or below.

In case you don’t want to go to the bother of maintaining a feeder until spring, keep a watchful eye on any active yellow-bellied sapsucker holes you find chiseled into your backyard hardwood trees.  Hummingbirds will drink the sugary sap that wells up in the tiny holes.

Who knows? This might be the year you add another species to the list of hummingbirds that are known to winter in Monroe County.

 

Terry Johnson is retired Program Manager of the Georgia Nongame-Endangered Wildlife Program. He has written the informative column ‘Monroe Outdoors’ for the Reporter for many years. His book, “A Journey to Discovery,” is available at The Reporter. Email him at tjwoodduck@bellsouth.net.