Thursday, November 19, 2015

Time for Winter Hummingbirds!

It’s the week before Thanksgiving and as winter approaches it is timely to discuss…hummingbirds. You might think hummingbirds would be a more appropriate topic for the early spring, but not necessarily so. The week of Thanksgiving is traditionally when the reports of rufous hummingbirds really start to come in from area feeders.

A few weeks ago I briefly mentioned the movement of some western species of hummingbirds; primarily rufous hummingbirds; into the southeastern United States. Well now is the time to really be aware of their presence.

Any hummingbird still patronizing area feeders after November first needs to be closely scrutinized. Superficially the female and immature male rufous hummers closely resemble the ruby-throated hummingbird females and immatures that were so abundant a couple of months ago. Those birds have moved on. Any remaining hummingbird is almost sure to be a species from the western United States. With a good look a casual observer can tell the difference. Look for a buff wash on the flanks and sides of the rufous hummer. Often there will be an area of dark pigmented feathers in the center of the otherwise pale throat. A good look at the tail, especially when spread, should show some brighter reddish brown color mixed in with the green.

If you still have a hummingbird let me know about it, and try to get a photo of it. If you have taken your feeders down, I recommend mixing some fresh sugar water and putting the feeder back up. If your feeder is still hanging, freshen it up and keep a close eye on it for activity or falling water level.
I already have heard of one bird that is still at a feeder in Union County. There will be more discovered in the coming weeks. I keep track of wintering hummingbirds each year; recording arrival dates, departure dates, and locations. Some years several dozen birds are brought to my attention. If a photo or a report sounds especially intriguing, as if it could represent a really rare species, I may want to come take a look.

The late fall season has already been notable for western species moving into the eastern United States, including North Carolina. There is no reason to think that trend will stop now.  

Note on the female rufous hummingbird below the dark area on the center of the throat and the reddish brown plumage on the sides of the tail and flanks. On females and immature females, the amount of red can be somewhat variable, so look closely.
Rufous Hummingbird by Richard Feudale

The reddish plumage is even more prominent on this immature rufous hummingbird, likely a male. 
Rufous Hummingbird by Will Stuart

The ruby-throated hummingbird female is even drabber. Note the unmarked white throat and no hint of red or brown from the side or back view. Both photos are of the same bird.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird by Phil Fowler

Ruby-throated Hummingbird by Phil Fowler