Sunday, October 13, 2013

Hummingbird Migration--Leave a Winter Feeder Out!

Ruby-throated hummingbird migration through Tennessee is winding down.  Most people assume all hummers are gone.  It is true that the majority of migrating hummers are well south of Tennessee now, but there are some late individuals coming through.  
Last night I had two in the evening, one perched next to the pineapple sage, nectaring and resting, nectaring and resting, with no feeder visits.  The second was perched high on a limb and made a brief visit to the flowers before being chased away by the first bird.
This morning I also had two ruby-throats visiting the pineapple sage. Both of these birds also visited the feeders briefly and were seen between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m.  In the days previous, the hummers I have observed have only been nectaring the salvia, both the black and blue variety and the pineapple sage.  
I have had good luck with the pineapple sage I planted this spring and it is blooming profusely right now. The salvia family seems to love the cooler season and the hummingbirds love the salvia. Below, a hummer visiting the pineapple sage yesterday, Oct 12th.
Yesterday, I also went to a presentation given by Mark Armstrong, a Master Bander of hummingbirds and the person in our area to contact when we have a wintering hummingbird. Leaving a feeder out is a good thing to do if you live in the southeast. It is not that the hummingbirds that winter in our area need our feeders, but having a feeder out enables us to see them more readily and learn about these birds.
Above you see an immature Rufous Hummingbird that was captured and banded in January of 2011 in west Knoxville.  This hummingbird returned to the same area and was recaptured in December of 2012 as a healthy mature male.  Below, a slide presented by Mark in his presentation at Wild Birds Unlimited in Knoxville with historical information about wintering Rufous Hummingbirds in the southeast.
Bob Sargent has been banding Rufous hummingbirds in the east since the 1980's and his research suggests that a hardy strain of Rufous Hummingbirds is developing that is genetically programmed to winter in the southeast.
Mark explained that there are always hummingbirds that deviate from the expected migration route but the increase in Rufous hummingbirds doesn't fit with random events.  Hummers will travel to areas where the climate and food is beneficial to their survival and some are clearly drifting east and returning on a regular basis. Mark reported that all of the Rufous Hummingbirds he has banded are healthy, molting and growing new feathers, have a good level of fat, and clearly are fairing very well in the east Tennessee winter climate. These hummers depend on natural sources of nectar, insects, and tree sap to sustain their diet in the winter.
Allen's Hummingbird that wintered in Russellville, TN in 2011 and 2012. Photo credit: Billie Cantwell.

There are several species of hummingbirds that have been recorded in Tennessee in addition to the Rufous: Black-chinned Hummingbird, Allen's Hummingbird, Anna's Hummingbird, Calliope Hummingbird, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, and Green Violetear. Unlike the Rufous, other hummingbirds are rare visitors and are not known to return for consecutive years. There are exceptions, such as the Allen's hummer that returned for a second season last year.  

There are many things that remain unknown about hummingbird migration.  Leaving a feeder out for wintering birds allows us to see the hummer and possibly band it so that biologists can learn more about hummingbird migration patterns, changes in these patterns, and about wintering species in the east.

If you live in the east and have a hummingbird visiting a feeder in your yard after November 15th report your observations. For information about who to contact if you have a wintering hummingbird, click this link.
Incubating female Allen's hummingbird sketched from a live webcam by Vickie Henderson.  The Allen's species breeds in coastal California and traditionally winters in northwest Mexico.

Links and Resources:

Mark Armstrong, Master Bander of hummingbirds and songbirds, Avian Curator at the Knoxville Zoo, and past president of the Knoxville Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society

Blog posts on hummers wintering in Tennessee:
Allen's Hummingbird in east Russellville, TN
Calliope Hummingbird wintering in Nashville, TN
Rufous Hummingbird and Rufous Hummer in Knoxville
Migration Surprises
Hummingbird Study Group

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