Friday, November 10, 2006

By early November most of our familiar ruby-throated hummingbirds have departed for their winter grounds in the tropics, but don't take down your feeder just yet.

Hummingbirds are being reported at feeders through the winter with increasing frequency. In most cases the birds are not ruby-throated hummingbirds, but are species native to western North America like rufous, calliope and black-chinned hummingbirds.

Rufous hummingbirds are, by far, the most expected western hummer that winters in the Southeastern U.S. Most are females or immatures. Superficially, they resemble ruby-throated hummingbirds, but have red around the tail and buff or reddish feathering on the flanks. Adult males are largely red.

I have already heard of some rufous hummingbirds at feeders around Hickory, Boone and locations along the coast. As the weather cools and natural nectar sources disappear, western hummingbirds in our area will depend on feeders and will thus become more conspicuous. In fact, any hummingbird seen in our area after Nov. 1 is almost certain to be one of the western species. Mecklenburg County has records of five species of hummingbirds from the winter months.

Don't worry about these winter hummers. I have seen rufous hummingbirds active in Mecklenburg County on mornings with temperatures in the upper teens and after big snowfalls. Consider keeping up a winter hummingbird feeder and you may have an unexpected winter visitor.

If you have a hummingbird in your yard now, or know someone who does, I would certainly like to hear about it.


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