H

VAGRANT & WINTER
HUMMINGBIRD BANDING

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Immature male Rufous Hummingbird

Although Operation RubyThroat and hummingbird research at Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History focus primarily on local studies of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris), occasional hummers of other species afford the opportunity for us to join with other banders-- and especially the Hummer/Bird Study Group--in banding and monitoring vagrant hummingbirds in the Carolinas.

For example, Rufous Hummingbirds, Selasphorus rufus, which breed in the western U.S., are being seen with increasing regularity in the East--perhaps because more folks are leaving hummingbird feeders up in winter (immature male rufous at right). The first adult male Rufous Hummingbird recorded in South Carolina during summer was banded by Hilton Pond Center staff in August 1994 in nearby Sharon SC.

As of 18 March 2003, thirteen different hummer species have been reported from the Carolinas, even though the Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only one that breeds in the East. The following species have been accepted (or or are under consideration) by the state ornithological records committees. (For a bird such as the Buff-bellied Hummingbird, which was banded and absolutely identified, it's just a formality for the SC committee to accept it--unless something really strange should occur, such as someone admitting that the bird escaped from captivity.)


Species in red have been banded by staff from Hilton Pond Center

NORTH CAROLINA LIST (11)
  • Green Violetear
  • Green-breasted Mango
  • Broad-billed Hummingbird
  • Buff-bellied Hummingbird
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • Black-chinned Hummingbird
  • Anna's Hummingbird
  • Calliope Hummingbird
  • Broad-tailed Hummingbird
  • Rufous Hummingbird
  • Allen's Hummingbird
SOUTH CAROLINA LIST (9)
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • Black-chinned Hummingbird
  • Rufous Hummingbird
  • Calliope Hummingbird
  • Broad-billed Hummingbird (banded, not official yet)
  • Blue-throated Hummingbird (provisional list, not official yet)
  • Broad-tailed Hummingbird (provisional list, not official yet)
  • Cuban Emerald (hypothetical, not official yet)
  • Buff-bellied Hummingbird (banded, not official yet)

In order to get a better understanding of hummingbird behavior in North America, it is important to report all sightings of vagrant and winter hummingbirds so banders can capture and positively identify as many individuals as possible. Especially in the Carolinas, send sightings of non-rubythroats (or ruby-throats in winter) to RESEARCH.

Information about vagrant or winter hummingbirds--i.e., any hummingbird seen between 15 October and 15 March in the Eastern U.S. or Canada--will be forwarded to a bander in the nationwide network who is close enough to visit the site for possible capture.


For details about vagrant hummingbirds in the eastern U.S. and our studies of them, visit the Web site for Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History, specifically Winter Hummingbird Banding.

WINTER HUMMINGBIRD FEEDING

BILL HILTON JR.
Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History

Leaving a sugar water feeder up in autumn will NOT keep Ruby-throated Hummingbirds from migrating. Hummer migration is stimulated by photoperiod, so as days become shorter in fall the birds begin to put on fat and soon depart for the tropics. In the eastern U.S., nearly all hummers that stay behind are those that are ill or "genetically inferior," and it's likely they would die in migration anyway.

At most locations in the eastern U.S. and southern Canada, 99.9% of the ruby-throats are gone by 15 October, and adult males don't begin to return north of the Gulf Coast states until mid-March; females follow soon thereafter. (There are winter records of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds from various locations in the U.S., especially south Florida and coastal Texas.)

We suggest you maintain one half-full feeder--changing the artificial nectar weekly--throughout the winter. You may need to bring the feeder in at night to keep it from freezing and put it out the next morning before dawn when you fill your seed feeders. In really cold weather, alternate two feeders by putting the warm one out at mid-day and bringing in the cold one. Some folks even use heat lamps, electric pipe wrap, and other creative contraptions to keep the sugar water warm and snow off the feeder.

Over the past several years, there have been many Eastern U.S. sightings of vagrant western species such as Rufous Hummingbirds that do not breed in the East. If you see ANY hummingbird east of the Rockies from mid-October through mid-March, it may be one of these western birds; please contact RESEARCH as soon as possible via e-mail if you spot one. (Several hummingbird species normally overwinter in California, Arizona, and other western states; do not report these unless they are a species not normally found there.)

Also see Hummingbird Feeding Tips

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