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Hummingbirds make themselves comfortable in Georgia this winter

The rufous in profile - note the long bill common in hummingbirds.
The rufous in profile - note the long bill common in hummingbirds.


A rufous hummingbird.  Photo Credit: Georgia Hummer

While many Georgians faithfully keep hummingbird feeders up all summer, most take their feeders down around October when the majority of hummingbirds have migrated south.  Those dedicated enough to keep a year-round feeder (the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, recommends leaving one up in the winter) may find an overwintering hummingbird getting comfortable in their yards. By working with the Georgia Hummer Group, homeowners can be a part of important research to conserve hummingbirds in Georgia.  Read on for more on how a Waleska couple got to meet their hummingbird close up.

Faithful hummingbird feeders

Van and Pat faithfully kept a hummingbird feeder up at their lake Arrowhead home this year, even through the freezing temperatures.  They were busy, as the nectar froze every few hours, but they had one persistent hummingbird that continued to visit through the end of the year.  As Van describes it,

A brick did not have to fall onto [our] heads to tell us we had, for the first time, a wintering hummingbird.

For those familiar with the local newspaper, the Atlanta Journal Constitution (or AJC), Charles Seabrook writes frequent articles on 'natural Georgia' and often focuses on birds in the area.  Last fall, Charles Seabrook wrote a column on migrating birds, including the rufous hummingbird, which apparently has been overwintering in Georgia in increasing numbers over the past few years. 

What is a rufous hummingbird?

According to Georgia DNR , rufous hummingbirds are the most common hummingbirds to overwinter in Georgia.  Georgia DNR also indicates that the rufous has the longest migratory pattern of any North American hummingbird; rufous ranges from southern Alaska and the Pacific Northwest to south-central Mexico. 

Unlike the easily identifiable ruby-throated hummingbird, rufous is actually difficult to identity with certainty. reports that confirming a rufous identification requires "extensive experience and a good view of the spread tailfeathers through a scope."  The most notable color on the adult rufous male is orange - the bright orange color on the gorget (or collar) is truly striking.

In December, Charles Seabrook wrote an AJC article on Georgia's winter birds, and included a request for readers to report hummingbirds spotted prior to March 1st to The Georgia Hummer Study Group, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated solely to the study and conservation of hummingbirds in Georgia.  Their Web site has great information on hummingbirds as well as amazing pictures of hummingbirds, including incredible shots of nests with eggs and tiny babies.  Georgia Hummer's Web site has a page dedicated to rufous, with pictures and more information.

Pat and Van followed Charles Seabrook's advice, and contacted Georgia Hummer to report the wintering hummingbird.

Meeting the rufous

After being contacted and given permission to visit, Georgia Hummer will attempt to catch, band, and release the hummingbird to facilitate the study of these wonderful birds in Georgia.  Bob and Martha from Georgia Hummer came out to Pat and Van's house to see their hummingbird.  As Van tells it, the process went like this:

A platform ladder was set up to hold a large cage having a large and small opening.  The cage with our feeder inside was hung from our hook.  The spring door was open and a string was led to where 'the Hummer man' sat (about 25-30 feet away) in his chair - just waiting.

He said it could take 5 minutes to a couple of hours for the catch.  But they usually gave up after a couple of hours. 
Lo and behold, in less than 5 minutes the hummer came to feed...he let go of the string and we had ourselves a captive hummer.  Opening the small door, he caught and removed the hummer and went to work.  He weighed, measured (the bird and bird body parts) and put on the band.

Banding the rufous was a relatively simple process that Georgia Hummer captured on film - see the slideshow below for this rufous' modeling debut.  A few minutes later, this rufous was back on his way.  Van and Pat hope that he and his offspring will return in years to come.

Thanks to Van and Pat for sharing their story!

For more information on Georgia's hummingbirds or to report an overwintering hummer of your own, contact Georgia Hummer by calling (770) 784-1636 or visiting the Georgia Hummer Web site.

For information on encouraging birds of all kinds to visit your yard, check out this article.

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  • Shirley ashley 5 years ago

    This was quite interesting. I never would have thought about
    hummingbirds being around in the winter. They are so delicate.
    So many of the birds disappear in the winter.

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