Saturday, December 6, 2008

Keep Feeders up in Winter for Visiting Hummingbirds

Keep your hummingbird feeders filled and available this winter. That’s the recommendation of Georgia Wildlife Resources Division biologists, who know that some hummers spend winter in the state and benefit from the nourishment feeders offer.

Eleven hummingbird species have been recorded in Georgia. But while the only one that nests here – the ruby-throated hummingbird – migrates south and leaves the U.S. by mid-October, species from the western U.S. and Central America sometimes show up as early as August and stay until about April. These newcomers include rufous hummingbirds, which have the longest migration route of any hummer, and the calliope hummingbird, the smallest bird in the nation.

Many Georgians once took their feeders down in fall for fear the free food would keep hummingbirds from migrating. But the birds migrate in response to day length, not food supply. Keeping feeders up does not hinder migration.

Instead, some fortunate homeowners with full feeders have enjoyed playing host to rare visiting hummingbirds in winter.

“People enjoy doing it. (And) we get good information” involving the birds, said Jim Ozier, a program manager with the Wildlife Resources Division’s Nongame Conservation Section.

The rufous is the most commonly seen wintering hummer in the Southeast. This species flits from breeding ranges that extend from the Pacific Northwest as far north as southern Alaska to its primary wintering grounds in south-central Mexico. However, a few rufous hummingbirds take a different path and are spotted throughout Georgia and the rest of the Southeast during winter.

The calliope hummer is another snowbird, colorful but tiny at about a 10th of an ounce. A calliope was first recorded in the Peach State during the winter of 1998-1999.

According to the Georgia Hummers Web site (www.gahummer.org), the 2007-2008 season sported another first sighting, a green-breasted mango that wintered in Dublin. This species is normally found in Central and South America. Only three have been documented in the U.S. outside of Texas. The Dublin visitor remained for several weeks, attracting birders from all over the country.

Western hummingbird species can be difficult to identify. But Georgians can contact Wildlife Resources’ Nongame Conservation Section in Forsyth, (478) 994-1438, about hummer sightings. These reports document the incidence of wintering hummers and help biologists determine the birds’ habitat needs.

Georgians can help conserve hummingbirds through buying wildlife license plates featuring a ruby-throated hummer or a bald eagle. The license plate sales, in addition to donations to the Give Wildlife a Chance state income tax checkoff, are vital to the Nongame Conservation Section, which receives no state funds to help conserve rare plants, natural habitats and wildlife not legally hunted, fished for or trapped in Georgia. Details at www.georgiawildlife.com.

Georgia hummers at a glance:

· Allen’s
· Anna’s
· Black-chinned
· Broad-billed
· Broad-tailed
· Calliope
· Green-breasted mango
· Magnificent
· Ruby-throated
· Rufous
· Green violet-eared hummingbird*

*This species is listed as provisional, meaning a photograph is needed to add it to the state’s official list.

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