Any hummingbird seen in our area after Nov. 1 is likely to be one of several western species that filter into the Southeast every fall and winter.
These birds are not lost. They are utilizing the temperate climate of the area as a wintering range. To accommodate these tiny arrivals, I urge serious and casual birders alike to keep their hummingbird feeders up through the winter, or at least through mid-December.
Many of these birds are in our area now, escaping detection by being mistaken for lingering ruby-throated hummingbirds or because they are currently surviving on landscape or natural flowers. Once these flowers cease blooming, the birds will need to find feeders.
I have been keeping track of winter hummingbird occurrences for years. I depend on reports from readers to let me know where and when the birds show up. If you are seeing a hummingbird right now or have one show up later, please contact me. A photo, even just a fair one, is often sufficient for an accurate identification. Each year, I get approximately two dozen reports of November, December and January sightings.
The most likely species to show up is the rufous hummingbird. Check out any hummingbird closely for reddish brown plumage, especially around the tail and on the flanks. Most of the birds will be females or immature birds, but spectacular males sometimes are reported.
There is a chance a real western rarity may visit you. Five hummingbird species have been recorded in Mecklenburg County.
I will follow this column up in a few weeks with an update on winter hummingbirds here. In the meantime, keep the feeders up or put them back up, keep the sugar water fresh, and let me know what you see.
Taylor Piephoff is a local naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com
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