Tag Archives: Hummingbirds

Hummingbird numbers spike as summer season advances toward autumn

 

From the shade of my front porch, I watched about a half dozen ruby-throated hummingbirds cavort among the blooms of a large mimosa tree on a recent evening. The tree apparently holds an extraordinary attraction for the hummingbirds, as well as the pipevine swallowtail butterflies and other pollinating insects. I enjoyed watching the greenish hummingbirds zip among the profusion of pink mimosa blossoms, which have always reminded me of the thin fiber-optic filaments popular on some artificial Christmas trees and other decorations during the holidays. To draw so many different insects, as well as hummingbirds, the mimosa blooms must provide a rich source of nectar.

While I have almost wilted from the recent extended heat wave, the ruby-throated hummingbirds at my home appear to have downright thrived during these sunny, hot days of mid-summer. Once again, these tiny birds must have enjoyed a successful nesting season, based on the numbers of young hummers visiting both my feeders and flowers. The uptick in the presence of hummingbirds took place without much fanfare, but after a couple of months of “hummer doldrums,” it was impossible for any observer to miss the way these tiny birds have become much more prevalent in recent weeks.

Coinciding with this resurgence of the hummingbirds at my home, I received a post on Facebook from Philip Laws, a resident of Limestone Cove. Apparently, Philip, too, has noticed that hummingbird numbers are on the rise.

RubyRed

Photo by Bryan Stevens • A male ruby-throated hummingbird perches near a feeder that he is ready to defend from all comers.

“Seemed like a slow hummingbird summer,” he wrote. “But two days ago the babies started hitting the feeders and everything looks much brighter!”

I also enjoyed a recent phone conversation with Erwin resident Don Dutton, who wanted to know why hummingbirds have been scarce around his home this summer. I’ve noticed fewer hummers at my own home this summer, but it’s natural for numbers to fluctuate from year to year. I anticipate that numbers will rise as hummingbirds begin migrating south again in the coming weeks. At that time, the adult hummers will be joined by the young birds from this season’s successful nesting attempts.
Don shared that when he lived out west, he often visited Mount Charleston near Las Vegas, Nevada, where he saw swarms of hummingbirds comprised of various different species. In the eastern United States, the only nesting species is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

For readers who have felt slighted by hummers so far this season, perhaps it’s time to try your luck again at attracting them. The surest method is to keep a sugar water feeder available to attract them on their way south later this summer and into the fall. A visit to a plant nursery can also provide an abundance of blooms to use to lure hummers to your gardens. Some late-blooming summer flowers attractive to hummingbirds include canna, cardinal flower, gladiola and crocosmia. While the widely held belief is that hummingbirds prefer red blooms, they will gladly visit any flower that rewards them with a sip of nectar.501-7006-blk

Late summer and early fall, even more so than spring, are usually the best times to enjoy hummingbirds, when they are usually at their most common. There are a couple of reasons for this annual increase. First, nesting female hummingbirds have reared their young, which then begin visiting feeders and gardens to compete with their elders at flower blossoms and sugar water feeders. Second, adult males and females that migrated farther north usually begin swinging southward again in late July and early August.

According to the website hummingbirds.net, mature male hummingbirds usually follow an earlier departure date than adult females and immature birds. The organizers of the website theorize that by leaving early in the fall, the adult male hummingbirds free up resources for their developing offspring. After all, it’s the least they can do since adult male hummingbirds play absolutely no role in helping females with the process of nesting and rearing young. All young hummingbirds are, in effect, raised by single mothers.

IMG_2786

Photo by Bryan Stevens • A male ruby-throated hummingbird perches at a feeder for a sip of sugar water.

Despite their tiny size, hummingbirds are tough birds. One species, the rufous hummingbird, ranges as far north as Alaska. Several tropical species have adapted to the frigid conditions that occur at the higher elevations of the Andes Mountains.

As I have done in years past, I advise a patient but proactive approach for attracting hummingbirds. Keep feeders readily available. If possible, offer flowers, too. Don’t keep your landscape too tidy. A perfectly manicured lawn is like a desert for hummingbirds. Provide some shrubs and trees to provide cover and perching branches. Water features, particularly waterfalls and fountains, are also a reliable means of attracting hummingbirds, as well as other birds.

If you have felt slighted by hummers so far this year, keep a sugar water feeder available to attract them on their way south later this summer and into the fall. To share a sighting, make a comment, or ask a question, send email to ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

•••••

Bryan Stevens has been writing about birds since 1995. To learn more about birds and other topics from the natural world, friend Stevens on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler. If you have a question, wish to make a comment or share a sighting, email ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

Readers share arrival stories about spring’s hummingbirds

Ruby-throated hummingbirds have returned. The annual first sighting of a hummingbird is one of my most cherished spring moments. Invariably, the first hummingbird to show up in my yard is a male with the gorget — or throat patch — of red, iridescent feathers that gives his species its common name.

4934219635_1db9c900c4_o

Photo by Bryan Stevens • Ruby-throated Hummingbirds swarm to a feeder filled with a sugar water mixture.

As I indicated in a recent column, the ruby-throated hummingbird is one of more than 300 species of hummingbirds. All hummingbirds are found in the New World and are absent from the Old World. Male ruby-throated hummingbirds launch their spring migration about 10 days prior to female hummingbirds.

Based on the number of people who shared hummingbird sightings with me, these tiny birds have a lot of big fans. If you would like to host your own hummingbirds, here are some crucial tips.

• Make your yard a zone that’s free of insecticides and pesticides. Residues of these chemicals can remain on blossoms, which then run the risk of sickening a hummingbird. In addition, hummingbirds subsist on more than nectar. They consume many tiny insects and spiders. Eating bugs that have been contaminated with dangerous chemicals can also sicken or kill hummingbirds.

• Provide shrubs and trees to your landscape to make your yard more inviting. Hummingbirds claim favorite posts and perches, where they will rest when they are not visiting our gardens or feeders. Shrubs and trees can also provide locations for concealing nests built by female hummingbirds.

• Cultivate plants that offer nectar-producing blooms. While hummingbirds are known to favor the color red, these nectar-sipping birds will also visit blooms of other colors. Some favorite spring blooms include the flowers of red buckeye, wild columbine, crossvine and native varieties of azaleas. As spring advances into summer, the diversity of flowers available to lure hummingbirds into your garden will increase dramatically.

Ruby-throated

Photo by Bill Buchanan/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service • Hummingbirds visit flowers for nectar, so be sure your garden offers a variety of blooms.

 

Thursday, April 6

Eddie and Delores Phipps of Bluff City, Tennessee, reported seeing their first hummingbird.

“We were excited to see our first hummingbird at the feeder on the morning of April 6,” the couple wrote in an email.  “It was the earliest we have ever seen one. He has been back every day since!”

Eddie and Delores provided me with the report of the earliest arriving hummingbird. Soon after the couple reported their hummingbird, I began to receive more sightings from throughout northeast Tennessee and southwest Virginia.

Sunday, April 9

Monica Black, a resident of Unicoi, Tennessee, saw her first hummingbird of the season about 5 p.m.

“Near the chairs in the back garden there is a spillway created from the koi pond down to the frog pond,” Monica said in the email she sent me. “The hummers like to drink and bathe in it.”

The visiting hummingbird also treated her to a viewing of the first bathing hummingbird of the season.

“The male is the only hummer spotted so far,” she added.

•••••

Facebook friend Phyllis Moore informed me that her friend, Janie Compton, saw her first hummingbird at 6:34 p.m. on Sunday, April 9, in Chesterfield, Virginia.

•••••

Nata Jackson, a resident of Greene County, Tennessee, shared details about her first sighting of spring. In her email, she said she had just put up her feeder when the bird arrived.

IMG_2786

Photo by Bryan Stevens • Only the male Ruby-throated Hummingbird has the brilliant red throat patch, or gorget, that gives the species its common name.

Tuesday, April 11

Nancy and Walt Vernon, of Bristol, Tennessee, emailed details of their first sighting. “We saw it about 12:30 while having lunch,” Nancy wrote in her email. “We have three feeders which we keep filled all summer.”

•••••

Jeanie Campbell, who lives on Mendota Road in Abingdon, Virginia, also sent me an email. Her first spring hummer — a tiny female — wasn’t very active at first. “Then she began drinking away,” Jeanie wrote.

A few days later on April 15, a male — or “Mr. Red Throat” as Jeanie described him — appeared. “He buzzed around all day,” she said.

•••••

Glen Eller, a fellow member of the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society, posted on Bristol-Birds — a mailing list archive for area bird sightings — that his daughter, Lia, saw her first hummingbird at 6:55 a.m. Glen’s daughter lives in Fall Branch, Tennessee.

“It’s seemingly a little bit late in this warm spring,” Glen wrote in his post.

Wednesday, April 12

Philip Laws saw his first hummingbird of spring at 4:15 p.m. in the Limestone Cove community in Unicoi County. In his Facebook post to my page, Philip said the arrival served as a reminder that he had meant to put his feeders out a few days earlier, but had failed to do so. He quickly got out feeders to welcome the birds.

•••••

Amy Wallin Tipton, in Erwin, posted on her Facebook page about the return of her hummingbirds.

•••••

Kristy Dunn, who lives in Johnson City, sent me an email to share her first hummingbird sighting of spring.

•••••

Bill and Judith Beckman sent me an email to report their first hummingbird of the season. The hummer arrived around 4 p.m. at their home on Spivey Mountain in Unicoi County.

••••••

Preston Bowers emailed to let me know he saw his first hummingbird at about 5:30 p.m.

“I have lived in Blountville since 1970,” he wrote. “Oddly enough, I never noticed hummingbirds on this property until about three years ago.”

A creek in front of his house has an abundance of jewelweed, which the ruby-throat seems to like quite well.

“So I installed a hummingbird feeder at the corner of my porch where I sit in the porch swing and play ukulele,” he added. “What a joy to watch these amazing birds as they fly by at lightning speeds or hover ever so gracefully.” Preston noted that some of their antics seem like an aerial battle. “I hear sounds that are so similar to the sound of a World War II fighter plane in tactical operations,” he wrote.

Rubythroat

Photo by Bryan Stevens • A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird perches on the tip of a garden post.

•••••

Sandra Loving sent an email notifying me that she got her first sighting of a spring hummer at her feeders at her home on South Holston Lake at 7:50 p.m.

•••••

Sharon Foster, who lives on Friendship Drive at South Holston Lake, emailed me about the date of her first hummer’s arrival. “We’ve had hummingbirds at our feeders all week,” she added.

Friday, April 14

Lynne Reinhard saw her first hummingbird at 8:15 a.m. near the upper end of South Holston Lake in Bristol. She posted the news of her sighting on my Facebook page.

•••••

Jill Henderson, who lives on Poor Valley Road in Saltville, Virginia, emailed about her first hummer sighting: “Just wanted to let you know that I saw my first hummingbird of the spring season at approximately 9:15 a.m. at my home.”

•••••

Beverly Puerckhauer in the Graystone area of Bristol, Tennessee,

RT-Male-April15

Photo by Bryan Stevens • A Ruby-throated Hummingbird must share a feeder with hungry honeybees.

saw her first hummingbird and shared news of the arrival in a comment on my Facebook page.

Saturday, April 15

Linda Quinn Cauley posted on my Facebook page that she saw her first hummingbird at 9:30 a.m. Linda lives off Sciota Road near Unicoi, Tennessee.

•••••

Karen Fouts, of Marion, Virginia, saw her first hummingbird of spring — a male — and posted a comment on my Facebook page. Karen said she refers to these early arrival hummingbirds as the “advance scouts.”

•••••

Mary Beierle, a resident of the Stoney Creek community in Elizabethton, Tennessee, sent me an email telling me she saw her first hummingbird around 3 p.m. “Only one so far, but we’re excited,” she added.

•••••

Don and Shirley Cook, who reside on the upper end of South Holston Lake in Washington County, Virginia, sent me an email to notify me that they saw their first hummer at 3 p.m.

•••••

Glenna Kiser, who lives near Lebanon, Virginia, informed me in an email of her first hummingbird this spring at 1 p.m.

••••••

Several readers enjoyed their first spring sightings of hummingbirds on Easter Sunday.

Sunday, April 16

Nancy Estes emailed me just after she saw her first hummingbird of the season.

“I didn’t get a close look since I was inside my house, but I am assuming it is a ruby-throated hummingbird,” Nancy wrote. “I live in Bristol’s Middlebrook subdivision.”

•••••

Reva Russell, who lives in the Lynnwood Hills subdivision in Bristol, Virginia, notified me in an email that she saw her first hummingbird of the season at 2 p.m.

•••••

Terry Fletcher, who lives at First Colony Condominiums near the Bristol Country Club, sent an email about the first hummingbird of spring. Terry also photographed the hummingbird through a screen door and shared the photo in an email.

•••••

Debbie Oliver, who resides in Bristol, Tennessee, emailed me about her first sighting.

“It wasn’t a visit from the Easter Bunny but a delightful visit from a ruby-throated hummingbird at our deck feeders around 2:30 in the afternoon,” she wrote in her email.

•••••

Cheryl Jones in Damascus, Virginia, saw her first hummingbird of spring at 5:02 p.m. In her email, she said she was beginning to wonder what was keeping them.

Hummer-Farm

Photo by Bryan Stevens • Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have officially returned to the region as of the first week of April.

•••••

The first hummingbird of spring showed up at at the home of Ken Croghan on Walden Road east of Abingdon, Virginia, while he was sitting on the front deck having dinner. He shared news of the arrival in an email.

•••••

Lynn Heller and her husband were having dinner at their home in Holston Hills in Bristol, Tennessee, when they looked out the window at their hummingbird feeder. “I was telling my husband about your article and that you asked readers to share sightings of their first hummingbird,” she wrote in her email.  “About five minutes later, there he was — a ruby throated hummingbird at 6:31 p.m. on Easter Sunday. What a treat!”

•••••

Donald Elliott Rice of Elizabethton, Tennessee, filled up his feeders on Easter Sunday. “Within a half hour, they showed up,” he posted on Facebook.

•••••

Julie Carter Grason saw her first hummingbird at her home in the Clear Creek community of Bristol, Virginia. She shared the news in a comment on my Facebook page.

•••••

Shirley Jenkins of Bluff City, Tennessee, saw her first ruby-throated hummingbird this spring and shared details in an email. “My family and I were sitting on the back porch about 3:30 when out of nowhere, a ruby red throat came zooming by,” she wrote in her email.

Shirley added that the bird checked out a wind chime hanging on the porch before he went on his way.

“I was thrilled to see it, since I love those adorable little creatures,” she noted. “I will definitely be putting my feeder out pronto.”

•••••

I saw my own first ruby-throated hummingbird — a male — on Saturday, April 15. Although he acted somewhat tentative at first, he became more at ease with me as I watched him at the feeders during repeated visits throughout the day. In 2016, the first hummingbird arrived on April 12, so the arrival date was slightly later this year.

Get ready to welcome spring’s returning hummingbirds

All bird enthusiasts have their personal favorites among our feathered friends. Cardinals, bluebirds, robins and chickadees would certainly find a place in any Top 10 lists. What bird would top the list? I have no qualms predicting that the ruby-throated hummingbird would be a frontrunner for such a ranking.

rubythroated_hummingbird

A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird seeks nectar at tiny blooms. — Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

 

The popularity of hummingbirds in general, and the ruby-throated hummingbird specifically, is simple to understand. These tiny birds are perfectly willing to insert themselves into our lives, offering hours of fascinating entertainment as they visit our gardens, duel at our sugar water feeders and occasionally even nest in trees and shrubs in our yards.

Individuals who feed birds know that it can be an expensive undertaking. The cost of providing sunflower seeds and suet cakes for hungry flocks during the winter months can nibble at the monthly budget, but hardly anyone would begrudge the sparrows, finches, wrens and woodpeckers. After all, they return the favor, putting on daily shows just outside our windows.

Attracting hummingbirds is generally much less expensive than feeding other birds. After all, you need only a mixture of sugar water — four parts water to one part sugar — to fill a feeder and catch the attention of a visiting hummer. A few pounds of sugar will last a lot longer than that bag of sunflower seeds and it’s much less expensive to purchase at the grocery store.

If you do want to take extra steps to attract these diminutive, feathered saccharine junkies, consider supplementing your landscape with a variety of flowering plants. To explore some of the best choices for flowers to tempt hummingbirds, visit the website of The Hummingbird Society at http://www.hummingbirdsociety.org.

Hummer-CloserUp

A male ruby-throated hummingbird surveys his territory from a convenient perch. — Photo by Bryan Stevens

Nevertheless, few bird enthusiasts are truly frugal when it comes to our feathered friends. Even if the cost of bringing hummingbirds and other birds was much higher, I don’t think we would abandon the undertaking. Quite simply, the birds mean too much to us. They fascinate us with their speed and agility, their pugnacious relations with each other, and of course their tiny size. The irony is that, although hummingbirds are so small, they don’t seem to recognize that fact as they zig and zag through yard and garden.

While the ruby-throated hummingbird is the only hummer that nests in the eastern United States, which is what brings these tiny birds into our lives every year from April to October, there are more than 300 species of hummingbirds. Much creativity has gone into giving each of these hummingbirds a descriptive common name.

Sometimes, words fail. Mere adjectives are somewhat inadequate in providing common names for many of the world’s more than 300 hummingbirds, but that doesn’t keep us from trying to give descriptive names to each hummingbird species. For instance, we have the beautiful hummingbird of Mexico; the charming hummingbird of Costa Rica and Panama; the festive coquette of northwestern South America; and the magnificent hummingbird of the southwestern United States.

Other names are even more elaborate and occasionally outlandish, such as the white-tufted sunbeam of Peru; the violet-throated metaltail of Ecuador; the violet-throated starfrontlet of Peru and Bolivia; the hyacinth visorbearer of Brazil; and the rainbow-bearded thornbill of Colombia and Ecuador.

RT-Male-April15

A male ruby-throated hummingbird ignores honeybees for a sip of sugar water. — Photo by Bryan Stevens

It would seem then that our own ruby-throated hummingbird is in good company. After spending the winter months in Central America, ruby-throated hummingbirds are already streaming north. Just to reach the United States, these tiny birds undertake an arduous journey. Most of these tiny birds, which are barely four inches long, make a non-stop flight of more than 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico. The journey can take almost an entire day!

Sightings are already being reported, and ruby-throats typically arrive in the region in early April. In fact, a male ruby-throated hummingbird showed up at my feeders on Saturday, April 15.

If you don’t have your feeders outdoors and waiting for them, it’s time to do so. As always, I love to hear from readers about their first hummingbird sighting of the year. Jot down the time and date and contact me by email at ahoodedwarbler@aol.com. I can hardly wait for one of our favorite birds to get back. Let’s give them a hearty welcome.

••••••

To learn more about birds and other topics from the natural world, friend Bryan Stevens on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler. He is always posting about local birds, wildlife, flowers, insects and much more.

 

The thrill of the chase keeps some fervent birders seeking out ‘rare’ birds

northernwheatear-one

Photo by Jean Potter • This Northern wheatear caused great excitement in the Tennessee birding community with an extended stay at a farm in the Volunteer State in November.

A little bird caused a huge stir among birders in the Volunteer State back in November.

A Northern wheatear — a six-inch-long bird that breeds in open, stony terrain across the Northern hemisphere from Asia and Europe as well as northwestern and northeastern Canada, Alaska and Greenland — made a most unlikely migratory stop at a farm in Loudon County, Tennessee, supposedly en route to its wintering grounds in Africa. The visiting songbird turned out to be the first of its kind ever documented in Tennessee.
Credit for the discovery of the bird goes to Tony King, a birder who hails from Lenoir City, Tennessee. He found the bird at Windy Hill Farm, a privately owned agricultural enterprise in Loudon County. After seeking confirmation from other experienced birders, King put out the word about his rare bird.
Almost immediately, birders flocked to the Loudon County farm — with the gracious permission from the farm’s owners — for a chance to see a bird not often glimpsed in the Lower 48 states.
Birders who saw the wheatear observed the bird actively feeding on the ground and perching on fence posts. Several members from the Elizabethton and Bristol bird clubs made the journey to Loudon County to add the wheatear to their state list for Tennessee and, for many individuals, on life lists of birds seen nationwide.

northernwheatear-two

Photo by Jean Potter • The Northern wheatear at the Loudon County farm spent much time perched on fence posts.

The wheatear is a truly long-distance migrant, but it’s difficult to speculate why this individual bird’s journey took it far enough off course to land in Tennessee. My schedule didn’t permit me to immediately try to add this bird to my own life list. I made plans to make the trip on Nov. 23 as part of my Thanksgiving break. Unfortunately, the bird departed on Nov. 20, hopefully to continue its long journey to Africa for the winter months.
The wheatear got me to thinking about the way determined birders “chase” rare birds to add to their life lists. Some people are quite dedicated — or fanatical — to pursuing reports of rare birds to the point they will drop everything to chase down coveted birds.
Adding to the thrill of the chase for birders in Tennessee was the fact that a couple of days after the wheatear departed, a Bohemian waxwing became another “first” for its kind in the state. Unfortunately, that bird apparently didn’t stick around. It’s fun to speculate their reasons, but finding the motivation among our feathered friends can be an exercise in futility. I have my own motto about these rare visitors. Birds have wings, and they know how to use them. It’s that ability to pick up and fly to distant places that is part of their appeal.
I understand the appeal of chasing after a rare or hard-to-get bird. I’ve chased my share of birds. I achieved a long-held desire to see a snowy owl when I made the trip to Spring Hill, Tennessee, back in February of 2009. That’s probably the farthest I’ve traveled to observe a specific bird.
In November of 2003 I made a shorter but ultimately unsuccessful trip to Knoxville, Tennessee, for an attempt at getting binoculars on a sage thrasher that had been reported. Although I spent several hours with dozens of other birders looking for the bird, it never put in an appearance.

 

rufous-halloween

Photo by Bryan Stevens • The rufous hummingbird is one of several hummingbirds native to the western United States that has ventured into Tennessee on occasion.

My most memorable “rare bird” — and one that I chased across state lines — was a green-breasted mango, a tropical species of hummingbird. I saw that bird while it was visiting a feeder at a home in Concord, North Carolina, in November of 2000. The species is known to stray into southern Texas, but appearances outside of the Lone Star State have been rare. This hummingbird is normally found in Mexico and Central America, but in addition to the Concord bird the species was documented in Beloit, Wisconsin, back in September of 2007. The Wisconsin bird was captured and taken to a zoo because of fears it would not survive the onslaught of the frigid Wisconsin winter season.
Another personal miss — and I should kick myself for not making an attempt at seeing this bird — was a hooded crane that visited Hiwassee Refuge in December of 2011 and January of 2012. The hooded crane, a rare species from Asia, was associating with the thousands of sandhill cranes that regularly gather at the wildlife refuge near Brentwood, Tennessee.
I’m quite proud of the four hummingbird species on my Tennessee list. I traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, in December of 1997 to see a calliope hummingbird. Closer to home I’ve seen Allen’s hummingbirds and rufous hummingbirds, and, of course, ruby-throated hummingbirds.
One pertinent bit of information about the Northern wheatear is in order. The wheatear is not a rare bird. In fact, the bird is quite common with an estimated population of almost three million birds. The same is true of many of the “rare bird” sightings that excite birders. Some of these exceptional visitors are often not considered rare. The rarity comes from the bird showing up in a totally unexpected location, such as a Northern wheatear spending a week at a Tennessee farm.
That’s why an American white pelican at Middlebrook Lake in Bristol, Tennessee, a harlequin duck on the Holston River in Kingsport, Tennessee, and a Northern redpoll in Shady Valley, Tennessee, can quickly generate excitement in the birding community.

jp-harlequinduck

Photo by Jean Potter • This harlequin duck was a remarkable find a few years ago on the Holston River in Kingsport, Tennessee.

Most experienced birders offer one bit of advice — don’t delay. They’re words to take to heart for those seeking to chase after rare birds. In other words, if you snooze, you lose. My friend, the late Howard Langridge, was of that persuasion. In January of 2000, Howard tried to persuade me to ride with him from Elizabethton to Shady Valley in the midst of a raging snowstorm for the opportunity to see a long-eared owl. I declined. Howard made the trip, regardless of the snow and ice. As a reward, he saw the owl at the home of John and Lorrie Shumate.
After the storm passed, Howard accompanied me and Allan Trently to Shady Valley on a night when the mercury in the thermometer hovered at around zero. Almost needless to say, we didn’t even glimpse a feather of the long-eared owl. The owl’s stay at the Shumate home proved quite brief.
Of course, that’s all part of the thrill of the chase. You see some, but some you don’t see. It makes the birds that you do see even more memorable.

kayla-calendar

Photo by Bryan Stevens • Kayla Carter with the Elizabethton Chamber of Commerce displays one of the calendars being sold by members of the Elizabethton Bird Club.

•••••
The Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society, based in Elizabethton, is once again offering for sale its annual calendar.

All proceeds from sales of the 2017 calendar benefit the chapter’s work to promote birds and birding. This year’s calendar features nearly 100 full-color photographs. Calendars are $15. They are currently available at the Elizabethton Chamber of Commerce. In addition, for another $2 for shipping and handling, a calendar can be mailed.  To reserve a copy, email me at ahoodedwarbler@aol.com or message me on Facebook.

Arduous migration journeys by some birds represent wondrous natural achievements

grosbeak-photo

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                          This rose-breasted grosbeak struck a window Monday, Oct. 3, during fall migration. Although this bird rested and later recovered, many birds are felled by similar perils and obstacles as they migrate south each fall.

A stunned rose-breasted grosbeak recuperating on the front porch on Oct. 3 provided a reminder that migrating birds face a variety of perils and obstacles as they wing their way back south. Now that we’re into October, many of the birds of summer — orioles, tanagers, warblers and hummingbirds — are becoming scarce in our yards and gardens. These neotropical migrants are temporary visitors, remaining in North America only long enough to nest and raise young before they take to the wing to return to more tropical regions for the winter months that will grip their summer home in snow and ice for several months.

Some of these birds migrate out of the tropics to avoid competition. Others find North America a land of abundant, albeit temporary, resources. This land of plenty offers a wealth of insects, seeds, fruit and other nourishing, nutritious food to help parent birds keep their strength while they work to ensure their young thrive. The phenomenon of migration isn’t exclusive to the neotropical migrants of the New World. Birds in other parts of the world migrate, too.

rubythroated_hummingbird

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service                 The tiny ruby-throated hummingbird crosses the Gulf of Mexico twice yearly to migrate from Central America to North America in the spring and back again in the fall.

The Arctic tern, for example, truly takes migration to extremes. This small seabird travels each year from its Arctic nesting grounds to the Antarctic region, where it spends the winter months. Put into terms of mileage, the Arctic tern can travel about 50,000 miles in a single year. For a bird with a body length of about 15 inches and a wingspan of about 28 inches, this incredible migration is an astonishing feat.

The ruby-throated hummingbird, a favorite of many bird enthusiasts living in the eastern United States, makes an impressive migration each year. Just to reach the United States, these tiny birds undertake a strenuous journey. They leave their wintering grounds in Central America to return to the United States and Canada for the nesting season. Most of these tiny birds, which are barely four inches long, make a non-stop flight of more than 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico. The journey can take almost an entire day! With the end of summer, the entire population of ruby-throated hummingbirds, increased by a new generation of young birds, makes the Gulf crossing for a second time in a year to return to the American tropics for the winter months.

The broad-winged hawk, a raptor found in the region during the summer, makes a fall migration back to South America every fall that astonishes human onlookers who gather along mountain peaks to witness the spectacle. The hawks form large flocks, also called kettles, that can number thousands of birds.

bartailed_godwit_on_tundra

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/Steve Maslowski The bar-tailed godwit stages migrations that can take nine days of non-stop flight spanning nearly 6,000 miles.

Shorebirds, which in North America can consist of birds ranging from plovers and godwits to dowitchers and avocets, are champion migrants. The bar-tailed godwit makes an even more impressive non-stop migratory flight. This shorebird nests in parts of Scandinavia, northern Asia and Alaska. Some of these godwits make a nine-day non-stop migratory flight that takes them from New Zealand to the Yellow Sea of China, a distance of almost 6,000 miles. Needless to say, since the godwits make no stops along the way, they must also go without food for the duration of their journey.

Most of the warblers that nest in North America retreat to Central and South America during the winter months. Few warblers, however, make as great a journey as the blackpoll warbler. Instead of migrating over land, this five-inch-long warbler undertakes a two-stage migration. The first half of the migration is a non-stop flight of about 1,500 miles. Every fall, these tiny birds fly over the ocean during this part of their migration, departing from Canada or the northern United States and not stopping until they reach various locations in the Caribbean. There they will spend some time recovering from the exhausting first half of their journey before they continue their way to such South American countries as Colombia and Venezuela. Once again, during the time they spend flying over open ocean, these tiny warblers do not feed.

Even birds that cannot fly undertake migrations. For instance, flightless penguins swim hundreds or thousands of miles to reach preferred ranges for feeding or nesting. The Australian emu, a smaller relative of the ostrich, makes seasonal migrations on foot to ensure access to abundant food supplies at all seasons.

arctic_tern

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/Kirk Rogers         The Arctic tern’s migration, which takes it from the Arctic to the Antarctic, keeps this small seabird in the sky for about 50,000 miles each year.

Birds are not even the only animals to migrate. Many creatures, from whales and wildebeest to dragonflies and butterflies, impress humans with their endurance as they stage regular migrations.

Even as some of our summer favorites depart, we should prepare to welcome back some winter favorites, including dark-eyed juncos, yellow-rumped warblers, white-throated sparrows and yellow-bellied sapsuckers. Fall is indeed a time of departure for many birds, but it’s also a time to make new friends with the other birds that should soon start arriving in our yards and gardens.

As for the rose-breasted grosbeak on the porch, that story had a happy ending. After taking some time to recover after apparently striking a window, the bird hopped around the porch for a moment and then took wing and flew to nearby hawthorn trees. The bird’s flight — strong and straight — delighted me. The grosbeak could have been badly injured or even killed. I wished it the best for the remainder of its journey.

•••••

I’m dedicating this week’s column to the memory of J. Wallace Coffey, a great birder and wonderful individual who died Tuesday, Sept. 27. I met Wallace, a native of Bristol, Tennessee, back in the late 1990s. He introduced me to some wonderful birding destinations in the region, including such Virginia locations as Burke’s Garden, Steele Creek Park in Bristol, the wetlands of Saltville and Musick’s Campground on Holston Lake. Wallace was a tireless promoter of birds, birding and birders, and he loved to encourage young people to explore nature. He was also a great leader for the Bristol Bird Club, as well as the Elizabethton Bird Club. He will be greatly missed.
•••••

Bryan Stevens lives near Roan Mountain, Tennessee. To learn more about birds and other topics from the natural world, friend Stevens on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler. He is always posting about local birds, wildlife, flowers, insects and much more. If you have a question, wish to make a comment or share a sighting, email ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

Hummingbirds receive warm welcome upon their return

12080287_10206626890023339_7221944377156024273_o

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                    The last Ruby-throated Hummingbird to visit my feeders in 2015.

My last ruby-throated hummingbird in 2015 visited my sugar water feeder close to dusk on Oct. 10. I never saw any hummingbirds after that date.

I’m always a little wistful when the last hummingbirds depart in the autumn, but I know they’ll return in the spring. This year, a male ruby-throated hummingbird returned on April 12, 180 days after the last hummingbird departed last fall.

What do the hummingbirds that make their homes in our yards from April to October do during the five months they are absent from the region?

Hummer-Shy

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                       The first male Ruby-throated Hummingbird to visit my feeders in 2016 was a bit camera shy.

Most ruby-throated hummingbirds retreat to southern Mexico and Central America, some winging their way as far south as extreme western Panama, as well as the West Indies and southern Florida. They utilize a variety of habitats, ranging from citrus groves and forest edges to tropical deciduous forests and the edges of rivers and wetlands.

Those ruby-throated hummingbirds that make it as far south as Panama may find that they must compete with 59 other species of hummingbirds that call the Central America country home. Panamanian species that a ruby-throated hummingbird might possibly come into contract with include violet sabrewing, purple-throated mountain gem and white-necked jacobin.

In this region, we can only expect with any confidence to enjoy a single species — the aforementioned ruby-throated hummingbird — for half the year. It’s always great to welcome them home. Here are some of the other hummingbird enthusiasts who shared their “first arrivals” with me.

••••••

Doris Cochran in Marion, North Carolina, saw her first hummingbird on April 6.

“I was having my morning coffee … looking out at the frost we got in Marion last night,” she wrote. Then, from inside her home, she happened to notice something. Giving her sugar water feeder a closer look, she was surprised to see a hummingbird perched on it.

•••••

Beverly Puerckhauer sent me an email on April 5. She informed me that she has house finches visiting at her home, but she hasn’t yet seen a hummingbird.

•••••

Jimmie Daniels, Newland, North Carolina, reported her first hummingbird on April 8.

“I just saw a hummingbird at my house and my feeder was inside,” she informed me by email. “The feeder is out now, but he had already left. I sure hope he comes back.”

•••••

Glen Eller, a resident of Kingsport, Tennessee, saw his first ruby-throated hummingbird of the season on Sunday, April 10, at 6:35 p.m. He shared his observation through a post to the list-serve bristol-birds.

•••••

Pat Stakely Cook notified me of a first hummingbird sighting by Facebook post. “We had our first one here in Marion, North Carolina, on Sunday, April 10,” Pat reported, adding that there had been lots of activity around the feeders once that first hummer showed up.

•••••

Philip Laws, a resident of the Limestone Cove community in Unicoi County, Tennessee, reported his first hummingbird on Monday, April 11.

“I just saw my first hummingbird in Limestone Cove, a male of course, about noon,” he reported in a Facebook message. He added that he hadn’t had time to check his feeder on the previous day, but that the sugar water level was down enough to suggest that the hummingbird had probably been feeding on Sunday, too.

•••••

Susie Condrey of Marion, North Carolina, welcomed back a hummingbird on April 11 at 4:15 p.m.

•••••

Janice Denton of Bristol, Tennessee, reported her first spring hummer arrived on April 11.

“I was sitting on my front porch about 7 on Monday evening when a hummingbird went flying by,” she wrote in an email. “I have my feeders in front of three different windows, so when I went inside, I saw the ruby-throated hummingbird feeding at each of my feeders.”

Janice added that she loves watching the hummingbirds feed. “They are such amazing creatures of God,” she wrote.

•••••

Debbie Oliver, also of Bristol, Tennessee, also reported that her first hummer arrived on April 11.

“I just saw my first hummingbird this spring,” she wrote in her email. She noticed the bird flying around the hummingbird feeder at 7:35 p.m.

•••••

Lorraine Hale posted on bristol-birds that she saw two hummingbirds on Monday, April 11, at her home in Bluff City, Tennessee.

•••••

Karen Andis saw her first hummingbird at her shop on Smith Creek Road in Washington County, Virginia.

“I wanted to let you know we saw our first hummingbird on April 12 at 12:25 p.m.,” she wrote. She added that she has only one feeder out, which still managed to attract this hummingbird.

•••••

Joan Moffitt posted on my Facebook page that she saw her first hummingbird of spring on Tuesday, April 12, around 2:45 p.m. She put out her feeder on Saturday, April 9.

•••••

Harold and Elizabeth Willis saw their first hummingbird at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, April 13. The couple resides in Marion, North Carolina, in the Hankins community near Lake James.

•••••

13063046_10208044734309902_6436013255540173042_o

Photo Courtesy of Linda Kessinger Rhodes Linda Kessinger Rhodes photographed her newly-arrived hummingbird and shared the photo on Facebook.

Linda Kessinger Rhodes sent me a Facebook message reporting her first hummingbird of spring on Thursday, April 14. “There he was — the first hummer I’ve seen at my waiting feeder off Volunteer Parkway in Bristol near the racetrack,” she wrote.

•••••

Marty Huber and Jo Ann Detta of Abingdon, Virginia, spotted their first spring hummer on April 14.

“Our hummingbird arrived  April 14 at 8:10 p.m. just before it got dark,” they shared in an email. “it was so exciting to see the hummer sitting and relaxing on our nectar feeder.”

This year’s hummingbird arrived two days later than last year.

“We hope this one stays around as last year it was ten days before we saw another hummer,” they added.

•••••

Bill and Judy Beckman, who reside on Spivey Mountain in Unicoi County, Tennessee, saw their first hummingbird — a male — around 2 p.m. on Thursday, April 14.

••••••

Steve Meigs saw his first hummingbird of the spring at 11:30 a.m. on April 14 at his home in Foxhound Hills in the Limestone Cove community of Unicoi. “That’s a few days earlier than the last few years,” Steve noted, adding that his home is located at an elevation of 2,800 feet.

••••••

Phyllis Moore informed me via Facebook that her hummingbirds are back in Bristol, Virginia, as of 7:30 p.m. on April 20.

••••••

Hummer-Male

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                     Now that they’re back, hummingbirds will probably stick around until early October.

James Noel Smith of Unicoi informed my via Facebook that the hummingbirds are back at his Unicoi, Tennessee, home as of April 26.

••••••

To learn more about birds and other topics from the natural world, friend Stevens on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler. He is always posting about local birds, wildlife, flowers, insects and much more. If you have a question, wish to make a comment or share a sighting, email ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

Birds adopt many strategies for care of their young

One question that tends to pop up every June in my email or on Facebook concerns the presence of hummingbirds.  The status of hummingbirds at my own home since their arrival back in April has been somewhat sporadic. I think this has been noticed by some other people, too.

MommyHummer

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                  A female Ruby-throated Hummingbird visits a feeders. Female hummingbirds in our yards in June and July are probably nesting residents.

The hummingbirds were scarce in April and May. When June arrived, their numbers began to increase.

However, this pattern that I saw this year is usually just the opposite. The hummingbirds are usually abundant in early spring, taper off in June and July, and then increase again in August and September. Basically, I think their numbers just naturally fluctuate. Some years we have more of them than other years.

There are other possibilities to explain the absence of hummingbirds. It’s always possible that hummingbirds, adhering to the philosophy that “the grass is always greener” elsewhere have taken to exploring a neighbor’s yard and gardens.

Hummingbirds, like many of the songbirds that spend the summer season with us, keep busy this time of year with the task of raising offspring. That alone could explain a temporary lull in their numbers in our yards and gardens.

BabyTowhee

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                A young Eastern Towhee, not long out of the nest, looks for sunflower seeds in the grass beneath a feeder.

Many species of birds attempt to nest two or even three times during the summer nesting season. So far this year, I’ve observed nesting activity by a wide variety of birds, including Northern cardinals, brown thrashers, Eastern towhees, Eastern bluebirds, tree swallows, song sparrows, white-breasted nuthatches, Carolina wrens and downy woodpeckers.

All birds, from tiny hummingbirds that are mere inches long to an ostrich that can stand more than nine feet tall, start out as eggs. Birds have developed a range of ways to protect and incubate eggs to ensure the continuance of the species.

For many birds, the strategy is to produce as many young as possible in a limited amount of time. The hooded warbler, which spends the winter months in Central America, will usually make multiple nesting attempts in a season. The female constructs a cup-shaped nest, which is a design common to many of our songbirds. She will lay three to five eggs in the nest. Incubation of the eggs is a duty usually performed solely by the female, but her mate helps by guarding the nest and surrounding territory. Both parents feed the young once they have hatched after about two weeks.

Not all birds share in the task of caring for helpless young. For instance, the male ruby-throated hummingbird shows not the slightest inclination to assist the female with the duties of rearing young. All ruby-throated hummingbirds are raised by single mothers. Male hummingbirds spend the summer sipping nectar, dueling with other male hummers and courting multiple females.

Hooded warbler pairs, as is the case with many songbirds, share the work of feeding and tending young. Many of these young birds spend very little time in the nest after hatching. Hooded warblers have typically left the nest within nine days of hatching, although parents continue to feed the young as they learn to fly and care for themselves.

BS-Phoebe-Baby

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                    An Eastern phoebe fledgling perches on a tree branch.

Some birds, such as Northern Cardinals, often delegate the duty to the male for caring for young that have fledged from the nest. As the male trains and continues to feed the maturing young, the female cardinal often begins the work of building a second nest, laying another clutch of eggs and incubating them. Time is scarce. By getting a jump-start on a second nest, the female cardinal, if successful, may produce eight to ten new cardinals in a single nesting season.

John-James-Audubon-Common-Cow-bird.-1.-Male.-2.-Female.-3.-Young

A painting of Brown-headed Cowbirds by John James Audubon.

Some birds, however, have bypassed the necessity of nesting altogether. If all hummingbirds are reared by females, then all young cowbirds are from foster homes, or nests. Female cowbirds slip their eggs into the nest of other unsuspecting songbirds. The hooded warbler is often a victim of this practice, which is known as “nest parasitism.” Some experts have conducted studies that indicate as many as 75 percent of hooded warblers in some areas are parents to cowbirds foisted on them.

BarnSwallows.jpg

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                Young barn swallows in their nest await a delivery of food by their parents.

It’s not wise to condemn cowbirds for a behavior that would strike us as immoral. The peculiar reproduction strategy for the cowbird came about as a natural necessity. Cowbirds once followed the massive herds of bison across the North American continent, feeding on the insects and seeds displaced by the hooves of these huge animals. Since the bison herds stayed on the move, the cowbirds didn’t have the luxury of staying put for a couple of months to raise young.

The decimation of the bison herds could have proven a disaster for the cowbirds. That wasn’t the case, however, since these adaptable birds simply switched from following bison herd to doing the same with the enormous numbers of domestic cattle that inherited the range of the buffalo, or bison.

These are just a select few ways that birds succeed year after year in the never-ending effort to ensure the survival of the species for another generation. Many obstacles stand in their way. Any time you see birds bringing their babies to a feeder in your yard or a shrub in your garden, recognize this moment as a singular triumph for the labor and dedication our fine feathered friends have invested in this outcome.

JP-RedEyedVireo-Fledgling

Photo Courtesy of Jean Potter                                                                                                                A young Red-eyed Vireo calls for food while concealed on the ground after leaving the nest. As is the case with most songbirds, parents continue to care for young even after they have left the nest.