Photo by Bryan Stevens • Ruby-throated hummingbirds returned to the region earlier this month. This male, sipping sugar water from a feeder, shows its namesake red throat patch.
As many readers have already noticed, the ruby-throated hummingbirds are back. These tiny flying gems began returning to the region in the first days of April, but reports of their arrival spiked during the second week of April.
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?
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. In their winter home, the ruby-throated hummingbirds are definitely just another face in the crowd when its comes to their kin. In Panama, a ruby-throated hummingbird might encounter violet-headed hummingbirds, white-necked jacobins, black-throated mangos and green violet ears.
Photo by Bryan Stevens • A young ruby-throated hummingbird shows a hint of the red throat gorget that gives this bird its common name.
It must be nice to live among so many hummingbirds. Closer to home, the ruby-throated hummingbird is the only one of its kind to nest in the eastern United States. Some of the ones arriving at our feeders now will speed their way farther north, but some will settle in our yards and gardens as they bring forth the next generation of ruby-throated hummingbirds.
Dianne Draper reported the earliest observation of which I am aware. A friend on Facebook and a fellow birder, Dianne posted that the first hummingbird of spring arrived at her home in Jonesborough, Tennessee, on the morning of April 4. Her sighting was seven days earlier than any of the others I received.
Harold and Elizabeth Willis in Marion, North Carolina, reported their first hummingbird at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, April 11.
Helen Whited in Richland, Virginia, saw her first hummingbird at 12:40 p.m. on Thursday, April 12.
Judy and Bill Beckman saw their first spring hummer at 7:25 p.m. on April 12 at their home in Unicoi, Tennessee.
Photo by Bryan Stevens • A female ruby-throated hummingbird settles onto the perch of a sugar water feeder.
Lois Wilhelm, who lives on Little Bald Creek Road on Spivey Mountain in Erwin, Tennessee, saw her first hummingbird of 2018 at 3:30 p.m. on April 12.
Glen Eller in Kingsport, Tennessee, saw his first spring hummingbird around 5 p.m. on April 12. The bird — a male — drank for about four minutes. “I guess he needed a good fill up,” Glen commented.
Nola Martin from Nebo, North Carolina, reported her first hummer arrived just before 11 a.m. on April 12.
“He was a little green bird….not sure which kind or which sex,” she wrote in her email. “It certainly remembered where one of my feeders was last year, though, as it was looking for it in that spot, I didn’t have that one out yet.”
Nola said she now has five of her seven feeders filled and placed out for the returning hummingbirds.
Betty Poole saw her first male hummingbird of spring when the bird arrived at 9:05 a.m. on Friday, April 13, at her home in Bristol, Virginia. Her daughter, Jane P. Arnold, emailed me the information about her mother’s sighting. Jane is still awaiting her own first spring sighting of a hummingbird.
Photo by Bryan Stevens • A ruby-throated hummingbird lifts its wings to shake water droplets off its back.
Debbie Oliver, while watching Wheel of Fortune on the evening of April 12, got her first glimpse of a spring hummer at her deck feeders in Bristol, Tennessee.
“I couldn’t observe if it was male or female due to the dimming light,” she wrote in an email.
“It was a curious ruby-throated hummingbird just flying around the feeder without taking a sip of nectar,” she added. Around 9 a.m. the following morning, she spotted a male ruby-throated hummer drinking nectar at the feeder.
She speculated about whether the bird was the same individual that visited the previous evening. “We’ll never know,” she decided.
Joneen Sargent emailed me to let me know that her husband, Dale, saw a ruby-throated hummingbird on April 12 at 7 a.m. The Sargents live off of Booher Drive in Bristol, Tennessee.
Bob Cheers of Bristol, Virginia, saw his first ruby-throated hummingbird at 6:45 a.m. on April 13. Bob keeps a record of the arrival dates for this tiny bird. In 2015, he saw the first hummer on April 9. Last year, he saw his first hummer on April 11. In 2016, the first bird arrived on April 13. In 2014, he had to wait until April 14 to see the first hummer of spring.
Photo by Bryan Stevens • A male ruby-throated hummingbird perches near a feeder that he is ready to defend from all comers.
Mark Hurt, who lives on Glenway Avenue in Bristol near Virginia High School, said that his “little buddy,” the ruby-throated hummingbird, returned about 1 p.m. on April 13.
Sandra Loving reported that her first hummer sighting took place at 6:17 p.m. on April 13 at South Holston Lake in Tennessee.
Peggy Oliver saw her first male ruby-throated hummingbird of spring at 6:15 p.m. on April 13.
Ashley Russ of Abingdon, Virginia, emailed me to share that she spotted her first hummingbird of the season at 7:20 p.m. on April 13.
Terry Fletcher saw her first male ruby-throated hummingbird at her feeder at 6:50 a.m. on April 14 at home in the First Colony subdivision in Bristol, Tennessee. Away from home the previous day, Terry was told by a next-door neighbor that the hummingbirds actually showed up on April 13.
Janice Denton, who lives on Canthook Hill Road in Bristol, Tennessee, emailed me news of her first sighting.
“I’m excited to let you know that I saw my first ruby-throated hummingbird on Friday, April 13,” she wrote. “I have had my feeders out for about two weeks and was sitting on my front porch in the afternoon hoping to see a hummingbird.”
On April 15 around noon, Janice also reported that she saw a male ruby-throated on a feeder outside her kitchen window, and another one came along and chased it off. “I hope they all stick around for the summer,” she wrote.
Photo by Bryan Stevens • Only adult male ruby-throated hummingbirds show the namesake ruby-red throat patch.
Lynne Reinhard reported via Facebook that she had her first hummingbird sighting at her home on the upper end of South Holston Lake on April 14. She noted that the hummingbird arrived a day earlier than last spring.
Linda Sproles, who lives on Hunter Hills Circle in Bristol, Tennessee, observed the first arrival of a hummingbird at her deck feeder at 10:43 a.m. on April 14. “It was a female, I believe, because it did not have a red throat patch,” she added.
Kathy Maggio, who lives between Benhams and Mendota in Washington County, Virginia, spotted her first hummingbird of spring at 1:15 p.m. on April 14.
Phyllis Moore of Bristol, Virginia, saw her first ruby-throated hummingbird of the spring at 4 p.m. on April 14.
Pat Stakely Cook, who resides in Marion, North Carolina, reported two ruby-throated hummingbirds at her feeders on April 14. The two male hummers stayed busy feeding and chasing each other.
Early American naturalist and painter John James Audubon painted this work featuring the ruby-throated hummingbird. From the moment New World explorers arrived in the New World from Europe, they were impressed by the tiny, dazzling hummingbirds, a family of birds unknown in the Old World.
Amy Wallin Tipton, a resident of Erwin, Tennessee, saw her first hummingbird, a male, at 4 p.m. on April 14. She shared her sighting via Facebook.
Judi Sawyer, a resident of Roan Mountain, Tennessee, saw her first spring hummingbird, a male, at her home on the morning of April 14. Some house wrens decided to make their arrival the same day, she reported on Facebook.
Ginger Wertz-Justis in Baileyton, Tennessee, saw a male hummingbird at 6:30 p.m. on April 14.
Richard Trinkle emailed me to report that he saw a male ruby-throated hummingbird at 6:15 p.m. on April 14 at his Bristol home near Friendship Ford.
Robin Small saw the first hummer at 6:15 p.m. on April 14. “As I was looking at the snow falling and the cardinals, woodpeckers and regular visitors to my deck feeders, I saw my first hummingbird of 2018,” Robin wrote in an email. Robin put the feeder out the previous day when temperatures had been in the 80s and added that the hummer visited several times as the snow fell the evening of its arrival.
Janice Humble, who lives near South Holston Lake, put out her feeder on April 14. “It wasn’t 15 minutes until I had a hummingbird,” she wrote in her email. “I saw two others that same evening.”
Lewis Spicer of Abingdon, Virginia, had both a male and female hummingbird visit his home for the first time this spring on the same day on April 15. He saw the male at 9:35 a.m. The female hummer arrived during afternoon rain at 12:45.
Frank and Myra Renault of Abingdon, Virginia, saw their first hummingbird of spring — a female — at 12:06 p.m. on April 16.
Sheila Myers, who lives on Porter Valley Road in Marion, Virginia, saw her first hummer at noon on April 16.
Rhonda Eller in Chilhowie, Virginia, saw her first spring hummingbird at 4:53 p.m. on April 18.
I am pleased to report that my own first hummingbird sighting for 2018 took place when a feisty male zipped into the yard while I was seated on the front porch. He sipped at four different feeders before he zoomed off. He arrived at 5:40 p.m. on April 14, one day earlier than last year’s first arrival. My feeders had been waiting for the arrival of hummingbirds for about a week when he first appeared.
Photo by Bryan Stevens • Numbers of Ruby-throated Hummingbird in the region tend to fluctuate each year, but people should see a spike in their numbers as the hummingbirds end summer nesting and start migrating south again.