Keep your hummingbird feeders up as temperatures drop this fall and winter. That’s the suggestion of Georgia Wildlife Resources Division biologists, who say that some visiting hummers make the state their winter home and benefit from the nourishment feeders provide.
Although the ruby-throated hummingbird is the only breeding species of eastern North America, 12 hummingbird species have been recorded in Georgia over the last few decades. Every year in early fall, our resident ruby-throats migrate south to southern Mexico and Central America, often crossing the Gulf of Mexico in a single flight.
But even before this departure, hummingbird species from the western U.S. and northwestern Canada start showing up in Georgia. These winter visitors may arrive as early as August and stay into late March or early April. Among the newcomers is the rufous hummingbird, which has the longest migration route of any hummer species, and the calliope hummingbird, the smallest bird in the nation.
In the past, many Georgians took their feeders down for winter, fearing that the food supply would deter hummingbirds from migrating. However, the shortening of the days is what signals hummers to move, not the availability of food. Keeping feeders up through the winter does not affect normal migration.
Instead, homeowners who keep their feeders full are providing a supplemental source of food for migratory hummers and may get a rare glimpse of a western species visiting their yard in the winter.
Keeping feeders available also helps biologists gather data on winter hummer populations, according to Todd Schneider, a biologist with the Wildlife Resources Division’s Nongame Conservation Section, all part of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
“Until a few years ago, we didn’t even know that we had several of these species wintering here,” Schneider said. “But we are now able to establish a baseline so we can see whether certain species become more or less frequent in the state during winter.”
Of the western hummers that occasionally appear in Georgia, the rufous hummingbird is the most common. This species breeds farther north than any other hummingbird, spending the summer in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. When making the long migration down the chain of the Rocky Mountains toward south-central Mexico, a few rufous hummingbirds will follow a different route and end up in Georgia and other parts of the Southeast during winter.
The calliope hummer is another snowbird, colorful but tiny at about a 10th of an ounce. This species also sometimes veers off track on its journey to wintering grounds in Mexico. A calliope was first recorded in Georgia during the winter of 1998-1999.
The best way for Georgians to report winter hummingbird sightings is at the Georgia Hummer Study Group website, www.gahummer.org. The group is particularly interested in hummingbirds spotted in early November to early March. Sightings can also be reported to Wildlife Resource’s Nongame Conservation Section in Forsyth by calling (478) 994-1438. These reports document the incidence of wintering hummers and help biologists determine the birds’ habitat needs.
Georgians can help conserve endangered and other nongame wildlife by purchasing or renewing a bald eagle or hummingbird license plate, contributing to the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund through the state income tax checkoff or donating directly to the fund. Each option provides vital support for the Nongame Conservation Section, which receives no state appropriations for its mission to conserve wildlife not hunted, fished for or trapped, as well as rare plants and natural habitats.
Thanks to a law change this year, the hummer and eagle license plates cost less – only $25 more than a standard peach plate – and provide more support, with up to 80 percent of the $25 fee for purchases and renewals dedicated to nongame conservation. Upgrade to a wildlife tag and show your support!
Visit www.georgiawildlife.org/conservation for more information, or call Nongame Conservation offices in Social Circle (770-761-3035), Forsyth (478-994-1438) or Brunswick (912-262-7355).
Georgia Hummers at a Glance
Hummingbirds that have been documented in the state:
- Green-breasted mango
- Green violet-eared*
*This species is listed as provisional, meaning a photograph is needed to add it to the state’s official list.