Update on Winter Hummingbirds

In my October blog I talked about hummingbirds that winter here in Virginia. Although they are rare, a few usually show up, whether they are our familiar Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that didn’t migrate as far south as they should, or whether they are rare western species that migrated in the wrong direction and wound up in Virginia instead of in Mexico.

The Western rarities in particular get birders quite excited, and if a bird is a juvenile or a female and cannot be positively identified by sight alone, a hummingbird bander is usually called upon to band and identify the species. If the owner of the feeder that the hummingbird is frequenting gives the okay, the bird’s location is shared with others, and posted on the local listservs so that others can come see the bird.
So far, this winter has been quite an exciting time for hummingbird enthusiasts, and I want to share some of the love with you all. In October I posted two photos from Mark Mullins (Claytor Lake, Va.) of a Rufous Hummingbird that was coming to his feeder. About a week later, Mark made another amazing discovery at the very same feeder: an adult male Black-chinned Hummingbird! While common in the western states, it is extremely rare in the east, and even more rare is seeing an adult male in definitive plumage. Mark took amazing pictures of this bird (above and below) and gave me permission to post them here. Thanks again, Mark.

On November 20 a female hummingbird started visiting a feeder in Chester, Va. (just west of Hopewell). She was a “Selasphorus” hummingbird, meaning she was either a Rufous or an Allen’s hummingbird; these two western species are almost identical in female or immature plumage, so a bird bander was called to capture, band, examine and release her. He verified that she was an Allen’s Hummingbird, one of only a handful of confirmed Virginia records of this species! I myself drove to Chester twice to see her because I had not seen an Allen’s away from the Pacific coast. I was able to get a decent photo of her on a day when the sun actually shone. The homeowners who are hosting her are maintaining three feeders, and bought warming devices to attach to each of them to keep the sugar water unfrozen. It has been bitterfly cold for the past two weeks, but she has been able to survive because of their extra care and effort.

(Note: As of today, December 15, the homeowner hosting the Allen’s posted on the listserv that the bird is still there today, with the thermometer reading 8 degrees outside!)
Another “Selasphorus” hummingbird was reported to the Virginia Bird Listserv last week by David Shoch (Charlottesville). This one is visiting a feeder in Earlysville. This one is an immature male, and again, it cannot be determined whether he is a Rufous or an Allen’s Hummingbird without closer examination. As you can see from David’s photo, below, he is more colorful than the Selasphorus females. The hummingbird bander will hopefully be able visit the bird and make a determination in the next week or two.

I’ve been told the the Ruby-throated Hummingbird that wintered last year in Sandbridge has returned this year to the same feeder. Birds are built that way; the same bird will often return to precisely the same location year after year, even in cases like this one where the location is outside its species’ normal range.
So, that’s how things are so far this year. I have faithfully maintained my own hummingbird feeder in my Chesapeake yard, and encourage others to do the same. I have had no winter visitors, at least not while I’ve been at home to see them — but, you never know….!