Wintering Hummingbirds in the Golden Triangle
(The following article on hummingbirds wintering in the Golden Triangle will appear in the February 2011 Brown Pelican.)
How to Warm the Heart on a
Cold Winter January Day
in Nederland and Beaumont............
On Friday morning, January 21st, the hummer homes tour started on a very cold day. At 7:30 AM, one member of GTAS showed up to see the Buff-bellied Hummingbird drink sporadically from a feeder at our home in Nederland. This bird drinks for about 1/2 of a second at a time and then flies below and hides in between the sips. He (or she) is a very pretty colorful bird though. A little while later another member showed up and saw glimpses of the same bird. The immature Black-chinned Hummingbird also made some very quick appearances also. We left our house at 8:00 to go and see the most corporative hummingbird that I have ever seen. We went to Harlan Stewart's house in Nederland to a female Anna's Hummingbird. The bird seems to like to show off for people. We say that she is sort of like a "Hollywood" hummingbird because she doesn't mind people being close to her and she doesn't mind having her picture taken. It did not take long to see her because she is very cooperative.
At 8:30, we left to go to Steve Kuritz's house in Beaumont to see his Rufous Hummingbird. His bird was very cooperative also and popped up onto a power cord above the garage and we took long looks. We left Steve's house around 9:15 and went to Rose Ann and Harrison Jordan's house in north Beaumont. We watched from the inside of their home that morning. We saw their Buff-bellied Hummingbird, their immature Rufous, and their Broad-tailed Hummingbird. We stayed two hours at the Jordan's house because they have lots of other birds to see also. As we were watching birds we began to talk about the arrival times of these "western" hummers that we were each hosting at our houses. We were finished and back home by noon.
We first talked about when the ones we have first appeared: The Buff-bellied and Black-chinned at our house showed up on December 25th, 2010. Harlan first observed the Anna's on December 28th, 2010. Steve first observed his Rufous on August 28th, 2010 when there was a southwesterly wind; last year a Rufous came to his house on August 24th, 2009. The Jordan's Broad-tailed arrived on October 24th, the Buff-bellied on November 29th and the Rufous on December 27th.
So then we started wondering why they would come to our three urban and one large suburban yards. Here are some of the ideas we thought about:
1. Our climate only goes below freezing 5-10 times a year which means that the hummers will have nectar a while to drink from before the plants get frozen.
2. We have more insects than a lot of other places.
3. We realize that many of these hummers can live in cold climates but when plants are covered with snow that would kill off the insects for a while.
4. Immature birds spread out farther than mature hummers.
5. We know that hummers go into a torpor state when they need to.
6. The typical winter territory is generally a small area.
7. None of us know where the hummingbirds that frequent our feeders go at night.
8. Each of the four houses plant native plants to provide nectar for butterflies and hummingbirds.
Harlan noted that his Anna's hummer will be active catching insects in 40 degree or better temperatures. We wonder if daily hours above 40 might be a factor (or infrequency of multi-day spans lacking x hours above 40)? Also, our damp winter climate might encourage the proliferation of fungus gnats, which might be excellent food for hummers. Harlan saw large numbers of midges (Chironomidae) in Anahuac on the GTAS fieldtrip. This might be a factor in some gardens with abundant moist leaf litter or other decaying vegetation or mulch.
Here is a list of plants at each yard:
Hamelia patens (10)
Mexican cigar plant
David Verity cigar plant
Mexican Turk's cap
Abutilon (Flowering maple)
Shrimp plant (5 large areas)
Mulberry (2), oak (1), and pine (2) trees
Harlan rated the different plants according to which he saw them visited by hummingbirds (Mostly Ruby-throats). The lower ratings don't necessarily reflect reality. He observes "The shrimp plant is in a disadvantageous location for observations. The Penstemon, rated well in texts, has not competed well with adjacent larger plants (my brown thumb in action). Similarly for the Mexican honeysuckle. The bat-face cuphea is in my front yard and although it is continuously covered in blooms in the summer, I rarely spend time watching it for hummingbird activity. The pineapple sage should be rated higher I believe, but it hasn't yet been flowering enough to rate it fairly. The wisteria is good, but it flowers too briefly to be rated highly. The David Verity Cigar Plant hasn't had enough of a chance to show off."
Mexican cigar plant****
Pink and yellow Lantana***
Wild morning glory***
Zinnia (tall/large variety)**
Brazilian sage (Salvia guarantica)**
? Shrimp plant*
David Verity cigar plant*
Loquat trees*(two 10-ft tall)
? Mexican honeysuckle
? Bat-face cuphea
Pink and Yellow Lantana
20 feet tall Sistine grass
Claradendron (Cashmere Bouquet)
Rose Ann and Harrison's yard:
Mexican Turk's cap
Purple, white, pink Lantana
David Verity cuphea
Little Turk's cap
Purple and white Lantana
Virginia's sweet spire
All kinds of trees!
Running water in a fountain that birds love
Black oil seed feeders and two peanut cakes, one of which is homemade
If you would like to see any of our winter hummers, please call me at 722-4193 and I will contact the others unless you know them personally. Also, if you have winter hummers at your feeder please call me so this quartet of hummer hosts can view your hummers also.
One of the purposes for this article is to encourage local birders to put out hummingbird and butterfly plants all during the year and feeders in the winter. Some hummer hosts clean the feeder daily and some every three days, so it is not extremely difficult. There is a listserv in Louisiana that regularly posts a list of all their wintering hummingbirds. I can forward the latest report to you if you want to see the list so far this winter. They have reported 288 wintering hummingbirds to date. We all wonder how many our area really has on any winter day.......