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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:

Whittle's yard:

Hamelia patens (10)

Mexican cigar plant

David Verity cigar plant

Mexican Turk's cap

Abutilon (Flowering maple)

Purple Porterweed

Shrimp plant (5 large areas)

Mulberry (2), oak (1), and pine (2) trees

Harlan's yard:

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."

 Bottle-brush bush****

Chaste tree***

Mexican sunflower****

Mexican cigar plant****

Mexican sage****

Scarlet sage****

Hamelia patens****

Coral vine****

Pink and yellow Lantana***

Wild morning glory***

Butterfly bush**

Zinnia (tall/large variety)**

Mexican milkweed**

Pineapple sage**

Brazilian sage (Salvia guarantica)**

Wisteria*

? Shrimp plant*

Passion vine*

David Verity cigar plant*

Loquat trees*(two 10-ft tall)

? Penstemon

? Mexican honeysuckle

? Bat-face cuphea

Steve's yard:

 Texas Clementis

Passion vine

Hamelia patens

Winter honeysuckle

Red Honeysuckle

Spike flower

Penstamen

Shrimp plant

Pink and Yellow Lantana

Firecracker bush

Cestron

Scarlet Sage

Pineapple sage

Pink Sage

Mexican cuphea

20 feet tall Sistine grass

Claradendron (Cashmere Bouquet)

Rose Ann and Harrison's yard:

Yaupon

Shrimp plant

Mexican Turk's cap

Wax myrtle

Purple, white, pink Lantana

David Verity cuphea

Pyracantha

Walter's Viburnum

Mexican heather

Butterfly bush

Mexican sage

Bottle-brush bush

Coral honeysuckle

Little Turk's cap

Hamelia patens

Milkweed

Purple and white Lantana

Spike flower

Virginia's sweet spire

Begonias

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.......

Jana Whittle

 

 

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