Hummingbirds are here? Now?
In the warmer months of the year, it’s common to see hummingbirds throughout the Upper Delaware River region, brightening our lives with their bejeweled beauty and entertaining us with their feisty behaviors around feeders. This nesting species is the ruby-throated hummingbird, which typically departs in mid-September to early October for warmer climes.
According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC), however, several other species have been sighted in our region through December. Western hummingbird species such as the Rufous, Allen’s, Black-chinned and Calliope, which normally winter in the southern United States and Central America are now being recorded in the eastern United States. “Stray individuals are migrating in a different direction than expected,” according to a blog post on the PGC’s website.
Unlike the ruby-throated hummingbird, these species are better adapted to handle colder weather. They can drop into a deep hibernation-like state of torpor at night to conserve energy, and are also able to put on extra fat reserves.
Researchers are trying to understand the east to west migration pattern. Scott Weidensaul, author of “Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds,” (a finalist for the 2000 Pulitzer Prize) is part of a continental network of bird banders trying to document the emerging phenomenon. Weidensaul bands vagrant western hummingbirds, primarily in eastern Pennsylvania, each fall and early winter to gain more information about changing migration routes.
“Changes in the landscape, and the ever-warmer winters of the past century, may be combining to make the East and especially the Southeast perfectly hospitable to these birds,” writes Weidensaul on his website. “Banding studies in the East suggest the number of wintering hummingbirds is increasing dramatically, and that we may be seeing the rapid evolution of a new migratory route and wintering area for these birds.”
Wayne Laubscher, of the Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology and the Lycoming Audubon Society, notes that while most of the sightings are in November, he has banded hummingbirds during Christmas week and one in northern Pennsylvania on January 2. “I banded a female Rufous near State College in November several years ago,” Laubscher said in an email. “She left on January 7. The ambient temperature was -9 degrees and the wind chill was -30 to -35. She now apparently holds the low temperature record for her species.”
Those who observe a hummingbird here this winter are encouraged to contact Weidensaul (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Laubscher (wnlaubscher@com cast.net) regarding the sighting. It is also recommended that feeders be left hanging through December, though they must be monitored for freezing. Visit https://ebird.org/pa/news/pennsylvanias-au tumn-jewels to learn more.