Winged Jewels - Winter Hummingbirds in Louisiana
Western Hummingbirds in Louisiana
Did you know that some species of hummingbirds spend the winter in the southern United States? Yes, it's true. In backyards and habitats all over the south species such as Rufous, Allen's, Black-chinned, Broad-tailed, Calliope, Buff-bellied and several other of these tiny birds migrate from their homes in the western U.S. to places in Louisiana and many other southern states.
Through the years, we've been lucky enough to host six different species during the winter. When we were living in Baton Rouge, our yard was full of Rufous from November through March. In our forested habitat in Covington, La there were fewer individuals until we opened up some areas in the yard.
This page will tell you how to be a good winter hummingbird host and also about the different species that you may encounter. Many of the photos seen here were taken by the author in her 9-acre backyard habitat in Southeastern Louisiana.
There are several species of these tiny birds that spend the winter in Louisiana and other southern states.
Watching Winged Jewels is a Year-Round Hobby in the South
Winter Hummingbird Poll
Do you have winter hummingbirds where you live?
This immature black chinned had a deformed beak, but it was able to drink from feeders and flowers and spent one winter in our yard in Baton Rouge.
In the southern United States, including Louisiana where we live, fall and winter often brings prized winged visitors to yards and habitats. They are the western hummingbirds.
Since the 1990s, when we lived in Baton Rouge, we regularly hosted a variety of species during the winter. Our list to date includes: Rufous, Allen's, Black-chinned, Calliope, Buff-bellied, Broad-tailed and of course Ruby-throated. There are sightings of many other species, in other yards here in South Louisiana and throughout the south.
The normal winter home for most individuals of these western species is Mexico, but for some reason some choose to spend the winter in the southern United States. Most enthusiasts leave their feeders up and filled with fresh sugar water (4 to 1 or 3 to 1 water to white sugar ratio) year round. They also plant their gardens with hardy plants that bloom at different times during the year, some even in winter. A few really obsessive enthusiasts have elaborate movable "greenhouses" consisting of large sheets of plastic on rolls that they can roll out over their blooming plants if a freeze is expected and then roll back when the ever changing weather gets warm again.
In Louisiana, a hummingbird is considered to be a "winter" hummingbird if it is observed after November 15 through early spring (March) when the Ruby-throateds return to their breeding grounds here in the United States.
I'd like to share some photos, facts and stories about some of the beautiful little birds that have graced us with a winter visit. It is indeed an event each time it happens and is announced on all the hummingbird forums. The local banders are contacted so that they can capture, measure, weigh and band the bird. It's not uncommon for birds to return year after year and the band assures their identification plus the data that is collected contributes to the study that the USGS Banding Lab is coordinating while tracking the movements of some of our smallest birds.
I have included only the species that we have hosted during the winter. There are several others that also spend the winter in the south, but have not graced us with a visit. I will try to include some of these at a later date.
Rufous are the most common of wintering birds. In Baton Rouge, we normally had 5-6 Rufous each winter. They are bold and attractive little birds with an angry sounding tsk call. Rufous seem to be scolding you for disturbing them. The males are mostly cinnamon colored with an orange-red gorget (throat) and the females have green backs, with pale cinnamon sides, dark red in their tail feathers and many have a few red-orange feathers in a circle on their throat.
Our first was an immature Rufous and we got to see him molt into the beautiful colors of an adult male. Dave Patton banded him and most of the other wintering hummingbirds at our house in Baton Rouge.
In Covington, during the winter of 2009-2010 an immature female rufous spent the winter with us. Linda Beall banded her in February and we documented the entire banding session on Banding a Hummingbird.
The Allen's is a "cousin" to the Rufous. The video shows the coloration, the vocalization and wing sounds that it makes.
Allen's and Rufous are so much alike (especially the females) that it takes an expert to tell them apart. The males usually have more green on their backs than the male Rufous and the Allen's tail feathers are shorter, thinner and more pointed than those of the Rufous. We hosted one immature male Allen's in Baton Rouge.
Broad-tailed hummingbirds look something like Ruby-throated hummingbirds, except the tail is much broader and has dark rusty-red bands at the base of the tail feathers. The male's gorget is more rosy red than crimson. Their call sounds like a distant Cardinal. Female Broad-tails look a lot like female Rufous as they are both in the Selasphorus genus.
This is my favorite hummer field guide. The photographs are very good and the way that it is organized makes it easy to find what you are looking for. I actually have 2 copies of it so that I can take one out in the field and have a pristine backup at home.
The narration and filming of this male Calliope is excellent.
Calliopes are the smallest of all that breed in the U.S. They are very round with a short neck and tail. Some say they look like a feathered ping-pong ball with a head. Males are quite beautiful with bright green above and creamy white below and a wine red to reddish purple iridescent gorget. Females are similar (without the beautiful gorget) and have pale cinnamon sides. A feisty little female spent the whole winter with us in Covington in 2002. Calliopes are usually quiet, almost secretive birds, but our female acted more like a Rufous. She was banded by Linda Beall.
Buff-bellieds are larger than a Ruby-throated and much more colorful. They are easily recognized by their red bill with a black tip, green to turquoise bib, buff belly and large copper colored tail. They are aggressive and territorial and can be heard making noises that sound like arcing electricity. In Baton Rouge, one showed up right before Christmas in 2000 and stayed until almost spring. It was banded by Dave Patton.
Listen to its warning call in the video below.
Pointers to help you provide for winter hummingbird visitors.
In order to sustain winter hummingbirds you must have food in the form of nectar and insects available. Hummingbird feeders will help, but a garden with some hardy, nectar rich flowers and plenty of tiny insects is a must. You must also provide water, shelter from the cold and cover to hide from predators as well as trees and shrubs where breeding hummingbirds can raise young.
One of my favorite books on the subject is Hummingbird Gardens by Nancy Newfield, a hummingbird bander and expert from Louisiana. It contains lists of good hummingbird plants from each section of the U.S. and a lot of information about landscaping to attract and nurture these tiny birds.
The throat of a male black-chinned is purple in bright sunlight, but black in the shade.
Black-chinneds are a little larger than Ruby-throats. The females look almost identical in the field. The males, however, are easier to identify because of their deep purple gorget feathers. They sound a lot like Ruby-throateds, too. In flight, Black-chinneds pump their tail, almost constantly. We had a couple stay with us. An immature male (photo of him drinking from the strawberry feeder top of the page) in Baton Rouge and an unusual female here in Covington. The male was banded by Dave Patton and the female by Linda Beall.
Male Black Chinned
Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird After Chase
The Ruby-throated hummingbird is the only one which breeds, east of the Rockies. Sometimes immature birds, probably hatched in the northern states, or older, weaker adults will spend the winter in Covington and other parts of South Louisiana. For more information about Ruby-throateds and gardening, visit "Hummingbirds and Gardening for Them" which is featured in the link list below.
Ruby Throat Sips
People who band hummingbirds must go through an apprentice program with a veteran (permitted by the USGS) master bander. Each time a bird is banded, the number is recorded along with the location, measurements and description of each bird. All this data is reported to the USGS banding lab, so that whenever the bird is recaptured, the band number and data is reviewed and the original bander is notified of the recapture.
We are extremely fortunate to have a good friend of ours, Linda Beall, who is a licensed master bander living right here in Covington. Linda's Humbander website is filled with information about banding both winter and breeding season hummingbirds.
Banded Rufous Female
Binoculars and Cameras Are Useful
Good binoculars make all the difference in bird identification. If you want to take good photos of birds, you need a camera with a minimum 12X optical zoom. The Canon S5IS is what we used to take many of the photos that you see in this lens, but we have now updated to the Canon Powershot SX60.
Hummingbird Haven - Hundreds of Hummers
Hummingbird YouTube Videos
Links to More About Hummingbirds
- Hummingbirds and Gardening for Them
Who wouldn't want to attract hummingbirds to their yard? Hummingbird feeders will help bring them into view, but to sustain them it is necessary to provide nectar plants for them. Planting a Hummingbird Garden full of nectar rich flowering plants...
- Fall Hummingbirds
Thousands of hummingbirds pass through Louisiana during autumn migration. Here you'll find many photographs and information about the birds that travel through the Southeastern U.S.
© 2008 Yvonne L B