Calling all Hummers…


I recently attended a great talk on wintering hummingbirds, presented by Fred Bassett at the Lake Region Audubon society. Fred spoke about the numerous hummingbirds that stick around Central Florida during the winter. He catches hummers to band them and study their migratory habits. He has seen the same Ruby-Throated Hummingbird in Lakeland for seven consecutive years!

Fred is a great speaker and he had a beautiful collection of photographs to accompany his talk. I learned a lot. Here’s a collection of notes, for my future reference:

  • There are about ten types of hummers that have been documented in Florida during the winter. They aren’t all Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds. We should keep our feeders out all winter long, as the peak months for spotting wintering birds are December and January. Interestingly enough, it may be bright red shiny Christmas ornaments that help attract the birds to your yard!
  • Feeders should be changed in summertime every 3 to 4 days, or the sugar water will go bad. A drop of bleach can help to clean the feeders, and don’t worry about hurting the birds, because the sugar in the water is a natural neutralizer for the chlorine. In winter, when the temperatures drop below 80 degrees, feeders should be changed every 2 weeks. A cleaning or two for the whole winter suffices, as the sugar doesn’t mold and spoil as quickly in the cooler weather. The water doesn’t need to be dyed red. Just add 1 part sugar to 4 parts water.
  • The bright red patch on the male Ruby-Throated hummingbird’s chin is called a gorget, and the green stripes on the females’ chins are called stiplets. Fred had some fun pictures of baby hummingbirds molting into their adult plumage. The gorget grows in incrementally, from the bottom to the top.
  • The female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is 25% bigger than her male counterpart.
  • Don’t listen to the “old husbands’ tales” saying that feeders must be taken in during winter because otherwise the birds won’t migrate. This is false. The birds have a very precise migration schedule, leaving and arriving on exactly the same days each year. The presence of your feeder won’t keep them in your yard. It will, however, provide a nice food source for the birds that do not migrate. Also, if you notice the birds getting fat towards fall, don’t switch to artificial sweetener! (Apparently it has happened!)
  • Some hummers really do migrate over the Gulf of Mexico, flying straight for about 18 hours from Mexico to Cedar Key and Galveston. The males migrate first, then the females come about two weeks later.
  • The females build the nests and take care of the babies. The males’ participation is pretty much limited to the creation of the eggs. In the southern states, females will have multiple broods per year, sometimes even starting to build a new nest while feeding chicks from a previous brood.
  • Hummers have the largest bird-egg ratio in the entire animal kingdom. The females can only lay one egg at a time, so the two eggs that typically comprise a clutch are laid asynchronously, and the first baby hatches about three days ahead of the second. The nest is made of spider webs and lichens, and the nest expands as the birds grow. Babies are smart enough to “do their business” over the side of the nest, keeping the inside clean. Nests are sometimes reused from year to year. The baby birds are so well fed by their mother that they weigh more than she does when they fledge.
  • 80% of baby hummingbirds do not see their first birthday. Fred has banded over 20,000 birds, and he has re-caught about 20% of the female Rufous hummingbirds.
  • Hummers are one of the few birds, if not the only birds, to display curiosity in human activity. They love the color red. If your hummers drink all the sugar water in your feeder, they will come to the window to stare at your and peck at the window to remind you to refill the feeder.
  • Some of the western hummer populations are starting to move into the southeast, with some birds wintering in the US instead of making the migratory trek to Central America. There are a growing number of reports of Rufous Hummingbirds in Central Florida.
  • People call Fred from all over the Southeast when they have hummers in their backyards. Fred catches the hummers for banding by fitting a cage around their regular feeders. A remote cable release causes a door to fall once they are inside the cage. Fred says the first thing he does after he picks up the birds is feed them…not because it calms the birds, but because it calms the birders! The birds don’t mind being handled. Then he bands them (the bands are tiny!!), photographs them, and allows the birders to hold them and release them. The birds are quite happy to sit in your hand — how cool is that?

Fred concluded his talk by reminding us that “hummingbirds have wings, they do not read range maps, and they show up all over!” So go put out some sugar water and see who you attract!

For more information about Fred’s banding project, visit

Fred mentioned that he’s had people listen to his talk, go home and put out feeders, and call him excitedly the next morning, saying that “it worked!” Let’s hope that Mum-mum and I have similar results…

Where are my hummers?

Where are my hummers?

One other really cool website related to hummers is one that I just found. is a site with a live video stream of a hummingbird nest in California. An Allen’s Hummingbird is currently taking care of a pair of young babies. Tune in to watch!!