Keep Your Hummingbird Feeders Up Even as the Temperatures Drop This Fall


09/30/2014

Pittsburgh, PA – If you only associate hummingbirds with balmy summer days, think again. Hardy hummingbirds are braving the cold and even the snow of Pennsylvania in growing numbers in late autumn and early winter. And residents of western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and northern West Virginia can help scientists understand why.

Scientists have discovered that several species of western hummingbirds, some from as far away as Alaska, are coming through the East in growing numbers in late fall, often not appearing in our area until snowflakes have started to fly.

Little by little, and bird by bird, researchers are piecing together the story of an evolving migration system in which these small but hardy hummingbirds will travel through Pennsylvania on their way from the Canadian Rockies to wintering areas along the Gulf Coast.

"We need the public's help to better understand what's happening," says National Aviary ornithologist Bob Mulvihill, one of six federally licensed hummingbird banders in Pennsylvania, all of whom are collaborating to learn more about these tiny long-distance migrants.

By harmlessly trapping hummingbirds and placing a numbered band on their leg, researchers like Mulvihill are able to track the movements of these birds, many of which crisscross the country.

Here’s what we know: the ruby-throated hummingbirds that visited your feeders throughout spring and summer all have departed Pennsylvania by early October for their wintering grounds in Central America. Hummingbirds that appear here later in autumn almost always are a different species—most commonly the rufous hummingbird, which nests in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska and normally migrates to Mexico. In recent years, however, increasing numbers of rufous hummingbirds have been appearing in late fall and early winter throughout the East, often to the great surprise of people who hadn’t seen a hummingbird at their feeder for a month or more.

Rufous hummingbirds look enough like ruby-throats that correct identification of anything other than an adult male requires capture and careful measurements by a licensed hummingbird bander in order to confirm the identification.

Thanks to many helpful citizens who left their hummingbird feeders in place into December, last fall dozens of rufous hummingbirds were sighted at feeders across Pennsylvania. Other western species, including Allen's, Anna's, black-chinned, and calliope hummingbirds, have also been documented.  Because hummingbirds can drop into a hibernation-like state overnight, called torpor, they can conserve energy and tolerate surprisingly cold (even sub-zero) temperatures.

You can help scientists to gain a better understanding of these new hummingbird migrations by keeping or putting a hummingbird feeder up (filled with a solution of one part plain white sugar and four parts water) from now until at least Thanksgiving. Leaving up a feeder will not prevent any bird, including hummingbirds, from migrating – the migration instinct is just too powerful.  But, it may provide an important way station for one of these amazing migrants and, at the same time, an opportunity for researchers to document the occurrence by harmlessly trapping, banding, measuring, and releasing the hummingbird.

What to do if you see a hummingbird at your feeder this fall:

If you would like to be a part of this study and live in western Pennsylvania or eastern Ohio and northern West Virginia please send an email with your name, address, contact information, and the number of feeders you will keep up and filled until Thanksgiving to Bob Mulvihill (Robert.mulvihill@aviary.org).  Then, if you see a hummingbird at your feeders after October 10, contact Bob right away at 412-258-1148 and he will make arrangements with you to come trap, identify and band the bird.

Other licensed hummingbird banders to contact if you see a late hummingbird in central or eastern Pennsylvania are:

Scott Weidensaul, Schuylkill County: scottweidensaul@verizon.net

Nick Pulcinella, Chester County: nickpulcinella@verizon.net

Sandy Lockerman, Dauphin County: lockerman@paonline.com

Wayne Laubscher, Clinton County: wlaubsch@kcnet.org

Ember Jandebeur, Lackawanna County: ejandebeur@yahoo.com

 

Media Contact for More Information, Interviews and Photos:

Robin Weber
Director of Marketing & Communications
National Aviary

412-258-9435
Robin.Weber@aviary.org