What Do You Mean? Hummingbirds Are Here in the Winter????
A Jan Lloyd article for the Skimmer.

According to my records carefully written in the margin of my National Geographic Field Guide first edition, in the winter of 1987, I was invited by Ann and Dan Forster to go to James Pfeiffer’s home in East Hill, Pensacola, to see a Black-chinned Hummingbird.

I could not believe it, but there it was – regularly visiting the feeder out back. We could watch from a back window so we did not have to stand around in the cold. I visited that feeder again in Dec. 1995 to see a Buff-bellied hummer from Mexico or south Texas.

That got me started wanting to “have” my own winter hummers as well as more of our usual ruby-throats.

I’ve seen all of the North American hummingbird species in their “usual” breeding grounds out west so when an unusual bird appears, sometimes I have a better than “wild” guess at its identity.

Some are tricky to ID unless you have them in hand and I’m not a licensed bird bander, so I have to get expert help on those, especially the females.

I continue to be amazed at the numbers and species of hummingbirds that visit us here along the Gulf Coast and show up inland in the winter.

We can thank several people for encouraging us to leave our feeders out and keep them clean all year. I will only mention a few.

Bob and Martha Sargent (Birmingham area) established the Hummer/Bird Study Group which was active in banding activities at Ft. Morgan twice a year for decades.

Fred Bassett (Montgomery) was one of those banders and is very active with his own research group banding hummingbirds out west on their breeding grounds as well as in the Southeast (Hummingbird Research, Inc.–

Emma Rhodes and Kyle Shepard (Mobile area) trained with the Sargents and are continuing the bird banding tradition at Ft. Morgan and research along the Gulf Coast establishing the Banding Coalition of the Americas. (

My yard is pretty “wild.” I do all I can for birds, butterflies, and bugs to survive and continue their species. “Build it and they will come” works very well here.

I have plenty of cover and blooming flowers until the first big frost so often my feeders are not very active until the flowers die back.

Then I get to see the hummers I’ve been watching during the fall and pin down who the guests are for the winter if I have not guessed already.

After most of the Ruby-throated hummers leave in October, I contact Fred Bassett to come band the ones that stayed around.

The tiny bands have letters and numbers for identification purposes. All this work is conducted with federal licenses and permits following very strict protocols.

Sometimes it is only 1 or 2 birds, but sometimes it can be 5-6. You never know. Fred carefully sets up his wire mesh trap with a feeder inside, the hummer goes in to feed and Fred drops the trap door. He identifies, measures, and photographs the hummer for his records.

Often he will place the hummer onto your open hand for release. You feel that little heart beating for a moment and it flies off. The hummers don’t seem to mind all the attention and as soon as they are released, they continue to feed.

I look forward to this every year – what a nice Christmas present! Fred (and other licensed banders) make the rounds to feeders all over the Gulf Coast during the late fall and winter by appointment.

I hope you get a chance to contact them. Sometimes birds that have been banded (that year or previous years) show up somewhere else, a bander catches them again and then we know more about their lives and travels. This information is essential to understand their life cycles for conservation.
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