On Gardening: Some hummingbirds spend the winter here
by Danielle Carroll
Special to The Star
Oct 14, 2012 | 2475 views |  0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bird watching has soared in popularity over the last decade. It’s a hobby that does not require a lot of fancy equipment, just a love of nature and a desire to see the world around you.

The Alabama Birding Trails, a statewide system of trails funded by the Alabama Tourism Department, unify existing and potential birding sites across the state. Maps and updates on the progress of these great trails can be found online at alabamabirdingtrails.com.

While I am excited about hitting one of these trails soon, I’m more of a lazy bird watcher. On the back porch sipping coffee in the morning and sweet tea in the afternoon is where I have watched a pair of breeding cardinals every day since early this spring.

I know them well. They have flirted all season long, and I’m pretty sure the female got mad and kicked the male out of the nest for a couple of days this summer. Of course, he came back. Breeding cardinals usually stay together throughout the season and may remain together for several seasons.

Brush piles and clearings along the wood’s edge made a great habitat for the pair. And there were enough seeds, insects, grains and berries around that I didn’t even need to put up a bird feeder.

I did hang some hummingbird feeders, though. The trumpet creeper and coral honeysuckle was visited often by ruby-throated hummingbirds. To get a look at them up close, I hung the feeders around the porch. It’s always fun to watch them whiz in from out of nowhere to take a quick drink and look around.

The ruby-throated hummingbird is common to all parts of Alabama. The male can be recognized by the patch of deep red on his throat and his dark green back. The female’s back is a paler shade of green.

These birds make their way south in the fall, on their way to spend the winter in Central America. We will see them again in March, as they make their way back to their breeding sites into Canada.

I have heard some say that this is a good time to take down the hummingbird feeders, that leaving them up would delay migration as the birds would happily stick around and gorge themselves. I promise you, the forces that affect migration are more powerful than the sweet treats in the hummingbird feeders.

While the ruby-throated hummingbirds will be leaving us soon, we may find ourselves with some new visitors.

For many years, wintering hummingbirds have been studied in Alabama and along the southern coast. According to Fred Bassett, head of the nonprofit Hummingbird Research in Montgomery, Alabama’s most common wintering hummingbird is the Rufous hummingbird.

Rufous hummingbirds nest in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Instead of migrating into Mexico, some have been making their way into the Deep South to spend the winter. Ruby-throated hummingbirds and 10 other species have also been spotted overwintering in Alabama.

It is recommended to leave one feeder up all winter. Having winter hosts for the hummingbirds is the only way to keep studying their migration and nesting habits.

If you do have a hummingbird guest visit your feeders this winter (between Nov. 15 and March 1), Bob Sargent would like to know about it. Sargent and his wife are the founders of Hummer/Bird Study Group, a non-profit group in Clay.

Pictures and information on wintering hummingbirds in your area can be sent to Rubythroat@aol.com. Sargent will come to your home for identification and banding of wintering hummingbirds.

Bassett, who has been tracking wintering hummingbirds for more than a decade, bands in the southern part of the state.

Danielle Carroll is an extension agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.
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On Gardening: Some hummingbirds spend the winter here by Danielle Carroll
Special to The Star

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