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RESEARCH:
VAGRANT & WINTER
HUMMINGBIRD BANDING

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Kay Goodman with winter vagrant Rufous Hummingbird, Selasphorous rufus

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Kay Goodman about to release a vagrant adult female Rufous Hummingbird, Selasphorus rufus, after it was banded by Hilton Pond Center staff at her home in River Hills (York County, South Carolina), 2 January 2001. (See bird #7 in table below.)


Although hummingbird research at Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History focuses primarily on local studies of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Archilochus colubris, occasional hummers of other species afford the opportunity for us to join with other banders around the country in monitoring vagrant hummingbirds in the eastern & central U.S.

Rufous Hummingbird, Selasphorous rufus, juvenile maleFor example, Rufous Hummingbirds, Selasphorus rufus (immature male at right)--which breed in the western U.S. and Canada--are being seen with increasing regularity during winter in the East, perhaps because more folks are leaving hummingbird feeders up after the traditional take-down date of Labor Day (or 1 September). The first adult male Rufous Hummingbird recorded in South Carolina during summer was banded by Hilton Pond Center staff in August 1994 in nearby Sharon SC, and we have banded numerous vagrant hummingbirds since then--even a female Rufous that visited the Center itself in December 2001 and a young male that showed up in September 2002.

As of December 2009, we know of 12 different hummer species reported from the Carolinas, even though the Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only one that breeds in the eastern U.S. and southern Canada. The species on the following list have been accepted by each state's ornithological records committee.

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Species in red below have been banded by Bill Hilton Jr. of Hilton Pond Center

NORTH CAROLINA LIST (11)
  • Green Violetear
  • Green-breasted Mango
  • Broad-billed Hummingbird
  • Buff-bellied Hummingbird
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • Black-chinned Hummingbird
  • Anna's Hummingbird
  • Calliope Hummingbird
  • Broad-tailed Hummingbird
  • Rufous Hummingbird
  • Allen's Hummingbird

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Buff-bellied Hummingbird (first and only South Carolina record), banded by Bill Hilton Jr. of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History in December 2001. Note red and black decurved bill and iridescent green gorget.

Species in red below have been banded by Bill Hilton Jr of Hilton Pond Center

SOUTH CAROLINA LIST (9)
  • Broad-billed Hummingbird (two state records, one banded by Bill Hilton Jr.)
  • Buff-bellied Hummingbird (only state record, banded by Bill Hilton Jr.; photo above)
  • Blue-throated Hummingbird (provisional list)
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • Black-chinned Hummingbird
  • Calliope Hummingbird
  • Rufous Hummingbird (including August records)
  • Allen's Hummingbird
  • Anna's Hummingbird


To get a better understanding of hummingbird behavior in North America, it is important to report ALL sightings of vagrant and winter hummingbirds so banders can capture and positively identify as many individuals as possible. Please send all sightings of non-ruby-throats (or ruby-throats in winter) to RESEARCH. Student, teacher, and citizen science participants in The GLOBE Program can also report winter vagrant sightings through GLOBE's Web site.

Information about vagrant or winter hummingbirds--i.e., any hummingbird seen between 15 October and 15 March in the Eastern & central U.S. or southern Canada--will be forwarded to a bander who is close enough to view and possibly capture, band, and release the bird unharmed. Note, however, that vagrant western hummingbirds can show up in the eastern U.S. as early as August and--on rare occasions--even before then. In other words, keep your eyes peeled for hummers that are not obviously Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (RTHUs), as described at RTHU External Appearance.

Vagrant hummingbirds banded thus far by staff from Hilton Pond Center are listed below. All linked photos are copyrighted and may not be used without express written permission.

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Banding winter hummingbirds across the Carolinas takes considerable time and--with gas prices as they are--significant expense. Please help Support our efforts at
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74 VAGRANT HUMMINGBIRDS BANDED
by BILL HILTON JR. in the CAROLINAS

#

Species

Location

Date

Age-Sex

Text or Photos
(click on underlined word or numeral)

1
Rufous
Charlotte NC

11/30/91

HY-F

Photos &
Description

2 
Rufous
Sharon SC

08/06/94
first SC summer record of adult male

AHY-M

Photo: 1 *

3
Rufous
Mt. Pleasant SC

01/27/95

SY-M

No

4
Rufous
Richburg SC

09/02/00

HY-M

Photos &
Description
*

5
Rufous
Fort Mill SC

11/22/00

HY-F

No photos (caught and released at dusk)

6
Rufous
Pendleton SC

11/24/00

HY-F

Photos & Description*

7
Rufous
Lake Wylie SC

01/02/01

ASY-F

Photos: 1 2 3*

8
Rufous
Fort Mill SC

01/02/01

HY-F

Photos: 1 2 3*

9
Rufous
Casar NC

AHY-F

Photos & Description*

10
Rufous
York SC
(Hilton Pond)

HY-F

Photos & Description*

11
Buff-bellied
Lexington SC

12/04/01
First (and only) SC Record

AHY-U

Photos &
Description
*

12
Calliope
Bethany SC

12/21/01

HY-M

Photos &
Description
*

13
Rufous
Irmo SC

12/23/01

AHY-F

Photos &
Description
*

14
Rufous
Rock Hill SC

12/24/01

AHY-F

Photos &
Description
*

15
Rufous
Gastonia NC

12/31/01

AHY-F

Photos &
Description
*

16
Calliope
Gastonia NC

01/05/02

SY-M

Photos &
Description
*

17
Rufous
Rock Hill SC

01/05/02

AHY-F

Photos &
Description
*

18
Rufous
Pinnacle Mountain SC

01/09/02

AHY-F

Photos &
Description
*

19
Rufous
Pomaria SC

01/12/02

AHY-F

Photos &
Description
*

20
Black-chinned
Lexington SC

03/07/02

HY-M

Photos &
Description
*

21
Rufous
Tryon NC

AHY-F

Photos &
Description
*

22
Rufous
York SC
(Hilton Pond)

09/23/02

HY-M

Photos &
Description
*

23
Rufous
Charlotte NC

11/03/02

HY-F

Photos &
Description
*

24
Rufous
Temassee SC

11/10/02

HY-F

Photos &
Description
*

25
Rufous
Pendleton SC

11/10/02

HY-M

Photos &
Description
*

26
Rufous
Travelers Rest SC

11/17/02

HY-M

Photos &
Description
*

27
Rufous
Boiling Springs SC

11/20/02

HY-M

Photos &
Description
*

28
Rufous
Waynesville NC

11/24/02

AHY-F

Photos &
Description
*

29
Rufous
Lexington SC

12/18/02

AHY-F

Photos &
Description
*

30
Rufous
Smyrna SC

12/20/02

HY-F

Photos &
Description
*

31
Rufous
Rock Hill SC

01/17/03

SY-F

Photos &
Description
*

32
Rufous
Simpsonville SC

02/11/03

AHY-F

Photos &
Description
*

33
Rufous
Seneca SC

AHY-F

Photos &
Description
*

34
Rufous
Indian Land SC

08/30/03

AHY-F

Photos &
Description
*

35
Rufous
Columbus NC

10/20/03

HY-M

Photos &
Description
*

36
Rufous
Rock Hill SC

10/24/03

HY-F

Photos &
Description
* 

37
Rufous
Todd NC

10/26/03

AHY-F

Photos &
Description
* 

38
Rufous
West Jefferson NC

11/07/03

AHY-F

Photos &
Description
*

39
Rufous
West Jefferson NC

11/07/03
retrapped 10/02/04 at same location by Susan Campbell

HY-F

Photos &
Description
*

40
Rufous
Todd NC

11/07/03

HY-F

Photos &
Description
*

41
Rufous
Dacusville SC

11/16/03

HY-M

Photos &
Description
*

42
Rufous
Tryon NC
11/29/03
HY-M
Photos &
Description
*
43
Rufous
Rock Hill SC
12/05/03
retrapped 11/17/04 & 12/07/05 & 10/24/06 & 11/08/07 at same location
HY-F
Photos &
Description
*
44
Rufous
Gastonia NC
12/06/03
HY-M
Photos &
Description
*
45
Rufous
Spartanburg SC
12/22/03
HY-M
Photos &
Description
*
46
Rufous
Columbus NC
AHY-F
Photos &
Description
*
47
Rufous
Landrum SC
12/23/03
HY-F
Photos &
Description
*
48
Rufous
Seneca SC
12/26/03
HY-M
Photos &
Description
*
49
Rufous
Anderson SC
01/03/04
ASY-F
Photos &
Description
*
50
Calliope
Clemson SC
01/13/04
SY-F
Photos &
Description
*
51
Rufous
Charlotte NC
01/15/04
ASY-F
Photos &
Description
*
52
Rufous
Pickens SC
02/05/04
ASY-F
Photos &
Description
*
53
Rufous
Berea SC
02/05/04
SY-F
Photos &
Description
*
54
Black-chinned
Gastonia NC
02/13/04
SY-F
Photos &
Description
*
55
Rufous
Cheraw SC
03/02/04
AHY-F
Photos &
Description
*
56
Rufous
Weddington NC
03/03/04
AHY-F
Photos &
Description
*
57
Rufous
Tega Cay SC
03/03/04
AHY-F
Photos &
Description
*
58
Rufous
Greenville SC
03/24/04
AHY-F
Photos &
Description
*
59
Rufous
Tryon NC
12/10/05
HY-F
Photos &
Description
*
60
Rufous
Tryon NC
12/10/05
HY-F
Photos &
Description
61
Rufous
Newport SC
10/26/06
HY-M
Photos &
Description
*
62
Rufous
South Mountains NC
10/27/06
HY-F
Photos &
Description
*
63
Rufous
Statesville NC
12/09/06
HY-F
Photos &
Description
*
64
Rufous
Statesville NC
12/09/06
AHY-F
Photos &
Description
*
65
Rufous
Scarbro WV
12/15/06
First WV Banding Record
HY-M
Photos &
Description
*
66
Rufous
Columbia SC
03/09/07
AHY-F
Photos &
Description
67
Broad-billed
Rockville SC
01/06/08
First SC Banding Record
AHY-M
Photos &
Description
*
68
Rufous
Columbus NC
01/13/08
AHY-F
Photos &
Description
69
Rufous
Matthews NC
01/09/09
HY-M
Photos &
Description
*
70
Rufous
Rock Hill SC
03/07/09
AHY-F
Photos &
Description
*
71
Rufous
Moore SC
12/12/09
AHY-M
Photos &
Description
*
72
Rufous
Simpsonville SC
12/26/09
HY-F
Photos &
Description
73
Rufous
Rock Hill SC
12/28/09
HY-F
Photos &
Description
74
Rufous
Anderson SC
01/06/12
HY-F
Photos &
Description
*
75
Rufous
Oak Hill WV
11/30/12
HY-F
Photos &
Description
*
76
Rufous
Pelzer SC
12/27/12
HY-F
Photos &
Description
77
Rufous
Pelzer SC
12/27/12
HY-M
Photos &
Description

* All photos © Hilton Pond Center


WINTER HUMMINGBIRD FEEDING
BILL HILTON JR.
Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History

Leaving a sugar water feeder up in autumn will NOT keep Ruby-throated Hummingbirds from migrating. Hummer migration is stimulated by photoperiod, so as days become shorter in fall the birds begin to put on fat and soon depart for the tropics. In the eastern U.S., most ruby-throats that stay behind are those that are ill or "genetically inferior," and it's likely they will die in migration anyway.

At most locations in the eastern U.S. and southern Canada, 99.9% of the ruby-throats are gone by 15 October, and adult males don't begin to arrive north of the Gulf Coast states until mid-March or later; females follow soon thereafter. (There are winter records of apparently healthy Ruby-throated Hummingbirds from various locations in the U.S., especially south Florida and along the Gulf and South Atlantic coasts; these are exceptions but may be increasing in number, perhaps due to global warming. Wintering RTHU reports are even increasing for inland sites away from the coast.)

If you host (or want to attract) a winter hummingbird, we suggest you maintain one half-full feeder--changing the artificial nectar weekly--throughout the winter. You may need to bring the feeder in at night to keep it from freezing and put it out the next morning before dawn when you fill your seed feeders. In very cold weather, alternate two feeders by putting the warm one out at mid-day and bringing in the cold one. Some folks even use heat lamps, electric pipe wrap, and other creative contraptions to keep the sugar water warm and snow off the feeder (above left). There's no need to construct a "hummingbird house" because the bird isn't likely to use it. Your winter feeder should include a perch to allow the hummer to feed without expending much energy and to allow you a close view for observation and photography. Please submit the best of your winter hummingbird photos to PROJECTS.

Note there is not necessary to put anything in a winter feeder except sugar water, although you may wish to change your ratio from the usual 4:1 mix to 3:1 to slow down freezing. Even on cold winter days hummingbirds are able to replenish their fat and protein by catching tiny free-flying insects and even by gleaning small inveretbrates from twigs and bark. In some areas they also may hang around "sapsucker wells" (right) that attract insects and provide carbohyrdates via tree sap. (NOTE: In very cold climates, some enthusiasts have filled their feeders with NektarPlus, a balanced hummingbird diet that is expensive and difficult to find.)

Especially during the past 15 years there have been many Eastern U.S. sightings of vagrant western species such as Rufous Hummingbirds that do not breed in the East. If you see ANY hummingbird east of the Rockies from mid-October through mid-March, it may be one of these western birds; please contact RESEARCH as soon as possible via e-mail if you spot one. (Several hummingbird species normally overwinter in California, Arizona, and other western states; do not report these unless they are a species not normally found there.)

For a list of breeding and vagrant hummingbird species found in various parts of the U.S., visit our Web site for Operation RubyThroat: the Hummingbird Project, specifically at Hummingbird Checklists by State.

The Opertion RubyThroat site also has more Hummingbird Feeding Tips.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

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ARE WINTER HUMMERS INCREASING
IN THE EASTERN U.S.?
BILL HILTON JR.
Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History

The number of winter hummingbird sightings east of the Rocky Mountains appears to have increased considerably over the past decade, but it's hard to say whether there are actually more hummingbirds. Nonetheless, in recent winters even northern states such as New York and Michigan have had their share of winter hummers, and southern states are getting new hummingbird species that had never been recorded there.

Bill Hilton Jr., executive director of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History near York SC, is a hummingbird bander and researcher. He believes there are several factors involved in the apparent increase in winter vagrant hummingbirds:

  • Hummingbird feeding has become far more popular over the last 10-15 years, and many more people are maintaining feeders.
  • More feeders means more people who "forget" and leave their feeders up past Labor Day, the traditional (but unnecessary) date for taking down hummingbird feeders.
  • In addition, more people are intentionally leaving a hummingbird feeder up past Labor Day, and maintaining it at least through November.
  • All three of the above scenarios mean there are lots more eyes looking out--accidentally or on purpose--for winter hummingbirds, which are more noticeable than summer hummingbirds. Some of those eyes belong to K-12 students and teachers and citizen scientists in the U.S. and Canada who are involved with Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project and its connection with The GLOBE Program.
  • The Internet makes a difference. Not only has technology made people more aware of the winter hummingbird phenomenon, it is now easier for folks to hear the opinions of hummingbird experts (through chat groups such as "Hummingbird Hobnob") and then to contact them via e-mail without long distance phone charges.
  • Initiatives such as the Web sites for Hilton Pond Center and Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project have alerted people to the scientific value of reporting winter vagrant hummers.
  • In southern states, feeders--and late-blooming ornamental plants such as Pineapple Sage, Salvia elegans (right)--may have opened an artificial corridor for wandering western hummer species. This could also be true of the Great Plains, which historically may have been a relatively "food-less" barrier to western hummingbirds trying to fly east in late fall; that region is now dotted with farmsteads and towns that allow western hummers to hop-scotch eastward.
  • Increasingly warm weather during the past several winters may have allowed vagrant hummingbirds to wander further than normal. (In other words, global warming may be playing a role.)
  • Habitat destruction in the traditional wintering grounds and/or along migratory paths may be influencing more hummers to wander. It may even be that some vagrant hummingbirds go to their traditional wintering grounds in the tropics, find the winter habitat destroyed, and wander away.
  • Hummingbirds are inquisitive creatures; they constantly investigate their environment for new food sources, and it's not unreasonable to think a combination of factors may be enabling (or causing) them to explore distant locales into which they might extend wintering--and even nesting--ranges. After all, in the eastern U.S. and southern Canada there's only ONE breeding species--the Ruby-throated Hummingbird--while a dozen or more species nest in the West and Southwest.

Hilton believes some western hummers have always wandered eastward in autumn and early winter--we know that's been the case for Rufous Hummingbirds for at least the last hundred years--but there are really too many variables to answer the question of whether there are more winter vagrants than before. He suggests you report all winter vagrant hummers in the eastern U.S. to Hilton Pond Center at RESEARCH, and that you participate in Audubon's Great Backyard Bird Count in years to come so that comparisons can be made.

In any case, western hummers that arrive in eastern states are not "lost." These birds know exactly where they are--otherwise there'd be no reason why a banded female Rufous Hummingbird (photo at right and #43 on the table above) would show up at the same feeder in Rock Hill SC every winter for five years in a row.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

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Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Bill Hilton Jr., aka The Piedmont Naturalist, it is the parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Contents of this website--including articles and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with the express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To obtain permission for use or for further assistance on accessing this Web site, contact the Webmaster.


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