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Winged Jewels - Winter Hummingbirds in Louisiana

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Since the mid-1980s Yvonne has maintained a registered NWF backyard wildlife habitat where a variety of birds, insects and frogs abound.

Rufous hummingbirds, such as this female, often spend the winter in Southeastern Louisiana.

Rufous hummingbirds, such as this female, often spend the winter in Southeastern Louisiana.

Western Hummingbirds in Louisiana

Did you know that some species of hummingbirds spend the winter in the southern United States? Yes, it's true. In backyards and habitats all over the south species such as Rufous, Allen's, Black-chinned, Broad-tailed, Calliope, Buff-bellied and several other of these tiny birds migrate from their homes in the western U.S. to places in Louisiana and many other southern states.

Through the years, we've been lucky enough to host six different species during the winter. When we were living in Baton Rouge, our yard was full of Rufous from November through March. In our forested habitat in Covington, La there were fewer individuals until we opened up some areas in the yard.

This page will tell you how to be a good winter hummingbird host and also about the different species that you may encounter. Many of the photos seen here were taken by the author in her 9-acre backyard habitat in Southeastern Louisiana.

Watching Winged Jewels is a Year-Round Hobby in the South

This immature male Rufous spent the winter of 2016-17 in our Covington yard. By the time he left he had molted into his adult plumage.

This immature male Rufous spent the winter of 2016-17 in our Covington yard. By the time he left he had molted into his adult plumage.

Winter Hummingbird Poll

Immature Black-chinned

hummingbirds-of-winter

This immature black chinned had a deformed beak, but it was able to drink from feeders and flowers and spent one winter in our yard in Baton Rouge.

In the southern United States, including Louisiana where we live, fall and winter often brings prized winged visitors to yards and habitats. They are the western hummingbirds.

Since the 1990s, when we lived in Baton Rouge, we regularly hosted a variety of species during the winter. Our list to date includes: Rufous, Allen's, Black-chinned, Calliope, Buff-bellied, Broad-tailed and of course Ruby-throated. There are sightings of many other species, in other yards here in South Louisiana and throughout the south.

The normal winter home for most individuals of these western species is Mexico, but for some reason some choose to spend the winter in the southern United States. Most enthusiasts leave their feeders up and filled with fresh sugar water (4 to 1 or 3 to 1 water to white sugar ratio) year round. They also plant their gardens with hardy plants that bloom at different times during the year, some even in winter. A few really obsessive enthusiasts have elaborate movable "greenhouses" consisting of large sheets of plastic on rolls that they can roll out over their blooming plants if a freeze is expected and then roll back when the ever changing weather gets warm again.

In Louisiana, a hummingbird is considered to be a "winter" hummingbird if it is observed after November 15 through early spring (March) when the Ruby-throateds return to their breeding grounds here in the United States.

Rufous Male

hummingbirds-of-winter

I'd like to share some photos, facts and stories about some of the beautiful little birds that have graced us with a winter visit. It is indeed an event each time it happens and is announced on all the hummingbird forums. The local banders are contacted so that they can capture, measure, weigh and band the bird. It's not uncommon for birds to return year after year and the band assures their identification plus the data that is collected contributes to the study that the USGS Banding Lab is coordinating while tracking the movements of some of our smallest birds.

I have included only the species that we have hosted during the winter. There are several others that also spend the winter in the south, but have not graced us with a visit. I will try to include some of these at a later date.

Rufous

Selasphorus rufus

Rufous are the most common of wintering birds. In Baton Rouge, we normally had 5-6 Rufous each winter. They are bold and attractive little birds with an angry sounding tsk call. Rufous seem to be scolding you for disturbing them. The males are mostly cinnamon colored with an orange-red gorget (throat) and the females have green backs, with pale cinnamon sides, dark red in their tail feathers and many have a few red-orange feathers in a circle on their throat.

Our first was an immature Rufous and we got to see him molt into the beautiful colors of an adult male. Dave Patton banded him and most of the other wintering hummingbirds at our house in Baton Rouge.

In Covington, during the winter of 2009-2010 an immature female rufous spent the winter with us. Linda Beall banded her in February and we documented the entire banding session on Banding a Hummingbird.

The Allen's is a "cousin" to the Rufous. The video shows the coloration, the vocalization and wing sounds that it makes.

Allen's Hummingbird

Allen's

Selasphorus sasin

Allen's and Rufous are so much alike (especially the females) that it takes an expert to tell them apart. The males usually have more green on their backs than the male Rufous and the Allen's tail feathers are shorter, thinner and more pointed than those of the Rufous. We hosted one immature male Allen's in Baton Rouge.

Male Allen's

hummingbirds-of-winter

Broad-tailed

Selasphorus platycercus

Broad-tailed hummingbirds look something like Ruby-throated hummingbirds, except the tail is much broader and has dark rusty-red bands at the base of the tail feathers. The male's gorget is more rosy red than crimson. Their call sounds like a distant Cardinal. Female Broad-tails look a lot like female Rufous as they are both in the Selasphorus genus.

Broad-tailed Male

hummingbirds-of-winter

The narration and filming of this male Calliope is excellent.

Calliope

Stellula calliope

Calliopes are the smallest of all that breed in the U.S. They are very round with a short neck and tail. Some say they look like a feathered ping-pong ball with a head. Males are quite beautiful with bright green above and creamy white below and a wine red to reddish purple iridescent gorget. Females are similar (without the beautiful gorget) and have pale cinnamon sides. A feisty little female spent the whole winter with us in Covington in 2002. Calliopes are usually quiet, almost secretive birds, but our female acted more like a Rufous. She was banded by Linda Beall.

Male Calliope

The smallest U.S. hummingbird species.

The smallest U.S. hummingbird species.

Buff-bellied

hummingbirds-of-winter

Amazilia yucatanensis

Buff-bellieds are larger than a Ruby-throated and much more colorful. They are easily recognized by their red bill with a black tip, green to turquoise bib, buff belly and large copper colored tail. They are aggressive and territorial and can be heard making noises that sound like arcing electricity. In Baton Rouge, one showed up right before Christmas in 2000 and stayed until almost spring. It was banded by Dave Patton.

Listen to its warning call in the video below.

Buff-Bellied

This buff-bellied spent the winter of 2001 in our yard in Baton Rouge.

This buff-bellied spent the winter of 2001 in our yard in Baton Rouge.

Pointers to help you provide for winter hummingbird visitors.

Gardens

In order to sustain winter hummingbirds you must have food in the form of nectar and insects available. Hummingbird feeders will help, but a garden with some hardy, nectar rich flowers and plenty of tiny insects is a must. You must also provide water, shelter from the cold and cover to hide from predators as well as trees and shrubs where breeding hummingbirds can raise young.

The throat of a male black-chinned is purple in bright sunlight, but black in the shade.

Black-chinned

Archilochus alexandri

Black-chinneds are a little larger than Ruby-throats. The females look almost identical in the field. The males, however, are easier to identify because of their deep purple gorget feathers. They sound a lot like Ruby-throateds, too. In flight, Black-chinneds pump their tail, almost constantly. We had a couple stay with us. An immature male (photo of him drinking from the strawberry feeder top of the page) in Baton Rouge and an unusual female here in Covington. The male was banded by Dave Patton and the female by Linda Beall.

Male Black Chinned

hummingbirds-of-winter

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird After Chase

Occasionally an older adult male, who is not up to the long migration across the Gulf of Mexico will spend the winter here.

Occasionally an older adult male, who is not up to the long migration across the Gulf of Mexico will spend the winter here.

Ruby-throated

Archilochus colubris

The Ruby-throated hummingbird is the only one which breeds, east of the Rockies. Sometimes immature birds, probably hatched in the northern states, or older, weaker adults will spend the winter in Covington and other parts of South Louisiana. For more information about Ruby-throateds and gardening, visit "Hummingbirds and Gardening for Them" which is featured in the link list below.

Ruby Throat Sips

An immature bird sips from small red morning glory.

An immature bird sips from small red morning glory.

Banding Hummingbirds

People who band hummingbirds must go through an apprentice program with a veteran (permitted by the USGS) master bander. Each time a bird is banded, the number is recorded along with the location, measurements and description of each bird. All this data is reported to the USGS banding lab, so that whenever the bird is recaptured, the band number and data is reviewed and the original bander is notified of the recapture.

We are extremely fortunate to have a good friend of ours, Linda Beall, who is a licensed master bander living right here in Covington. Linda's Humbander website is filled with information about banding both winter and breeding season hummingbirds.

More photos and information can be found on our lens, Mizell's Hummingbird and Butterfly Festival and on Banding a Hummingbird.

Banded Rufous Female

This returnee sports a tiny silver band on her left leg.

This returnee sports a tiny silver band on her left leg.

After banding, Linda shows of the red gorget pattern of this female rufous. You can often visually identify an individual in this way because each one is slightly different.

After banding, Linda shows of the red gorget pattern of this female rufous. You can often visually identify an individual in this way because each one is slightly different.

Binoculars and Cameras Are Useful

Good binoculars make all the difference in bird identification. If you want to take good photos of birds, you need a camera with a minimum 12X optical zoom. The Canon S5IS is what we used to take many of the photos that you see in this lens, but we have now updated to the Canon Powershot SX60.

Hummingbird Haven - Hundreds of Hummers

Hummingbird YouTube Videos

Links to More About Hummingbirds

  • Hummingbirds and Gardening for Them
    Who wouldn't want to attract hummingbirds to their yard? Hummingbird feeders will help bring them into view, but to sustain them it is necessary to provide nectar plants for them. Planting a Hummingbird Garden full of nectar rich flowering plants...
  • Fall Hummingbirds
    Thousands of hummingbirds pass through Louisiana during autumn migration. Here you'll find many photographs and information about the birds that travel through the Southeastern U.S.

© 2008 Yvonne L B

Please don't hum by without leaving us a note.

darciefrench lm on November 02, 2010:

Another angel buzzing by- lovely lens, blessed.

Jeremy from Tokyo, Japan on November 02, 2010:

I'm glad you shared this lens in the forum. You've got beautiful photos here and with winter coming, I'm sure hummingbirds won't be your only visitors. Blessed.

Indigo Janson from UK on June 07, 2010:

You give me such a dilemma... I want to read and bless each and every one of these lenses. :) Well I can't resist leaving and ~*~* Angel Blessing *~*~ here and you can be sure this Angel will return.

drifter0658 lm on February 25, 2009:

Astounding! My wife dropped everything to watch the video with me. I suspect she'll be back...often.

One of the most bittersweet times of the year for us is around the 2nd week of September. The hummers go nuts.....getting ready to migrate.

Achim Thiemermann from Austin, Texas on December 02, 2008:

Gorgeous lens, is all I can say! Blessed with both of my wings! :)

Wendy Henderson from PA on December 01, 2008:

Very Pretty Lens.

ThomasC on November 30, 2008:

Absolutely beautiful lens work! I would bless this lens twice if I could! You have great talents for building lenses! Starred and blessed!

ThomasC

anonymous on November 30, 2008:

Beautiful! 5 hums for you

AlisonMeacham on November 30, 2008:

We see a lot of hummingbirds in our garden. They are so beautiful. I must get a hummingbird feeder..

You have been Blessed by a Squid Angel

Johann The Dog from Northeast Georgia on November 30, 2008:

Beautiful photos and I loved the vid! Great lens. Woofs, Johann

anonymous on November 24, 2008:

Wow this is terrific, really great photos.

EuroSquid LM on November 24, 2008:

Great lens! I gave it 5 stars. I will leave you a couple of comments on Squidu.

SaraMu LM on November 24, 2008:

I'm not a bird watcher, but I can see why someone would be. Fascinating creatures.

Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on November 23, 2008:

Beautiful. I love the hummingbirds and had no idea that some stayed around all winter. This is very informative and enjoyable reading. The photographs are awesome. I really enjoyed this.