Feathered Friends: Patience a virtue with hummingbirds

9:01 am | June 25, 2012

I had an unexpectedly productive weekend in regards to bird sightings from Friday-Sunday, June 15-17.

Photo by Metro Creative Connection
A spike in hummingbird numbers is usually evident in late summer when young birds join adult hummers at feeders and in flower gardens. Hummingbird numbers will usually rise into September and then begin to decline as the last Ruby-throated Hummingbirds depart the region in early October.

There’s usually a summer lull in my birding, but so far I’ve kept a fairly active pace. Of course, I manage to sneak in some birding even during other activities, such as cookouts and picnics.

I visited Hampton Creek Cove on Roan Mountain on Friday evening. I made the trip with the hope of seeing or hearing Golden-winged Warblers, but I struck out in that regard.

I arrived at probably the hottest part of the day, and a steady breeze probably further decreased my chances.

I still managed to locate Hooded Warbler, Ovenbird, Yellow Warbler and a male Common Yellowthroat. I got an extended look at the Common Yellowthroat, which preened carefully after finishing its bath. While preening, the bird also took some breaks to produce its familiar “Witchety, Witchety, Witchety” call.

Other birds present at Hampton Creek Cove included Indigo Bunting, American Goldfinch, Song Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, Barn Swallow, Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Phoebe, Northern Cardinal and Northern Flicker.

I also visited friends in the community of Simerly Creek over the weekend. Their property offers some different habitat than I have available at my own home, which resulted in sightings of such birds as Field Sparrows, Barn Swallows and even a Wild Turkey. I also enjoyed sightings of such species as Indigo Bunting, Eastern Phoebe, Mourning Dove, Chimney Swift, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Scarlet Tanager, Cedar Waxwing, Brown Thrasher, Carolina Chickadee, Eastern Towhee, Song Sparrow and American Goldfinch.

During some recent stops at the Bell Cemetery in Limestone Cove in Unicoi County, I have observed Eastern Kingbirds, Chipping Sparrows, American Goldfinches, Eastern Bluebirds and even a singing Eastern Meadowlark.


Carter County resident Bill Perham sent me an email this past week about hummingbirds. Specifically, he wanted to know why he is hosting fewer hummingbirds this year than he did in 2011.

“I always enjoy reading your column, and have a question concerning hummingbirds,” he wrote. “I have had excellent luck attracting them over the past several years, and really enjoy watching them dart around the yard.”

Bill noted that he maintains as many as 10 feeders.

“I have often been able to see as many as a dozen hummingbirds at one time, maybe more,” he wrote. “They obviously can be hard to count at the speed they fly.”

This year has been different.

“So far, I have not seen more than two at the same time, and those only occasionally,” he wrote. “So it seems as if those two are really the only ones around.”

Bill said he hasn’t done anything different. He’s put out the same feeders in the same locations and has filled them with the same sugar water.

He is also doing some other things right.

“I have trees, butterfly bushes and others things growing on my property, but neighbors around me have cleared several areas of trees and bushes,” he said.

I emailed him back with my thoughts on the subject.

Over the years, the number of hummingbirds appears to wane after the peak of spring migration. When these numbers drop, the people who have been hosting these tiny birds are naturally puzzled.

There could be good reasons for this decline, but everything is mere speculation on my part.

With the warmer-than-usual spring, it’s possible some of the hummers that would have settled here for the season tried their luck farther north.

I informed Bill that his thoughts on the loss of trees on neighboring properties could indeed have played a role in fewer hummers being present. Every living thing needs food, water and shelter, and by removing trees and shrubs, there’s less shelter for hummingbirds and other birds.

On the other hand, there could simply be other food resources available, and the hummingbirds have responded accordingly. A stand of their favorite flowers in full bloom might persuade some hummingbirds to temporarily abandon a sugar water feeder.

As I have in years past, I advised patience.

For Bill or anyone else who has noticed fewer hummingbirds than usual, I am optimistic that the number of hummingbirds visiting local yards should start rising in mid-July. The reason?

Those that did go farther north this spring will start to leisurely make their way back south. Also, the young that hatched out this year will be joining the adults.

I always see more hummers in late summer and early fall than in the spring. I am also always just a tad envious of people like Bill who can attract a veritable flock of hummingbirds to multiple feeders. I am usually happy if I can attract a half dozen of these tiny flying gems. I’ve visited locations where dozens of hummingbirds literally swarm around feeders, and I’ve always wondered if I could duplicate that at home.

I also let Bill know that it sounds like he has a very nice set-up for his hummingbirds. He’s doing everything correctly as far as making his yard attractive to these tiny birds. All I can really advise is that he remain patient. I’m fairly confident he will start seeing more hummingbirds in the coming weeks.

At home, several flowers — Crocosmia, Bee-Balm and Gladiola — are beginning to bloom. These are usually favorites with hummingbirds. To increase the attractiveness of your yard to hummingbirds, add some flowers to supplement feeders. It’s true that hummingbirds are attracted to the color red, but they will visit other nectar-rich flowers as well.


I also received an interesting email from Bill and Judy Beckman on Spivey Mountain in Unicoi County.

The Beckmans had identified some birds at their feeder as Red Crossbills.

“They sure look like the pictures in our bird book, but the range given does not show Tennessee,” Judy wrote in the email. “Could it be that my bird book is out of date the way the climate has been changing?”

Actually, bird guides do a good job focusing on the general range of birds, but the birds don’t always consult the books. Records of Red Crossbills are uncommon but certainly not new to the Volunteer State. In Northeast Tennessee, Unaka Mountain and Roan Mountain are good locations to search for Red Crossbills.

The visiting Red Crossbills at the Beckman home are not the only one reported from Unicoi County this year.

Judy described the visiting Red Crossbills as a “wonderful sight.”

“They are voracious eaters,” she wrote. “The goldfinches aren’t too happy as the crossbills push them away. We’re going through a lot of sunflower seeds!”

The Beckmans have enjoyed a great spring with some notable bird sightings. “We’ve enjoyed our first sightings of Cedar Waxwings, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and these crossbills,” Judy wrote. “Oh and we had a Great Blue Heron visit our pond briefly.”

The bird didn’t stay long though, apparently being spooked by the two Beckman dogs.

“If the bird only knew, he would have nothing to fear,” Judy wrote.

On June 18, Judy updated me again on the visiting Red Crossbills.

“At their peak, we counted 14,” she said. “This morning, I’ve only counted four at the feeder.”

Dave Caton of Erwin is another Unicoi County resident who observed Red Crossbills this spring.

After I emailed him, he wrote back that he last saw his two crossbills three weeks ago.

“I have not seen them since that time,” he said. “For a while, only the male was present. However, the female did come back prior to their leaving.”


To share a sighting, ask a question or make a comment, call me at 297-9077 or email me at ahoodedwarbler@aol.com or bstevens@starhq.com. I am also on Facebook.

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