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Calliope Hummingbird | State Has Four Nonbreeding Hummingbird Species As Visitors

Posted By: junmar

Hummingbirds are fascinating animals. This was a good year for our nesting ruby-throats, but they are leaving.

Most of our nesting hummers leave the region by mid-October, but I recommend leaving your hummingbird feeders out from now until Jan. 1 for two reasons.

Migrant ruby-throated hummingbirds that might stop by need additional energy for the dangerous trip south, and this is the time period when nonbreeding hummingbirds start showing up in Maryland.

I call nonbreeding species in our region “out-of-season, out-of-range birds.” Maryland now has four documented nonbreeding hummingbird species on the state list: rufous, calliope, Anna’s and Allen’s hummingbirds. The District of Columbia has a documented black-chinned. All are rare visitors.

They show up in the east during October through January.

For example, in 2008 within about a 20-mile stretch in Calvert County along the western side of the Chesapeake Bay, we had the fourth Maryland state record of a calliope hummingbird (North Beach), a female rufous (Port Republic), and a first Maryland state record female Allen’s (Prince Frederick). The Allen’s was discovered Dec. 23.

All of these records resulted from hummingbird feeders being left out to attract birds during the October to January period. There is absolutely no truth to the old wives’ tale that if you leave out your feeder the birds won’t leave, and will freeze in the winter. Hummingbirds migrate based on the available light and suitable weather conditions. Suitable weather is a big high pressure with a good tail wind. Hummingbirds leave when the length of the day triggers chemicals in the brain to tell them it is time to move along, and this occurs around the fall equinox in late September.

The rare visitors are often birds that hatched out last spring or summer and have yet to learn exactly which way to migrate. In Charles County, there are two records of rufous hummingbird and many others have occurred across the state. There have been enough records of this particular nonbreeding species that the Maryland rare birds records committee no longer reviews reports of rufous hummingbirds. Any other hummingbirds besides rufous (or ruby-throated) go through a thorough review in order to confirm their presence in the state.

It is difficult to identify these late fall visitors, so if you get any hummingbird after Nov. 1, try to get a photo and please report it to me. I can be reached at

Rufous and Allen’s are very hard to separate in the field. They are closely related (in the same genus, Selasphorus), and nonadult males look very similar. Proper identification is important. This is done by certified hummingbird banders. Fortunately I know two in the area. You need detailed measurements of the bird in hand, especially when you are determining the first state or county records.

Documenting these bird species provides useful scientific data on the migration of the birds, and you could be a part of learning more about these amazing animals. Additionally, the Allen’s stayed until Dec. 29, and as many as 50 avid birders got to see this new state bird due to the generosity of the property owner. The Allen’s probably migrated from northern California, and went east instead of south to Mexico where the species normally overwinters. Because the bird got extra feed during her stay in Maryland, she likely had a more successful trip south once she decided to continue migration.

Nonbreeding hummingbirds will be hungry when they arrive from the long flight from as far away as Alaska. When leaving out your feeders please make sure your feeder is clean, the food is fresh, the feeder is located where you can see it easily, and check it on a daily basis. This way you will know when you have a potential nonruby-throated hummingbird, and the bird will be provided a healthy meal.

If it gets below 20 degrees at night, bring in the feeder so the liquid feed won’t freeze. Nothing worse than to arrive and find a frozen dinner. I use one part sugar and three parts water for nonbreeding hummingbird bait. It is a higher energy source than I feed during the normal breeding season of April to September. Sugar and water will freeze around 20 degrees, so to prevent damage to your feeder when ice expands inside it, fill it just two-thirds full. If a hard freeze is expected, it is best to bring the feeder in at night.

Put the feeder out about one-half hour before sunrise, as these birds tend to feed early. When you put out the feeder in the morning, it will be liquid and ready to help the bird survive.

I have over the years received several communications asking if hummingbirds are supposed to be here on Thanksgiving. At that point I ask the informant, “Where do you live.”

Will you be the next person to help out these fascinating animals?

George Jett of Waldorf is a member of the Southern Maryland chapter of the National Audubon Society. He can be reached at

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