Thursday, August 24, 2017

Rufous Hummingbird Migration

When we lived in the country, we operated a year-round hummingbird hostel. Gardens for food and shelter, feeders for quick energy. Bird books don't show hummingbirds in the Texas Hill Country in winter. Guess the birds don't read the books.

From Spring-Fall, we're flocked with Black-chinned and Ruby-throated hummingbirds.  The Black-chinned begin arriving in March. A generous number stay through summer to breed and rear young, sometimes as many as three clutches.  Many linger into fall to tank up for flights to Mexico and Central America.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds pause in the Hill Country in spring and fall on the way to and from distant breeding and wintering grounds.

But in the last decade, a noticeable number of Rufous hummingbirds have begun to overwinter in our region. For four years running a young male would arrive at our flowers and feeders in mid-December. 

Why? Maybe the young guys couldn't migrate without more bulk, or wanted to be first in line to get back to far-away breeding grounds. Maybe our winters have been warmer than average. And maybe more people are creating gardens and keeping feeders out for hummingbirds.

Cornell University's experts say that Rufous hummingbirds are "the feistiest hummingbird in North America". They need every bit of spirit to make migration treks from as far north as Alaska to Central America and back. These tiny birds weigh less than a nickel, yet they navigate and fly untold miles twice a year.

Adult Rufous hummingbird
The little guys would stay with us until the first Black-chinned hummingbirds arrived in mid-March. The next year a new youngster would arrive. We never saw 'our' Rufous hummers again. But our feeders kept them alive through winter; and the pleasure of watching them grow into adults remains.

This year we abandoned the scorch of Texas summer sun for some time in Colorado. Pagosa Springs--a cute historical town on the San Juan River among the San Juan Mountains. I knew I'd miss my Black-chinned hummingbirds at home...but the chance for cool days and mountain air was too enticing.  

What I didn't know was that we'd arrive during Rufous hummingbird migration. We'd see males and females, juveniles and adults flocking to the feeder hanging on our deck. We were privy to diving and chattering and aerial wars of ownership. One female perched above the feeder, claiming it as private property. 

It was so much fun, I'm sharing a few seconds of pure winged happiness with you too.

Copyright 2009-2017 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.


  1. What a Wonderful surprise! How Lucky!

  2. I remember those passing through quickly twice a year. We get some overwinter from what I'm told, but I've not seen them - must be feeders and the occasional mild winter. Last winter should have had anything overwinter!


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