Wild Georgia: Georgia’s ‘second hummingbird season’ is underway

Georgia wildlife biologists advise that homeowners leave up a nectar-filled hummingbird feeder all winter because there's a good chance of attracting a non-native hummingbird species, such as this female rufous hummingbird. (Courtesy of Luke Theodorou)

caption arrowCaption
Georgia wildlife biologists advise that homeowners leave up a nectar-filled hummingbird feeder all winter because there's a good chance of attracting a non-native hummingbird species, such as this female rufous hummingbird. (Courtesy of Luke Theodorou)

Georgia’s beloved ruby-throated hummingbirds, the only hummers that nest here during spring and summer, have migrated to their winter homes in Mexico and Central America and won’t return until March.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Georgia is devoid of hummingbirds during the cold season. Georgia now regularly hosts one or two — and sometimes as many as six — non-native hummingbird species during winter.

The winter hummingbirds, of course, aren’t nearly as abundant as ruby-throats during spring and summer, but they have become common enough that bird experts now refer to the period November-February as “Georgia’s second hummingbird season.”

That’s why the Georgia Department of Natural Resources advises homeowners to keep up at least one nectar-filled feeder through winter since chances are good that a winter hummer may visit. (You won’t keep hummingbirds from migration by leaving feeders up during fall and winter.)

Winter hummer reports in Georgia this season already are trickling in. “It has been fairly busy for winter hummingbird reports so far,” said Karen Theodorou of the Georgia Hummers organization, which keeps track of the reports.

So far, she said, confirmed species include the rufous hummingbird and calliope hummingbird (North America’s smallest bird), mostly in North Georgia. A probable black-chinned hummingbird also has been reported in Thomas County in South Georgia.

But with the winter season just underway, the reports are bound to increase, Theodorou said.

My birding friend Georgann Schmalz in Dawson County said she and her neighbors have been hosting a rufous and a calliope hummingbird since late November. “The rufous was harassing the calliope ... they appear at both feeders simultaneously,” she told me this week.

Altogether, in addition to our native ruby-throat, 10 hummingbird species have been reported over the years in Georgia. Most of them breed in the American West. Of them, the rufous by far is the most common winter visitor in Georgia, with more than 100 sightings each season. If you have a winter hummingbird, you can report it at www.gahummer.org.

IN THE SKY: The moon will be full on Tuesday night. Venus is low in the east, rising just before dawn. Mars is high in the east at dusk. Jupiter and Saturn are low in the southwest after dark.