Visiting winter hummingbird draws other guests

For the fourth year in a row, a tiny female visitor is spending the winter at the home of Joy Carter and Ken Boff in southeast Atlanta — and, as usual, drawing other visitors who want to come by and see her.

The guest is a tiny rufous hummingbird, a 3-inch long, reddish-brown creature that normally breeds in the Pacific Northwest and overwinters in Mexico. “I don’t know how she found our yard,” said Carter. “And I really don’t understand how she finds her way back every year, but she shows up in early October and stays until April. We feel honored to have her as our guest.”

Both Carter, past president of the Atlanta Audubon Society, and husband Boff are avid bird-watchers. Like several other homeowners, they keep a full nectar feeder up all winter in hopes of attracting a winter hummingbird. (Georgia’s only native summer-nesting hummingbird, the ruby-throated, migrates to Mexico and Central America for the winter.)

Carter said fellow bird-watchers often stop by her home to get a glimpse of the rufous hummingbird and add it to their “life list” of species.

She knows that the hummer, which her husband named “Chaka,” is the same one each year because it wears a tiny metal ID leg band — attached when the bird first appeared at Carter’s feeder four winters ago.

“I assume that when she leaves in the spring, she returns to the Pacific Northwest — a long journey,” Carter said.

Biologists with Georgia’s Wildlife Resources Division say chances of attracting a winter hummingbird are good if you leave a full nectar feeder up all winter. In some winters, more than 100 rufous hummingbirds have been documented in the state.

Other species may show up as well. So far this winter, a broad-billed hummingbird has appeared in Dodge County and a black-chinned hummingbird in Chatham County.

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The moon, new this weekend, will be a thin crescent at dusk today. Mercury is low in the east just before dawn. Venus and Mars are in the west at dusk and set about two hours later. Venus on Monday evening and Mars on Tuesday will appear near the moon. Jupiter rises out of the east around midnight. Saturn rises out of the east about two hours before sunrise.