Date: 1/31/18 7:53 am
From: Lena Gallitano <lbg...>
Subject: Re: Do feeders keep hummingbirds from migrating south in the fall?
Good morning Carolinabirders,

John and Harry have some very good points about wintering birds that enjoy
our feeders. I'd like to add to John's comments about micro-climates.

Take a look at this plant hardiness map for a comparison from 1990 to

With even a small average change in temperature, I expect more birds are
able to find micro-climates, especially next to our buildings that offer
them just a few degrees of protection that will help them survive. We know
our native plants also offer greater food sources of larvae and bugs than
exotics. It would be interesting to compare habitat of the wintering birds
to see what native plants are in the area.

On one of our very cold days, I saw a Ruby-crowned Kinglet searching for
insects in the bark of one of our native trees. Maybe I've not been
observant enough to see that behavior before but they are typically
flitting from branch to branch when I've seen them. Now I wonder if this
observation was on the south and warmer side of the tree.

Many of you know I've had Baltimore Orioles in my yard since I began
Project Feeder Watch in 2003. That was the first time I had ever seen an
oriole in my yard. It was on the ground at a seed feeder but then flew up
to a saucer shaped hummingbird feeder I had neglected to bring inside.
There are sasanqua camellias in the neighbors yard and I've seen them at
the white flowers but never the pink. So what has kept them coming to my
yard? The grape jelly that I usually put out after I see the fist one in
the fall, the warmer winters or the habitat? A combination of all three?

I agree with Harry that we will not influence any global populations with
our feeders. I would suggest, however, that if we all work to protect
habitat on a large scale and on a small scale in our yards with more native
plants, we will offer our bird species a better opportunity to survive for
future generations.

Happy birding,

Lena Gallitano
Raleigh, NC

On Tue, Jan 30, 2018 at 9:46 PM, Harry LeGrand <carolinabirds...>

> John brings up some good points, just as Tom Quay, who I am presuming John
> is referring to with the Baltimore Oriole comment (and who was also my
> major professor) did about that species. But, regardless of whether John
> is right or wrong, we are dealing with a very tiny percentage of the entire
> world's population of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds -- maybe 200 in NC in
> winter versus a total population of 20,000,000 (as reported on Wikipedia).
> By my calculation, that represents .00001 % Even if I am off by one
> decimal place, so what? We are dealing with such a minuscule part of the
> global population that it doesn't matter if they all survive or die;most
> have died. Of course, we don't like it when they die, but this Deep Freeze
> in NC isn't going to impact the global population.
> Ditto for Baltimore Orioles. Even if only 10% of the usual number were to
> survive this winter as compared with other winters, we are still talking
> about a very tiny percentage of the global population, most of which are
> hopefully "happily" wintering where they should be in the tropics.
> Now, take a more serious example or two. The species that regularly
> winter in NC and SC, where NC and SC form a moderate part of the range, are
> of great concern if they survive or fail to survive the winter. At the
> recent CBC meeting in Wrightsville Beach, there was nary a sighting of
> Seaside, Sharp-tailed, or Nelson's sparrows. It wasn't completely due to
> lack of effort. The Deep Freeze heavily damaged the wintering bird
> populations in our salt and brackish marshes. The sparrows did not make
> it, for the most part. I would estimate that 70-80% of our 3 marsh species
> have succumbed to the weather so far. This could make a considerable
> impact on the global population of these three species. Thankfully, many
> more of these are wintering to our south, so the majority hopefully will
> survive the winter elsewhere. Likewise, more than half of the Winter
> Wrens, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and some other songbirds have also not made
> it, and we are not yet into February. For these more inland species, their
> loss won't affect the global populations as much, as they winter over a
> larger area than do coastal sparrows.
> My conclusion on this - -go ahead and keep feeding hummingbirds and
> orioles in winter. Enjoy them while you can. Even if you are
> "un-naturally" holding them farther north than they should be, you are not
> impacting the global population, as over 99% of the individuals of these
> species are wintering in the tropics. This does not answer John's questions
> about whether the feeding is keeping hummers from moving south. That would
> take some serious research, I suspect, and folks who live at the coast like
> John, especially for over 50 years of observation, would be better to
> answer that than I can, in Raleigh. I am looking at the estimated numbers
> here and how this particular winter -- *the most devastating to our
> wintering landbirds than any of the over 50 that I can remembe*r -- might
> affect global populations.
> Harry LeGrand
> Raleigh
> On Tue, Jan 30, 2018 at 8:14 PM, John Fussell <jofuss...> wrote:
>> Recently on this listserv there was a bit of discussion about whether
>> feeders keep hummingbirds from migrating south in the fall. This
>> discussion was prompted by reports, including mine, of mortality/apparent
>> mortality of hummingbirds in eastern North Carolina during the persistent
>> cold in early January.
>> I doubt that feeders keep hummers from going south in fall, at least to
>> any significant extent.
>> Every winter, especially in early winter, birders find many individuals
>> of many species of landbirds that did not go south to "where they should
>> be". These are birds of varying sensitivities to cold or to lack of food
>> due to cold. Most are insectivorous; they do not use feeders. They
>> include warblers and many other species. Many of these birds will not
>> survive the winter, especially if there are periods of severe cold and/or
>> icy weather. Perhaps the most unfortunate of these birds that did not "go
>> far enough south" are those that really screw up, and actually go northward
>> in the fall, ending up in places like Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, where
>> they are certainly doomed. A large percentage, probably a majority, of
>> these "lost" birds are immatures. (I wonder if immature males
>> predominate--am thinking of the human analogy!)
>> I looked back through old Chat magazines recently to check on my memory.
>> Hummingbirds, presumably almost all Ruby-throateds, were occasionally
>> spotted in early winter well before there were any feeders being maintained
>> in winter--in fact, to the best my knowledge, back when very few persons
>> maintained hummingbird feeders at any season. For instance, in my county
>> of Carteret there were four reports (at four different sites) of hummers in
>> early to mid-winter (early December to mid-January) in 1979-1980. Again,
>> these birds were not here because of any feeders. Some of you old-timers
>> may remember that particular winter. It was very mild in December and
>> through most of January (I remember the flowers where I was staying in late
>> January), but then we went into a deep freeze in February, topped off by a
>> snowstorm at the beginning of March. During that winter I think that many
>> hummers could have survived without a feeder through most of January, but
>> would have been doomed later on.
>> However, I do think it is likely that we are sustaining a wintering
>> population of hummingbirds that is occurring somewhat farther north than
>> where it would survive without feeders. I am not saying that we are
>> keeping individual birds from migrating south, but that perhaps by keeping
>> birds with a genetic tendency to not migrate farther south in winter from
>> perishing, we are allowing such birds to survive and reproduce, thus
>> contributing to this more northerly wintering population. In this regard,
>> I think back to the first wintering birds at feeders in my area (I think it
>> was in the late 1980's/early 1990's). We were arguing a lot about what
>> species they were, in part because we had heard so much from Gulf Coast
>> birders about how our birds could NOT be Ruby-throateds, but also because
>> those first wintering birds at feeders were almost exclusively immature
>> birds--we did not see any adult males which would have helped us identify
>> them more confidently.
>> If we are maintaining a more northerly wintering population, is that
>> good, bad, or neutral? Might there be an intense winter storm some year
>> that will eventually wipe out most of this wintering population (such as
>> the "blizzard" of December 1989--I can't believe a single hummer could have
>> survived that weather here). Or will such events become increasingly less
>> likely in a warming world (although some research suggests that a warming
>> Arctic leads to wilder kinks in the jet stream, resulting in some invasions
>> of very cold air into the eastern Unitied States, like the recent cold).
>> Anyway, the cold in early January was statistically a very rare event,
>> especially in terms of its persistence. As I've said earlier on this
>> listserv (I think I have anyway), I have had wintering hummers in my yard
>> since 2002-2003. I think the only hummers that have died here during this
>> period other than the ones this year were two (of eight birds) in January
>> 2003. The conditions then were actually more severe than this winter, but
>> they did not last as long.
>> Another comment I have is if one thinks that hummingbird feeders keep
>> hummers from going south, shouldn't we also be concerned about plants that
>> flower in winter, most of which are exotic planted (and invasive) species
>> like sasanqua and elaeagnus, although there are native ones like coral
>> honeysuckle. I have seen hummers in winter that were associated with thick
>> growths of elaeagnus that were nowhere close to any feeders. And how about
>> those relatively cozy micro-climate situations, many of which are man-made,
>> although there are some natural ones too. I remember one mid-December day
>> watching a Ruby-throated that was going after swarms of tiny flying insects
>> over a relatively warm south-facing slope (on a dredge island). And there
>> was a coral honeysuckle plant with numerous flowers at that same site.
>> Something I do feel very strongly about: If someone has been feeding
>> hummingbirds in winter such that the birds are really tied to that
>> particular yard, I think they have an obligation to keep those feeders
>> maintained throughout the winter, but especially in really cold, severe
>> weather. When conditions get really bad, and the birds are really
>> stressed, they will not have the luxury of making a long flight. I feel
>> that this is especially the case for people like me, who do not live close
>> to any other feeders.
>> And, a final comment: I remember when I was in college being told (by my
>> major professor) that beginning about 1950 feeders had kept Baltimore
>> Orioles from migrating south to Central America. Do we think that is
>> really true? Or is more likely that orioles that did not migrate south to
>> "where they should have gone" found feeders, which enhanced their
>> survival. I think the latter is more likely.
>> Susan Campbell and Ann Maddock may want to make some comments about my
>> thoughts, especially in regard to the degree that Ruby-throateds might
>> survive in witner without feeders. I do think that for my area--Carteret
>> County--hummers would not be able to survive throughout an average winter,
>> although they might (and obviously have) survive well into a typical
>> December, and into January of some years.
>> John Fussell
>> Morehead City, NC

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