Winter Hummingbird

I have a winter hummingbird!

“Please consider leaving out your feeder year-round,” said the hummingbird researcher to Facebook, and for some reason I considered.
“Keep it cleaned, maintained and easily viewed and YOU might be one of the lucky ones to host a winter hummingbird.” 

I want to be a lucky one, I thought, but I’m a slacker with feeders. It’s hard enough to keep scrubbing and filling and PROVIDING during normal hummingbird season (April to October), especially when I see no hummingbird for weeks at a time.
I need instant, gorgeous, iridescent, humming feedback that the work is worth it.

But, I fetched my feeder from storage. Maybe mold grows slower in winter?

Cyndi, the winter hummingbird researcher, said if we see a hummer from November 15 to March 15, she wants to know. So, when I saw one on November 17, I told her.
The next day, she drove an hour to my yard to catch my bird (which took about one minute), identify, weigh, measure, and band.

[I am ridiculously pleased that the teeny-tiny aluminum band on this bird’s right ankle has numbers on it that link to the location of banding, which is MY DRIVEWAY. ]

see the band?

The bird is a hatch-year, Ruby-throated hummer, with zero fat and hardly a tail-feather, so I’m hoping she hangs around long enough to get fat and feathered to survive 1) a journey or 2) a Nashville winter.

Are you wondering:

-Why would a hummingbird stay in Nashville when all her colleagues are in Mexico or South America by now? 

-How can a hummingbird survive freezing temps and zero feeders and zero blooms?

She knows she is in no fit state for long-distance travel.
She cycles into a state of torpor during cold snaps, like a mini-hibernation.
And as for food, hummers eat tiny invertebrates year ‘round, not just nectar. But when nectar is scarce, they beef up on protein and fat.
Basically, she switches her diet from High-Carb to Keto.

But here’s a question I cannot answer, which is what my kid asked me yesterday, “Why does the hummingbird make you so happy?”

“Wow, that’s a great question,” I said, to buy some time, which did not help. I muttered something about Big Deal and Nature and Habitat and Beauty and whatever. 
And then I gushed:

She needs help. All birds need help. I look at the yards on my street. I don’t see “habitat,” I see lawns. I see the same exotic shrubs at house after house: nandina, yew, laurel, boxwood, burning bush, forsythia, etc. etc. that cannot feed invertebrates, that cannot feed birds. I see cumulative acres of scalped turfgrass with little lawncare flags that say Stay Off Till Dry. The yard across the street got sprayed yesterday. In December! 

Not enough native plants + too much poison = she needs help.

My yard is habitat. It won’t win any People Appeal prizes, but it appeals to birds. It is messy with autumn leaves, with clumps of native seedheads that don’t get mown or tidied, with moss on the brick and bugs on the windows, with brushpiles and logs and shrubs and trees.

And when I added a red plastic feeder full of sugar-water, a hummingbird found it.
I am one of the lucky ones!

Feeding birds does not keep them from migrating, by the way. That’s a myth. My bird is staying for her own reasons, but while she is here, I will scrub and fill and provide.

She is my instant, gorgeous, iridescent, humming feedback that the work is so worth it.

Thanks for reading.

Hummingbird Extra Credit:

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird at AllAboutBirds (Cornell Lab of Ornithology).

Southeastern Avian Research is Cyndi Routledge’s official website, and here’s the page about Winter Hummingbirds.

If you haven’t seen a hummingbird banding, here’s a video of Cyndi at a local park. Start at 1:35:


My Instagram posts are 100% nature, and most of it the Sidewalk kind.

I’m not fond of facebook, but some people aren’t on Instagram, so I post nature things there from time to time.

Comment on this post, or if you have a general comment or question, click the Contact page.
Corrections, suggestions, and new friends are always welcome.

Joanna Brichetto is a naturalist in Nashville, the hackberry-tree capital of the world.

She writes about everyday natural wonders amid every habitat loss, and her essays have appeared in Creative NonfictionBrevity, Fourth Genre, Hippocampus, The Hopper, Flyway, The Common, City Creatures, The Fourth River and other journals.

3 thoughts on “Winter Hummingbird

  1. “Iridescent Feedback” could have been the name of a British folk-rock band of a half-century ago. Thanks for helping.

  2. Wow! What an honor and privilege to hold that tiny thing, even for a moment! I’m so glad that you had that experience! I’m not sure that I could maintain a feeder, but I provide other sources (salvia is the one I see them drinking out of the most).

  3. I loved this story!! I’m forwarding it to my husband. He will love. Btw, this year I left all the dead flowers in my backyard to decay in place to provide a natural habitat for birds. Bonus, they provide overhead camouflage for my hens to protect them from the hawks.

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