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Winter’s Interloper

The Rufous Hummingbird makes another unseasonable appearance

photo by Jim Stasz

Rufous hummingbirds travel great distances. The red-tinged birds’ migration takes them from their wintering grounds in Mexico and the southern United States to their breeding grounds in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, western Canada and southern Alaska.
    They breed farther north than any other hummingbird.
    To sustain their marathon journey, rufous hummingbirds depend on a variety of food sources. Nectar from flowering plants makes up the bulk of their diet, plus some small insects. When nectar is scarce, the opportunistic hummingbirds feed from wells drilled in trees by birds like the yellow-bellied sapsucker. And from hummingbird feeders hanging in our yards. Hope you’ve left yours up.
    Jim Stasz, North Beach birdwatcher of 50 years, has hit the lottery for the second year in a row.
    Last year a rufous hummingbird came to feed in his backyard at Thanksgiving. It stayed through February. He was so excited that he reported the visit to the Patuxent Wildlife Research and Banding Lab in Laurel. The lab’s banding is how Stasz knew the same male rufous hummingbird returned this year, again at Thanksgiving.
    “He visits about twice a day, which makes me think he’s visiting the other feeders I’ve seen around town,” said Stasz.
    “And he’s in and out quick, maybe 15 seconds; then, I won’t see him for three or four more hours,” said Stasz, who has had five rufous hummingbirds hanging around his winter yard in 25 years.
    Stasz leaves one feeder out all year, turning a light on next to it at night to keep it from freezing. Inside his home, he keeps a spare feeder filled and ready to go.
    His recipe for success: one part sugar to four parts water.
    He also plants hardy winter-blooming coral honeysuckle and Carolina jasmine to attract off-season hummingbirds.