Rare hummingbirds visit Florida this time of year
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Media contact: Wendy Dial, 850-488-9477
Between now and early spring, rare hummingbird species from out
West turn up in Florida on their way to their winter homes in the
Ruby-throated hummingbirds are year-round residents
throughout Florida, but many from up North also pass through here
on their annual migration to Central America. Floridians who put up
hummingbird feeders or grow red or orange tubular flowers may get a
glimpse of one of at least nine additional species that have been
recorded in Florida, including rufous, black-chinned, Calliope,
buff-bellied, broad-billed, broad-tailed, white-eared, Anna's and
Allen's hummingbirds. There's also an extremely slim chance they'll
see a rare Bahama woodstar visiting South Florida from the
One rufous hummingbird, banded in Tallahassee last
January, was recaptured six months later in Alaska, 3,350 miles
The challenge to nature lovers is spotting them.
The most common adult hummingbird in Florida is only 3¾ inches
long, bill tip to tail tip, and it rarely holds still, darting
rapidly from flower to flower. It is smaller than some moths.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Commission (FWC) has a few tips for residents who'd like to help
hummingbirds load up on energy-generating food before they make
their journey over the Gulf and to supplement overwintering birds'
"You can pick up a hummingbird feeder for a few
dollars," said Mark Kiser, coordinator of the FWC's Great
Florida Birding Trail. "Mix a solution of one part white
granular sugar and four parts water, bring it to a boil, let it
cool and load it into the feeder. Store extra amounts in the
refrigerator to have on hand."
The FWC warns bird lovers not to substitute brown
sugar or honey for the sugar. Both can be toxic to
Some authorities suspect adding red food coloring
to the sugar solution may also be harmful to hummers.
"That's not necessary, anyway," Kiser said. "Just
having red on the feeder is enough to attract hummingbirds."
FWC biologists say it is extremely important to
clean the feeder and fill it with fresh sugar solution at least
once a week in the winter and twice a week in the summer to avoid
spoilage, which may make the birds sick. Soap and water works if
you rinse it well, but a vinegar-and-water solution is better.
Rinse and then fill the reservoir half full of hot water, add a
splash of vinegar and shake it or scrub with a bottle brush, then
rinse. Feeders that easily disassemble are best.
Another way to attract hummingbirds is to plant
native vegetation that produces nectar that is part of their
natural diet. Kiser recommends firebush, coral honeysuckle, trumpet
creeper, cross vine, red buckeye, coral bean, necklace pod, Geiger
tree, cardinal flower, Florida flame azalea, butterfly milkweed and
North Florida and Panhandle residents have the best
chance of encountering the species from Western states, and South
Florida residents are most likely to see the ruby-throated
hummingbirds that remain in Florida through the winter, although
some Western species also turn up there. Most ruby-throats migrate
to Central America until it's time to head north again next
"It's always a treat to see a hummingbird, hovering
at a feeder or flower," Kiser said, "and this time of year the
variety of species you see makes it even more exciting."
The FWC publication "Planting a Refuge for
Wildlife" offers more tips for attracting wildlife to your yard.
The publication is available for download from the "In Your
Backyard" link at MyFWC.com/Viewing. For answers to questions
on hummingbirds, call biologist Mark Kiser, 850-488-9478.