Rufous Hummingbird overwintering in Ozark, Mo.

2009 December 28
by David J. Ringer

GREENE CO., MO. — An adult male Rufous Hummingbird is spending the winter at a feeder in Ozark, Missouri, which is not very far from where I’m spending the holidays. Sunday afternoon, I and my friends Charley Burwick, Lisa Berger, Greg Swick, and Nate of The Drinking Bird converged to observe him.

The kind family hosting the little bird is working hard to keep him fed, especially as temperatures hover in the 20s during the day and drop into the teens at night. Brrr!

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A heat lamp pointed at the feeder keeps it from freezing during the day. (Yes, that’s snow in the background.) In case it does start to freeze, a replacement feeder is ready inside and can be swapped in when needed.

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The Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) was resting on a wire when we arrived. His full adult male plumage is just gorgeous — and it also makes him very easy to identify!

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The corners of his gorget flare outward a bit, and his folded tail comes to a sharp point.

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He would fly in, take a long drink from the feeder, and fly off again. Where else was he going? Does he have other food sources in the area? We don’t know.

Though the bulk of the population winters in Mexico, Rufous Hummingbirds are rare migrants and low-density winter residents throughout the southeastern United States. They can survive cold weather — but only if they have enough food. Feeders probably provide a lifeline for hummers that turn up in places like Missouri, where ice, snow, and very cold temperatures would likely prevent them from finding enough natural food to survive. However, the dynamics of this phenomenon, which seems to be increasing not only with Rufous Hummingbirds but with other western hummers as well, is still not well understood.

Update: According to the Missouri checklist, Rufous Hummingbird is a regular but scarce fall transient but is only an accidental (fewer than five records) winter resident. So we’ll be submitting documentation to the Missouri Bird Records Committee. Rufous Hummingbird regularly overwinters in states like Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, but doesn’t usually stay this far north.

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I got one shot with the bird’s rectrices (tail feathers) partly spread, but I can’t see enough detail on the feathers to look for the R2 notch, etc., unfortunately.

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This bird is almost entirely rufous above, but he does have a few iridescent green feathers on his upper back (just visible in this shot). Note too the length of the tail in relation to the wings, the green wing coverts, and the patch of feathers missing from his gorget. The gorget was complete when Marvin DeJong photographed the bird a month ago. Is this due to molt, or what?

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Update: See Nate’s post too: A Christmas Hummingbird.

Related posts:

  1. Sword-billed Hummingbird, Ensifera ensifera
  2. Wintering Black-chinned Hummingbird in Louisiana
  3. The Ozark cantata
  4. Overwintering neotrops and other goodies on Grand Isle
  5. Springfield CBC highlights
2 Responses
  1. Chivis permalink
    December 28, 2009

    These are some awesome pictures, David! A very nice study of this hummer.

  2. Jan Crowell permalink
    January 1, 2010

    Fourth photo down is my favorite.
    Amazing photography (and bird!)
    Thanks for sharing your great results with everyone.

Comments are closed.