August 4th , 2013 9:42 am Leave a comment

Readers share stories about hummingbirds


Kathy Greer in Siam called me this week to ask how to tell male and female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds apart. She had read last week’s column on the dazzling diversity of the world’s hummingbirds, which she said she enjoyed.
Fortunately, I was able to provide a rather reliable answer.

Male and female Ruby-throats have one important difference in plumage. Only males have the ruby-red throat gorget that gives this species its common name of Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Females lack the ruby-red throat patch. Depending on how the light hits this red patch, it can look red, black or even an orange-bronze.

There is a complication — isn’t that always the case? — in separating males from females in late summer. After the nesting season, many young birds are tossed into the mix. The confusion begins with the fact that young hummingbirds, both males and females, lack the red throat patch. However, a few young males may begin to sprout red feathers on their throat.

So, every red-throated hummingbird is a male, but not every hummingbird without the red throat patch is a female.

I also heard from Marty Landis, who lives on Spivey Mountain in Unicoi County. She sent me an email about a single hummingbird that stands out from the others at her feeders.

“I have one hummingbird who has a chalk-white triangle perfectly placed on her forehead,” Marty wrote. “She’s been around all summer along with about 40 of her friends.”

Marty said she has four large sugar water feeders stationed outside her bay window off the dining room and another on the corner of the house.

The hummingbirds devour large amounts of the sugar water each day.

“What a joy it is to watch them,” Marty wrote. “I’ve been nurturing them for the last 20 years and I was thrilled to learn that they return to the same place every year!”

Her hummingbirds returned this spring on April 10, the earliest they have ever arrived.

“It’s like being remembered by old friends,” she added.

Marty also asked about when Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have their babies.
I would think that most hummingbirds have probably finished raising their young. The recent rise in numbers at my feeders is probably indicative of plenty of young birds out of the nest and joining their parents at the feeders.

I also mentioned the increased numbers of hummingbirds at my home during a Facebook post, and I posted some photographs and a couple of videos.

I got some quick responses to the posts.

Mimi Hale said she must have had a dozen hummingbirds, which are particularly loud and active in the morning.

Photo Courtesy of Martha ShellRuby-throated Hummingbirds have been extremely common and active this summer.

Photo Courtesy of Martha Shell
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have been extremely common and active this summer.

Jennifer Fleenor Sizemore reported that she is also seeing a lot of hummingbirds.

Sandra Garrett said her hummingbird had been “hard at it on all three feeders until almost dark. Lots of chittering as they tussled over territory. It was rather exhausting.”

Barbara Lake in Hampton also shared that she  provides  four  feeders and fills them twice a day. She even joked that is helping to keep the sugar companies in

Jennifer Oaks Penix reported that she has observed at least three residents fighting in the mimosa tree until dark.|

“They’re fascinating to watch,” she added.


During a recent visit to Kingsport, I got a glimpse of a Black-crowned Night-heron perched in a tree below a bridge that can be viewed from Interstate 26. The brief sighting reminded me that it’s the time of year to start checking area lakes, rivers, ponds and creeks for migrating shorebirds and wandering wading birds.

With the nesting season at an end, many of the long-legged waders — herons, egrets and their kind — tend to wander.
Some of the waders that tend to make appearances in Northeast Tennessee include Great Egret, American Bittern, Green Heron, Great Blue Heron and Yellow-crowned Night-heron.

Less frequent visitors include White Ibis, Little Blue Heron and Snowy Egret. Rare visitors to the region include Great White Heron, which is simply a sub-species of the Great Blue Heron, as well as such surprises as Roseate Spoonbills, Glossy Ibis and White-faced Ibis.

The herons are wading birds in the Ardeidae family. There are 64 recogn

ized species in this family. Some are called egrets or bitterns instead of herons.
Herons are excellent anglers, but they will eat more than fish. The world’s herons also feed on aquatic creatures ranging from crabs and crayfish to reptiles, such as snakes, lizards and even small alligators. Their diet also includes insects, small mammals and birds, amphibians and earthworms.

Members of the family range in size from the Goliath Heron, which can reach 60 inches in height with a wingspan of 91 inches. The Goliath Heron can reach a weight of 11 pounds. In contrast, the Great Blue Heron stands about 55 inches tall and weighs only about 4.5 pounds.
Vying for distinction as the smallest of the world’s herons are several diminutive bitterns, some of which are only about 10 inches tall and weigh only about three to four ounces.

In the Americas, the smallest of the herons is the Least Bittern, which can rea

ch 14 inches in length but weighs only about 3.5 ounces.

By comparison, the Green Heron — the smallest heron typically encountered in Northeast Tennessee — reaches a length of about 18 inches and weighs about 8.5 ounces.

A survey of some common names of herons include Boat-billed Heron, Black Heron, White-crested Tiger-heron, New Guinea Tiger-heron, Zigzag Heron, White-backed Night Heron, White-eared Night Heron, Capped Heron, Rufous-bellied Heron and Whistling Heron.
Egrets around the world include Slaty Egret, Little Egret, Great Egret, Reddish Egret and Snowy Egret while the bitterns include American Bittern, Great Bittern, Little Bittern, Cinnamon Bittern, Yellow Bittern and Dwarf Bittern.

After the business of nesting and rearing young is concluded, both adults and immature herons, egrets and bitterns tend to wander. These dispersals from their breeding grounds can sometimes send these long-legged waders on some long journeys, treating birders to unexpected sightings.


I’ve also noted some returning birds at home on Simerly Creek Road. A Belted Kingfisher has been visiting the fish pond on a regular basis.
I’m also hearing the calls of Northern Flickers from the woods, although this medium-sized woodpecker hasn’t made any visits to the yard or feeders.

A group of noisy Blue-gray Gnatcatchers played hide-and-seek in the mimosa tree on July 30. With the arrival of August, it’s time to start keeping your eyes open as fall migration has already started for some species of birds.

If you’re not hosting migrants yet, simply enjoy the daily spectacle of the hummingbirds. For the cost of a little sugar water, they can provide unlimited entertainment.
To share a sighting, ask a question or make a comment, call me at 297-9077 or 542-4151 or send e-mail to or


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