A few days ago, a Rufous Hummingbird was banded at a feeder of a birder near Asbury Park, NJ. Rufous/Allen’s-type hummingbirds have become an almost annual fall visitor in NJ since the mid-’90s. NJ also has multiple records of both Black-chinned Hummingbird and Calliope Hummingbird since the mid-90s. In 2005, we were even graced with a Green Violet-ear. You can read more about that sighting here. There are a few rare hummingbird records in the early ’90s and zero records prior to the ’90s. I imagine there is a connection between an increased awareness of butterfly and hummingbird-friendly gardening practices, availability of hummingbird-friendly garden plants, and easy access to and increased popularity of hummingbird feeders. Furthermore, birders now know that by leaving their feeders up later into the fall, they increase their chances to attract these rare visitors.
The actual Green-violet Ear from NJ – thanks to photographer Scott Elowitz
The vast majority of rare hummingbird sightings are in the southern counties and you can bet that Cape May boasts a bunch of those sightings. The slightly warmer climate of southern NJ helps keep hummingbird feeders unfrozen longer and allows plants to flower longer. I’ve heard the late-blooming Pineapple Sage is a real favorite of the hummingbirds down there. It bloomed too late at my house and only got a few blooms before expiring.
Sightings of Selasphorus hummingbirds are the most common throughout the state and most sightings occur between late September and January. Yes, January! Quite a few of these birds stayed for several MONTHS from late fall into the winter. This likely took some TLC from the home owner to care for the feeders during freezing temperatures.
For the Selasphorus hummingbirds, banding is often required to make a positive identification as immature and female birds are virtually indistinguishable in the field. In the individuals where a positive identification is made, there have been 14 Rufous Hummingbirds and 3 Allen’s Hummingbirds (as of 2007 records). I personally have not seen an Allen’s in NJ. Photo evidence has usually been sufficient for the other rare hummingbird species seen.
Despite the pleasure these rare visitors bring us, there is a negative side. These birds are lost and their future is likely not good. The feeders and plants in our yards are likely only helping them temporarily. But, temporary help is better than no help at all. So, keep those hummingbird feeders up and plant some hummingbird-friendly, non-invasive plants. Remember to maintain your feeders and ignore the myth that leaving your feeder up will prevent the local hummingbirds from migrating. Have you been lucky enough to have a rare hummingbird visit your yard?
To view a list of all the accepted hummingbird records in NJ, refer to the NJ Bird Records Committee’s list of accepted bird records.
Hi Patrick – nice account! I wish that putting sugar feeders up in my UK garden would attract the occasional Green Violet-ear, but suet and sunflower seeds are definitely more appropriate…
@Charlie: Have you tried? No? Well, there you have it, no wonder we have yet to get our first vagrant hummer in Europe.
Great post, Patrick, I’ll plant some next spring, and if Heidelberg doesn’t get a Selasphorus next winter, I want my money back. 😉
I left my tropical sage out later than I normally do (two plants, both descended from plants that attracted rare hummers in Cape May) but they were NOT happy about that. Once I brought them inside, they started perking up. I guess central Jersey is still too cold, drat!
Thanks for the nice summary and the link. It really is astonishing that rare hummingbirds were unknown in NJ before 1990 and now they are basically annual (taking records of all species together). Bird distribution can change pretty quickly.
@Jochen: good luck! You’re going to need it… 😉
Hello Patrick. I was searching the net for a place in NJ to find a hummingbird (in spring) as I have yet to see one and have found your blog. I too live in Piscataway and seeing that you are an avid birder, do you know of a place near Piscataway where I can surely find a hummingbird? It can be in spring as mentioned earlier.
I am a backyard birder maintaining a single feeder and I also like taking pictures of my feathered visitors. You can see a few of my photos at my flicker site at http://www.flickr.com/photos/tariktik/.
Hi Eric, great question. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds start arriving in April. Late April and throughout the summer are the best times to see them. You’ll want to try to find a place with lots of nectar flowers. I suggest you try Rutgers Gardens as a possible choice. Also, the NJ Audubon Scherman-Hoffman sanctuary probably puts up a hummingbird feeder. You can try to do the same and you may attract one. If you yard has enough to offer in terms of nectar plants and habitat, one may even nest in your yard. In the summer, there is a place called Fairview Farm in Gladstone where I always see them too. They use the butterfly garden there and often perch very close. I hope this helps!
Thanks a lot for the info Patrick. Will check these places in spring. Might also try to put up a hummer feeder. 🙂
I live in South Brunswick, NJ and have lots of success with attracting
hummingbirds. I have a pergola over my patio and have hung 2 hummingbird
feeders from it. I have hummingbirds feeding all day. They fight eachother to get at the feeders. I mix 4 cups of water with one cup sugar boil for 4 minutes and cool.
I am an amature phtographer and I love taking pictures of hummings birds!! I take a lot of pictures of my children too but I absolutly love sittingnoutside waiting for the humming birds and taking oicsrures of them!! I am most proud of my humming bird pictures because its not easy to capture them with thier wings still!! I wish I ciuld show you my humking bird pictures I think you wiuld enjoy them!!!!