Cooling Down, Tapering Off

October 9, 2018 by Elizabeth Howard

The number of sightings each week is dropping and so are temperatures. What adaptations help hummingbirds survive cold?

“My ‘hummer departure’ date is usually October 6 so, as of today, they are a day late leaving us.” Lilian Cerdeira, Rockville, Maryland October 7, 2017

Sightings Falling

Only 671 people reported hummingbirds this week - that’s half as many as two weeks ago! Reports are falling even in the Gulf states where double-digit sightings have been common for over 3 weeks:

    “The big flock left at the end of last week, but there are still a few stragglers lingering at the feeders.”  Seabrook, Texas October 2, 2018

    The migration seems to be tapering off.  Many fewer birds coming through…The birds that are arriving seem thin and spend an inordinate amount of time drinking at the feeders.“  Bogata, Texas October 7, 2018

    Temperatures Dropping

    Many observers have expressed concern about persistent rain and/or cold temperatures, and three people shared stories about finding hummingbirds in torpor!

    Yesterday morning feeders were full - and one hummer was in torpor on the feeder!  It looked pretty strange…an upside down hummer!  The others ignored it and continued feeding. Cabool, Missouri 9/27/18 
    “Five hummingbirds sighted - including one that got so cold in the heavy rain downpours it could not fly anymore.  It was found sitting on the porch under the feeder almost too cold to move.  After about 5 minutes warming up in my open palm it flew happily back up to the feeder then took to the trees as normal for shelter from the storm.” Calvert City, Kentucky  9/25/18
     ”We had an overnight temperature in the low 40’s.  In the morning we discovered a hummingbird (A) in torpor position on one of our feeders.  It was upside down, holding onto the perch.  Another hummer (B) came by and was buzzing around it for several seconds.  Then when (B) flew away, we left while hummer (A) was still in torpor mode.  We checked about 30 minutes later and hummer (A) was feeding. He made it!  Exciting to see.” DeForest, Wisconsin 9/22/18

    What adaptations help hummingbirds survive the cold? Read about fluffing, shivering, and going into torpor in this week’s featured article.