Hummingbirds in December? November Feeder Survey results

BIRD COLUMN FOR November 30, 2003

By Benjamin P. Burtt

The December Feeder Survey starts today and continues through Saturday. Of course December doesn't start until tomorrow, but this is the week we will make the observations.
For each species report the largest number you see at any one time during the next seven days. For example, if you see 12 house sparrows this week, but never more than 3 at a time, then 3 is what you put on the list.

At the end of the week, put your list on a postcard or in a letter and send it to B. P.Burtt, care of Stars Magazine, PO Box 4915, Syracuse, NY, 13221. Or send the results by email to: and in the subject line write "For B. P. Burtt".

List all the species in the order shown in the summary of the November survey on this page.
For complete written instructions, choose "Library" on the left side of this page near the top and click on "Feeder Survey Directions".


What birds were visiting our yards in early November? Were the numbers up or down? Are birds migrating down from Canada for the winter in their usual numbers? These and other questions are answered by this feeder survey.

This year it looks as if we will be seeing some of the northern finches. While only a few pine siskins and evening grosbeaks were spotted on the feeder survey in the first week of November, many more have been reported in the weeks after the survey. One Canadian person mentioned early this fall that the seed crop on the evergreen trees was poor and that these northern finches would probably be moving south to find food.

What birds were appearing at most feeders? Ninety-eight percent of the feeders had at least one jay and one chickadee. Next on the list was the junco with 92 percent of the people reporting it. 86 percent of the people had mourning doves, downy woodpeckers, crows and cardinals.
Just under 80% spotted goldfinches and white breasted nuthatches. 65% had house finches.
This year there were lots of red-breasted nuthatches on the survey and there are many other sightings too. Before 1993 this bird was seen in small numbers and it bred in some of the higher areas of Central New York.

Starting in the winter of 1993-94, the number reported on the feeder survey tripled over what it had been in most of the earlier years. The next year the numbers dropped to normal. Since that time, the numbers have been high every other year. The numbers in the "high years" have continued to be about three times what they are in lean years.

To my surprise, the white-breasted nuthatch population has been following the same alternate year cycle. I suppose it has something to do with changes in the availability of food or nesting success. Both birds eat insects as well as seeds. They both and must find a natural cavity in which to nest. For the moment, I don't have any thoughts as to why their populations go up and down in alternate years. Both species have their "high" in the same year.

This is another bit of interesting information that has come from your helping me gather data for the feeder survey. If you haven't helped with the feeder survey before, can you make observations for the December Feeder Survey? It is fun and you can make a contribution to science. (You can read the directions by selecting the Library near the top of this page at the left and once there, choose “Feeder Survey Directions”)

The cedar waxwing seldom comes to feeders, but flocks move about feeding on berries where they can find them. In the first week of November, there were very few listed, in fact it was the lowest count in many years.

Among the sparrows, the tree sparrows have begun to appear from the north as they usually do, but the big influx comes in December. White-throated sparrows were about normal, but there are more white-crowned sparrows than usual.

Dark-eyed juncos were numerous as they were last year at this time. The big change for the junco was not in the sheer numbers, but in the fact that nearly every report listed them this November.

A Winter Hummingbird

The most unusual bird for the first week of November was a ruby-throated hummingbird at Janet Allens feeder in Syracuse. Normally, most of these birds leave in the last days of September. This bird showed up in mid-October which is the time the last stragglers leave for the winter.

It spent long hours at the feeder every day through November 5. That night the temperature dropped into the low 20's and the bird was never seen again.

Caption: (Photo courtesy of Janet Allen)

Hummingbirds normally leave for the south in late September. The last ones leave by October 15. This hummingbird broke all the rules and first showed up in mid October at Janet Allens feeder in Syracuse. It spent much time at her feeder every day through November 5. That night the temperature dropped to 22 and the bird was never seen again.

This one was reported on the Feeder Survey for the first week of November. Never before in the 45 years the feeder survey has been conducted, has a hummingbird been reported on a November Feeder Survey.

There was another hummingbird at Ray Burts feeder in South Otselic from October 8 to November 6. This bird had a lot of brown on it and he thought it might be a rufous hummingbird. It is identical to the Allen's hummingbird except for some feathers in the tail.
He sent me some pictures that I shared with Kevin McGowan of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. His opinion was "It certainly looks like a female Rufous/Allen's based on the rufous showing on top of the tail and up the rump. The fact that the tail is longer than the wings rules out Calliope."

This pretty much makes it a Rufous/Allen's. There are usually scattered reports each year of these birds in the Eastern United States.

There was a third hummingbird at Alice Alsever's feeder in Nelson.It was at a feeder very close to the window. She described it as having a lot of rusty color. It was present from November 6 to the 8th.

Unfortunately, I did not hear from any of these people in time to make it possible for anyone else to see these birds.

There is a possibility I suppose that some or all of these hummingbirds were wandering about the south eastern states and were swept in our directions by the winds of hurricane Isabel.
How many species did people see in their yard or flying over? Fifty-six fairly common species were spotted in November compared to 65 in early October. I call these fairly common if they were seen by at least two different people.

In addition to these birds, 23 other species were each reported by 23 different people. This brought the total to 79.

The typical report this time listed 14 species. Half of the people had more than 14 and half had less.


Here is a list of all species reported. The first figure is the number of birds spotted by 100 observers. The number in parentheses is the number of reports out of 100 that listed the species. If you divide the number of birds by the number of reports, you get the average number per observer. You may wish to compare this with your own tally for that species.
Great blue heron 5(5); turkey vulture 20 (7); blue goose 8 (1); snow goose 26 (1); Canada goose 9,679 (52).

Ducks: wood 3 (1); black 6 (1); mallard 216 (10); bufflehead 26 (3); hooded merganser 1 (1); common merganser 5 (1).

Hawks: harrier 4 (4); sharp-shined 5 (4); Cooper's 7 (7); red-tailed 25 (20); kestrel 2 (2); pheasant 5 (3); ruffed grouse 10(5); turkey 58 (8); killdeer 2 (1).

Gulls: ring-billed 117 (16); herring gull 30 (4); black-backed gull 5 (1); rock dove 265 (31); mourning dove 495 (86); ruby-throated hummingbird 1 (1).
Woodpeckers: red-bellied 39 (33); sapsucker 1 (1); downy 144 (86); hairy 65 (44); flicker 11 (8); pileated 2 (2).

Phoebe 1 (1); horned lark 2 (1); blue jay 322 (98); crow 595 (86); raven 6 (2); chickadee 415 (98); titmouse 96 (48); red-breasted nuthatch 56 (39); white-breasted nuthatch 127 (77); creeper 2 (2); Carolina wren 4 (3); house wren 1 (1); winter wren 1 (1).

Golden-crowned kinglet 3 (2); ruby-crowned kinglet 1 (1); bluebird 15 (7); robin 259 (30); mockingbird 2 (1); cedar waxwing 34 (5); starling 2,217 (36); towhee 1 (1).

Sparrows: tree 18 (10); chipping 21 (10); field 2 (2); savannah 2 (1); fox 4 (2); song 34 (18); white-throated 66 (29); white-crowned 40 (16); junco 498 (92).

Cardinal 170 (86); red winged blackbird 254 (9); grackle 229 (16); cowbird 40 (4); purple finch 39 (16); house finch 342 (65); siskin 2 (2); goldfinch 556 (79); evening grosbeak 11 (3); house sparrow 551 (49).

To get in touch with Benjamin P. BurttVia Mail: Write to B.Burtt, Stars Magazine, P.O. Box 4915, Syracuse,, NY 13221.

Via E-mail: Send to Be sure to put “For B.Burtt” in the subject line.