By Bryan Stevens
Experts estimate that there are 330 species of hummingbirds, all of which are found in the New World. Consider that these dazzling little birds have been given vividly descriptive names, such as cinnamon-throated hermit, red-tailed comet, blue-chinned sapphire, lazuline sabrewing, sparkling violetear, fiery topaz, green-tailed goldenthroat, bronze-tailed plumeleteer, amethyst-throated mountain-gem, peacock coquette, red-billed emerald, empress brilliant, purple-backed sunbeam, green-backed hillstar, orange-throated sunangel, black metaltail, marvelous spatuletail and blue-tufted starthroat.
The only reliable species to inhabit the eastern United States from spring to fall each year is the ruby-throated hummingbird, which is currently arriving at various points from Florida to Maine and westward to states like Illinois, Minnesota and Oklahoma.
One of my most memorable hummingbird sightings took place in January of 1999 during a cruise in the Bahamas. A stopover in Nassau and a visit to the Paradise Island Resort permitted me a fleeting glimpse of a Bahama woodstar, a small hummingbird with a superficial resemblance to the ruby-throated hummingbird. The real beauty from my visit to the Bahamas, however, took place on a private cay maintained by the Disney Cruise line. While many passengers enjoyed the sun and sand of the beach, I walked nature trails to find birds.
I found Western spindalis, then known as stripe-headed tanager, as well as black-faced grassquits and bananaquits, and I got several close looks at male and female Cuban emeralds, a hummingbird found in a wide range of semi-open habitats in Cuba, the Isle of Pines and the western Bahamas. The male is almost entirely metallic or iridescent green and measures almost four inches long. The ones I encountered were also curious and quite tame, often flying within inches of my face.
Other than the two hummingbirds I saw during that trip, my remaining hummingbird observations have been confined to the United States. That hasn’t prevented me from seeing such unexpected hummingbirds as green-breasted mango, calliope hummingbird, black-chinned hummingbird, rufous hummingbird, Allen’s hummingbird, and broad-tailed hummingbird.
If I ever win the lottery, I plan to see as many hummingbirds as I can. For now, I am happy to report that ruby-throated hummingbirds are returning to northeast Tennessee, southwest Virginia, and western North Carolina.
I received an email from Susie Parks, who lives in the North Cove section of McDowell County in North Carolina. “My daughter, Luanne Graham, and I sighted our first hummer on March 28,” Priscilla noted.
“I read your column in the McDowell News,” she added. “I am 84 years old and have been a birder most of my life.”
Susie added that she and her daughter are both retired teachers who live next to each other. “We put our feeders out earlier than usual because she had heard that the hummers might be arriving earlier this year,” Susie wrote.
Susie noted that the first hummingbird sighted at her own feeder arrived on the first day of April, a few days after the hummingbird that visited her daughter’s feeder. “I keep a journal and I always note the first sighting,” she added, “and this is the earliest hummer I have ever recorded.”
These sightings by Susie and Luanne are the earliest I’ve had reported to me this year.
Facebook friend Jimmie Daniels in Newland, North Carolina, reported on her Facebook page that the first hummingbird of spring arrived at 6:24 p.m. on Wednesday, April 8. “We just saw our first hummingbird and that always makes me happy,” she wrote. “If you have not put out feeders yet, it is a good time to do that.”
Philip Laws, who lives in Limestone Cove in Unicoi County, reported to me on Facebook that he saw his first hummingbirds on April 10. “Hummers returned to Limestone Cove on Good Friday,” Philip noted.
Mary Jones in Johnson City said her first hummingbird this year arrived on April 11. “I had one show up the Saturday before Easter and every day since,” she wrote in a Facebook comment.
Dianna Lynne in Elizabethton saw her first hummingbird this spring on April 11. “They stopped in on Easter morning at the porch feeder here in Stoney Creek,” Dianne wrote in a comment on Facebook.
Erwin resident Amy Wallin Tipton saw her first ruby-throated hummingbird on Easter Sunday. “I just wanted to let you know I just saw my first male ruby-throat of the season,” Amy wrote in a Facebook message. “It was at 11:55 a.m.”
Lia Pritchard saw her first hummer of the season on Easter Sunday at her home in Fall Branch, Tennessee. Her father, Glen Eller, shared the report of Lia’s sighting.
Lynda Carter, who lives in Jonesborough, saw her first hummingbird at 8:45 a.m. on Monday, April 13, after a stormy night. “The bird may have blown in sideways from Arkansas last night,” Lynda joked in an email.
Joneen Sargent, who lives in Sullivan County west of Holston Lake off Highway 421, emailed me at 8:06 p.m. on Monday, April 13, to report her first spring hummingbird. “Just saw my first hummingbird of the season,” Joneen wrote. “Gives me hope.”
Erwin resident April Kerns Fain posted on her Facebook page at 5:32 p.m. on Thursday, April 16, that she saw her first hummingbird.
Erwin resident Pattie Rowland posted on my Facebook page that she saw her first ruby-throated hummingbird on Friday, April 17. “Just saw a hummer in Erwin,” Pattie wrote.
I enjoyed my own first sighting of a spring hummingbird when a no-nonsense male zipped onto the scene, checked out all the feeders, then vanished just as quickly at 6:19 p.m. on Friday, April 17. I can’t remember a time when the arrival of the first hummingbird has felt so welcomed.