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Isn't It Too Cold For Hummingbirds?

By Gary Swant


Fall is a great time to out birding as this is the time of year that you can get rarities. Many birds are in migration along the Pacific Coast and occasionally a storm will push a species inland, or they are juveniles that just get lost and we end up with a rare species in Western Montana. That has happened to me twice during October and is the subjects of my October and November articles.

Everyone knows what a humming bird is, although they may not know which one they are looking at. There are twenty species of hummingbirds that have been observed in North America according to the Birds of North America, 7th Edition. In Montana we have documented seven. I have a birding trip planned to Ecuador in January and that country was documented 131 species, so we all should be able to learn the identification of Montana’s seven. Here in Southwest Montana we have three hummingbirds; the two most common are the Calliope and the Rufous. In addition, you will occasionally have a Black-chinned.


We forgot to take our hummingbird feeder in the fall of 2019, and while we were eating lunch a large hummingbird showed up at the feeder. I instantly knew what it was, not because of its features, but I knew that in the late fall Anna’s Hummingbird occasionally show up in Montana. From September 29 through October 23 a juvenile Anna’s Hummingbird juvenile came daily to our feeder. They don’t show often, as there have only been 35 sighting for this bird in the state. In addition, looking at the records for Montana there has never been a sighting in the Upper Clark Fork Valley. Of course, I have never left my feeder up in October either.

The Anna’s is a common hummingbird of other areas. It is a year around resident of the Pacific coast in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California. Some migrate from the coast and winter in northern Mexico. This is how they think one occasionally ends up in Montana. They begin their migration in British Columbia and drift inland.

Anna’s are noticeable larger than the other three species found locally. They weigh .15 ounce, compare to .1 ounce for the more familiar green Calliope. When you first see the Anna’s they appear stockier than most hummingbirds with a short bill compared to their body size. They appear more grayish green than bright green like the Calliope, and show no rufous at all. The only hummer you could mix it up with in the Black-chinned, but they much grayer in appearance. The male has a bright red crown and head when the sun angle is right, and the female shows a red central patch on a white throat.

The one that I photographed I believe is a male. The sun angle was not right to show the red on the throat and head in this picture, but we did observe that trait in watching it.

People ask me how often do you go bird? My answer is I am always birding, and that is how you find rarities such as this Anna’s Hummingbird. Keep your eyes looking, you never know what you might just see. Good Birding this winter.

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