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Hummingbirds moving north, graphically

Birders in the eastern part of the continent are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the fascinating and charismatic Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that spend the warm months in our backyards and gardens. For many, the sound of buzzing wings and bubbly chirps is as much a true sign of spring as any warbler or swallow.

The operators of Hummingbirds.net offer a cool litle piece of citizen science that’s also a service to birders with their yearly map that tracks the northward movement of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in the eastern US and southern Canada.  The map is regularly updated with sightings collected from reports made directly to hummingbirds.net.  What results is a fairly accurate snapshot of the advancing Hummers, with each week designated by a different color.

Map-rubythroat-us

 

As you can see Rubythroats are well into the southeast by now, with a few reports as far north as Ohio and northern Virginia.  They won’t likely stay put for long though, so if you’re south of that line, or even a little north, you might want to get your feeders ready.

They’re coming.

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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
Nate Swick

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  • Mike

    In past years I and other WI birders have looked at this site and have seen that this map seems to often show VERY early dates for hummingbirds. The person who runs this site does not release the details of any sightings publicly, so they can’t be verified.

    “Q: Can you give me more information about a sighting?
    A: Sorry, no, it would compromise my privacy pledge.”

    Regardless, it bears saying that even if there are some extreme early records, those don’t necessarily correspond to the overall movement of hummingbirds north.

    So I’d advise anyone looking at this map to be very skeptical and see how the data matches up with what you hear about on your state’s birding list and the reports in eBird (which, if early, are reviewed and confirmed). In past years, some early records seemed to show up there that were not reported anywhere other than this map.

  • That’s an excellent point. It doesn’t really surprise me that this map is biased towards the earliest records rather than the bulk of hummingbird movement.

    For instance, for my state of North Carolina you may get the impression looking at this map that hummingbirds are already present throughout the state, but in reality there have only been a few records.

    I would still trust the sightings, if only because Hummingbirds are fairly easy to identify and not likely to be mistaken. But a disclaimer is necessary, in that while the map is more or less accurate, it presages the real movement by a week or two.

  • The education project Journey North (http://www.learner.org/jnorth/humm/ ) has been monitoring both Ruby-throated and Rufous Hummingbirds (with cooperation from hummingbird.net) since 1997. I helped coordinate Rufous Hummingbird sighting from 1999 to 2005. What we discovered about Rufous Hummingbirds was that the movement of males was earlier than conventional wisdom suggested. Hummingbird watchers have a special passion, many have been tracking “their” hummingbirds for 20+ years. They just didn’t know who to share the data with. Year after year we got data from places (often with photo documentation) that challenged the record-keepers mindset.

    One of the important points, which goes to the concerns above, is that we don’t obsess about individual anomalous outliers, they get gobbled up in the statistical analysis. Taken in aggregate, year after year, it turns out these birds are predicable. In the case of Rufous Hummingbirds, males arrive a week to 10 days ahead of females. They arrive on the outer coast in February and early-March, building up in numbers, then push eastward, probably along major river systems. The eastward (over the Cascades) push happens at all latitudes at once in late-April to early-May and appears (at least to some degree) to be weather dependent.

    A synopsis of the time I spent collecting data is at:
    http://www.surfbirds.com/blog/northcoastdiaries/14374/

  • Inspired by the map from hummingbirds.net, I put together an interactive Flash version from some code I had laying around. It can be see at http://theskua.com/ruhu/ I also put together a blog post on the topic, here: http://theskua.com/blog/2011/03/30/ruby-throated-hummingbird-map/

    It’s evident from reading the comments here that I need to reference Journey North’s work as well (and perhaps adapt their more temporally-fine scale)!

    In response to the issues of vetting and verification, I agree completely with Mike that the individual anomalous points are consumed by the size of the dataset. A good place for all these sightings and all this data is eBird!

  • I wrote a short post about Hummingbirds.net in March. Lanny received over 4100 reports last year, so I can see why he doesn’t provide detailed info about each one. “Earliest bird” data is useful to those of us who put out nectar feeders. The maps from previous years are available as well and should help predict the peak of migration.

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