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Rare late fall hummingbirds now in Wisconsin

By woodcreeper November 15, 2012

Rufous Hummingbird by Dick Verch

Hummingbirds in Wisconsin in November?  No way, right?  On the contrary, hummingbirds may occur here into early December, and those found after October 15 are usually some species other than the familiar Ruby-throated.  Fall 2012 has been unprecedented in the state in hosting an extremely rare Green Violetear and at least six Rufous/Allen’s Hummingbirds, including three individuals in the past week.  Here we recap these records and urge readers to get their hummer feeders up to help these birds on their way to southeastern U.S. wintering grounds.

Although most bird lovers cease hummingbird feeding early in October when most Ruby-throateds have departed, those who continue feeding may be rewarded with a rare visitor from the west. Increased late-season feeding, improved awareness and communication, and perhaps new migration patterns have led to a surge of western hummingbird sightings in the east over the past decade.  We now know that many – especially Rufous Hummingbirds – are not “vagrants” but rather regular albeit rare migrants headed for wintering areas along the Gulf Coast and southeastern Atlantic states.  Furthermore, many are extremely hardy and capable of lingering through cold days and nights far beyond what most of us would consider “hummingbird weather.”

The national eBird team at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has done a wonderful job summarizing this phenomenon, including tips on attracting these species, in this article – a must read for the hummingbird enthusiast!

Here in Wisconsin the most likely western hummer to occur is the Rufous Hummingbird.  Adult males are distinctive but females and immatures are difficult to separate from the very rare Allen’s and related species in the Selasphorus genus such as Broad-tailed and Calliope.  Wisconsin has no state records for Allen’s, Broad-tailed, or Calliope, but all have occurred in the central and eastern U.S.  Black-chinned and Anna’s Hummingbirds are also possibilities, though we have no records of the former and only four of the latter.  Southern species that sometimes wander north in Sept-Nov include Green Violetear (5+ records), Green-breasted Mango (1 record) and Broad-billed Hummingbird (2 records).  Details on Wisconsin’s hummingbird records can be found in this document maintained by Bob Domagalski for the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology (WSO).

A typical fall season sees one or two individuals of these unusual species in Wisconsin.  2012 has been unprecedented, however, in hosting no fewer than seven individuals made known to the birding community.  Below is a recap of these individuals (all pending acceptance by the WSO Records Committee).  Note that female/immature-type Rufous and Allen’s hummingbirds can only be distinguished with in-hand measurements and/or clear photos of the spread tail, hence the lack of identification to species in some instances.


RUFOUS/ALLEN’S HUMMINGBIRD, female/immature-type
Port Washington, Ozaukee County, ? – 14 November 2012 (may still be present)
Photo by Tom and Elizabeth Hudson


RUFOUS/ALLEN’S HUMMINGBIRD, female/immature-type
Stevens Point, Portage County, ? – 15 November 2012 (may still be present)
Photo by Gail Hamm


Rio, Columbia County, 9 – 13 November 2012 (no longer present)
Photo by Elizabeth and Donald Lucke


RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD, female/immature-type
La Crosse, La Crosse County, 3 – 12 November 2012 (no longer present)
Photo by Dan Jackson


La Crosse, La Crosse County, 28 – 31 October 2012 (no longer present)
Photo by Dan Jackson


RUFOUS/ALLEN’S HUMMINGBIRD, female/immature-type
Hudson, St. Croix County, 8 – 31 October 2012 (no longer present)
Photo by Roy Zimmerman


Fifield, Price County, 13 September 2012 (depredated by a Sharp-shinned Hawk!)
Photo by Tom Nicholls
In addition, a very late Ruby-throated Hummingbird continues in Howard’s Grove (Sheboygan County) as does another just across the border in Winona County, Minnesota, marking the latest record in that state’s history.



In short, get your hummingbird feeders up!  The weather forecast calls for mild conditions over the next 10 days and more of these western hummingbirds likely will be moving around.  If you are fortunate to attract one, be sure to get some decent quality digital photos and/or video, especially of the bird’s spread tail.  Also pay attention to body size, tail length, amount of rufous in tail, gorget color, and more.  Report the bird as soon as possible in one of three ways:  (1) via Wisconsin eBird, (2) via WSO’s Rare Bird Form, or (3) direct email to  And while it’s important to keep your sugar water thawed as necessary, rest assured your bird is likely to head south (or east!) when s/he is ready.

Happy hummingbirding!

Text by:
Ryan Brady
WI eBird Team
Chair, WSO Records Committee

15 November 2012