The belief that one should take down hummingbird feeders after Labor Day is a myth. Keeping a feeder up will not prevent a hummingbird from migrating, any more than a seed feeder will prevent finches or grosbeaks from migrating on schedule.
Although only the ruby-throated hummingbird nests in the east, birders and ornithologists over the past decade have documented a rapidly growing number of western hummingbird species showing up here, primarily from late summer through early winter. Most are a species called rufous hummingbird, which nest in the Pacific Northwest and southern Alaska.
However, in 2002, a calliope hummingbird - a Rocky Mountain species and the smallest North American bird - was spotted in Philadelphia, a first record for the state.
Two Allen's hummingbirds, another western species, have appeared in Lancaster County in the past few years.
A few years ago, an Anna's hummingbird, a West Coast species, showed up in Berks County in November and stayed until mid-March.
A network of hummingbird researchers across the east are trying to understand this west-to-east migration phenomenon and are trying to determine what migratory routes lead hummingbirds here.
The researchers capture hummingbirds, affix a tiny numbered band to each one's leg and release it unharmed. Each year, researchers band several western hummingbirds in Pennsylvania. On Oct. 18, 2003, a female rufous hummingbird was banded in Williamsport and remained in the area until Jan. 14, 2004.
Because they live in high elevation or northerly habitats, rufous, Allen's and calliope hummingbirds are extremely tolerant of cold weather and possess an ability that ruby-throateds lack - to drop into a deep, hibernation-like state of torpor at night to save energy.
While they do feed on sugar water at hummingbird feeders, much of their food in fall and winter comes from dormant insects and those, such as midges, that are active even in cold conditions.
Scott Weidensaul, a well-known author of nature publications who banded the Williamsport hummingbird, suggests that those people with hummingbird feeders leave one or two up until at least Thanksgiving but preferably into December.
If they see a western hummingbird, or a hummingbird of any species after Oct. 15, they may alert Wayne Laubscher in Lock Haven by calling 748-7511 or Scott Weidensaul at 739-2874 or email@example.com.
Laubscher also is interested in hearing about sightings of other unusual bird species in Clinton County.
In addition, the Lycoming Audubon Society again will sponsor a fall and winter hummingbird contest, with prizes awarded to the first three people who see a western hummingbird on their property. The bird must be documented and identified through capture and banding or at least observed and photographed by a qualified person from the local society chapter.
For more information about the contest, contact Steve Pinkerton at 494-1308 or firstname.lastname@example.org.