A few weeks ago, dozens of readers from around the country shared their hummingbird stories on our Facebook page after we ran a post on the growing numbers of the tiny birds that are skipping migration and staying in the U.S. for the winter.
Birdwatchers from Michigan to Texas, Seattle to North Carolina reported seeing the birds stay longer into the fall, and sometimes through the winter in the warmer states. Randell Fleet of Houston seemed to speak for everyone when he said: “I hope they’ll be OK.’’
The outpouring made us want to know more about what was going on. So we talked with scientists and researchers around the country who specialize in hummingbirds. The story that emerged, which is running in The News & Observer of Raleigh this week, is not just about the changing migration of hummingbirds.
It’s also a look at modern-day evolution on a fast-forward speed as birds struggle to adjust to their altered environments. The story focuses on North Carolina, because this is where a lot of the action is. But hummingbirds, particularly Ruby-throated and Rufous, are starting to stay the winter all along the southern Atlantic coast and down through the Gulf states.
“It’s a really fascinating subject,’’ said Scott Weidensaul, an author and researcher who’s one of the country’s leading experts on hummingbirds, “one that ties together a couple of important threats, including climate change and the adaptability of birds in the face of change.’’
One part of the story we found particularly intriguing, which we couldn’t delve too deeply into in The N&O piece, is how this break with the migration pattern places a spotlight on exactly how birds adjust – and how a pivot like this can play out for generations to come.
Nobody can say when the first hummingbirds decided to skip the long and arduous fall trip to the tropics. I loved the comment by the Audubon Society’s Geoffrey LeBaron, head of the Christmas bird count, who said: “If you don’t have to fly across the Gulf of Mexico, why do it?’’