Nancy Newfield Nancy L. Newfield has been watching hummingbirds at her Louisiana home and lots of other places since 1975. Nancy lost her amateur status years ago, and now writes and lectures on hummers. She is co-author of Hummingbird Gardens, reviewed elsewhere on this site. Nancy is also a licensed hummingbird bander and a recognized authority on hummingbird distribution, behavior, and taxonomy.

January 1997

Winning the Hummingbird Game!

Most folks don't think of watching hummingbirds as a competitive endeavor—that's most folks. Here in Louisiana, a neat game of "one upsmanship" got started almost twenty years ago and hummingbirds have been the prime beneficiaries. Back then, there were only a few people who really worked at attracting hummingbirds. Some people hung out feeders, others planted a hibiscus or two. We enjoyed Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in the spring and summer. Sometimes someone left a feeder out late into the fall and was rewarded with a Rufous Hummingbird, a fiery-tempered demon from the Pacific Northwest.

The Louisiana list was modest by western standards—five species in 1975. Black-chinned Hummingbird was reported every now and again. And, there was a single record of Broad-tailed and a couple for Buff-bellied Hummingbird. Most people never believed they could host such exotic beauties in their own yards.

But then, more and more hummers began appearing each winter. And more and more people realized that with a little "habitat management," they too could enjoy have the pleasure of watching the mighty mites of the avian world up close and personal. What glittering gem would be next to show up in someone's yard?

In 1976, Ron Stein proved that almost anything was possible when a he attracted a California coastal species, Allen's Hummingbird—Louisiana's sixth species—into his yard in Reserve, a small town along the Mississippi River about 35 miles northwest of New Orleans. Ron is one of the pioneers in southeastern hummingbirding and his yard is filled with colorful blossoms all year.

One day in 1979, we were comparing notes and discussing the possibilities of other species of hummingbirds visiting Louisiana. "Anna's Hummingbird will become the seventh species. They are being seen every year on the Texas coast," Ron ventured.

"It'll be in my yard." he went on. It seemed a challenge.

I went for the bait like a hungry trout. "No, I'll get one first. Anna's are city birds. My house is nearer the city. Want to bet on it?"

Ron was game. Whichever of us hosted Louisiana's first Anna's drink a toast with Champagne supplied by the loser.

Sure enough, a month or so later, three Anna's Hummingbirds were found in the state. But neither Ron nor I could claim victory. The birds zipped about a rugged oil field in the southwestern corner of the state.

For a while, the wager was forgotten. Meanwhile, Ron and I worked hard at improving our offerings—new plants, new feeders, more of both. Soon other hummingbird devotees became an ever-growing network of friends.

In December 1982, Ron discovered a tiny male Calliope Hummingbird amid his luxuriant Mexican Bush Sage—the eighth species for the state list. It was the first of its kind to be found east of the Mississippi and one of less than a handful of winter records from anywhere in the United States.

We were musing over this extraordinary occurrence when both of us realized that we had each hosted six species at one time or another. And, Ron and I were the only Louisianians able to make that claim! We patted outselves on the back and resurrected our old wager. Whichever one got to seven species first would be the winner. The loser would supply the bubbly.

Years passed. The number of people who claimed success in attracting several species grew steadily. By the last year of the decade, several hummingbirders had yard lists of five species and Marianna Tanner in the coastal village of Cameron had had six. There was now a three-way tie. And our private little wager wasn't private anymore! Everyone wanted to play!

November 2, 1990 was a landmark day at Casa Colibri. An adult male Broad-billed Hummingbird—ninth species for the state and seventh for the yard—arrived and made himself at home in a large bed of Shrimp Plant, a tropical shrub native to northeastern Mexico. He must have felt right at home. Northeastern Mexico is within the range of this primarily Mexican hummer. I phoned Ron right away!

The next morning, Ron arrived to deliver that long awaited bottle of Champagne and to see the bird! We popped the cork and drank a toast. "To good friends and good hummers!" The moment was memorable!

In the fall of 1992, Ron caught up by finally adding Anna's Hummingbird to his yard list. I brought a bottle this time. Then, in the spring of 1993, he went ahead by adding yet another species to his tally—Broad-tailed. I delivered yet another bottle!

Meanwhile, Tom Sylvest in the town of Gramercy quietly moved into contention. Tom had only begun attracting hummers in 1990, but his list grew quickly. By 1993, his total equalled Ron's. I felt left out!

Then, Christmas 1995 brought a gift no human could bestow—a tiny male Calliope Hummingbird perched on the feeder right outside my office window. And with that, we were back to a three-way tie—this time with eight species. And the state list now stands at ten, with the addition of Blue-throated in 1992!

At least one other home can claim seven species and several more have recorded six. Those with four and five are too numerous to count. Visiting hummingbird gardens is a staple field trip for the Baton Rouge Audubon Society and everyone leaves with seeds and cuttings. Now the game has a lot more players.

Who wins the hummingbird game? Well, hummingbirders win. There certainly are more hummers to watch. And, local nurseries win. Sales of nectar plants are brisk. Feeder companies are doing a land office business. And, I win because there is a lot more data for my study. But the biggest winners are the hummingbirds. More care and attention are given to their specialized needs. And they win more ardent admirers with each passing day!

The Hummingbird Game! Any number can play! Everybody wins!

Happy New Year! Happy New Hummingbird Year!

Copyright © 1997
Nancy L. Newfield
Casa Colibri
Metairie, LA