Monthly Archives: May 2021

Blue of indigo bunting’s plumage is a trick of the light

Photo by Bryan Stevens • The male indigo bunting is a resplendent bird.

The indigo bunting is one of the reasons I love to pay attention to the clientele visiting my feeders. This small songbird likes to reside in the boundary region where forests and woodlands meet fields and pastures. Personally, the indigo bunting has always been a bird that is suggestive of the long, hot days of summer.

One of my earliest and still quite vivid birding memories is a recollection of a shockingly blue bird atop a blue spruce tree in my yard. Several decades later, the tree is no longer standing, but these beautiful birds — I now know these summer visitors were indigo buntings — still return each year to my yard and gardens.

Indigo buntings usually arrive in the region in late April, and I’ve seen them linger until late October, although most indigo buntings have left the region by late September.

Upon arrival, male indigo buntings become tenacious singers, repeating their jumbled notes even during the hottest hours of summer afternoons. The preference of this small songbird is to sing from the tops of tall trees, where they are often concealed by the green leaves. When I do get a glimpse of the obscured songster, often all I see is a dark shape silhouetted against the bright sky. Sometimes, if he plunges from the upper branches into the woodland understory, I get that telltale glimpse of blue feathers.

Photon by Bryan Stevens • Indigo Buntings will perch on wires and sing for hours even during hot summer days.

The male indigo bunting is the only solid blue bird in the eastern United States, but it’s all an illusion — literally a trick of the light. The indigo bunting’s feathers are not really blue; the male’s brilliant azure plumage is caused by the process of diffraction of light around the structure of the bird’s feathers. This process scatters all but the blue light, and the resulting color shifts from black to blue to turquoise as the angle of reflected light changes. In bright light, it can even look unnaturally vivid blue. In poor light, however, an indigo bunting male can appear black. Fortunately, indigo buntings have both a characteristic body shape and song, so even if the birds are not seen at their best, they can still be recognized.

Soon after returning to the eastern United States each spring, female buntings begin to gather materials to construct a well-crafted, cup-shaped nest. The male usually stays close to her, but he offers no assistance with nest building. She usually lays a clutch of three to four eggs, but she may nest another two times in a single season. She will incubate the eggs for almost two weeks, but the young remain in the nest another two weeks after being hatched as featherless, blind and helpless young completely dependent on the care of attentive parents. The task of raising so many broods in the space of only a few months requires the participation of both the female and her mate, who must work hard to bring enough insects to the nest to keep the young fed.

Like many species of songbirds, the male is by far the most colorful. In this instance, the male is also responsible for the species’ name. Indigo is a blue dye that was once an important crop in the South. The drab female may boast some blue highlights in her plumage. Juvenile birds just out of the nest also resemble the female. Pay close attention to any indigo buntings you observe as summer progresses. Juvenile birds will look mostly brown with just a hint of blue in the wings and the tail. These will be the young buntings that were hatched in spring and early summer. They will often accompany their parents to feeders.

Photo by Dan Sudia/USFWS • Female and young indigo bunting do not show the intense blue of adult males.

Indigo buntings are particularly fun birds to observe in late summer. Indigo bunting juveniles, like the young of many other birds, beg for tidbits from parents by “bowing,” spreading their wings and shivering. These actions usually prompt a parent to pop some morsel into an impatient youngster’s open bill. Indigo buntings are relatively easy to view. They frequent weedy fields and roadside brush. During the breeding season, males can also be seen singing from prominent perches. The song, a distinctive jumble of notes, can help observers find these dedicated singers.

The indigo bunting belongs to a genus of birds known as Passerina, which is included the family Cardinalidae, which includes birds like Northern cardinal and rose-breasted grosbeak. They are often lumped into a group known as North American buntings, although they are not closely related to such birds as snow bunting and lark bunting. The latter is even recognized as the official state bird for Colorado, a unique honor for this group of birds. The other members of the Passerina genus include lazuli bunting, varied bunting, painted bunting, rose-bellied bunting, orange-breasted bunting and blue grosbeak.

Worldwide, other birds known as buntings include such descriptively named species as slaty bunting, corn bunting, white-capped bunting, gray-necked bunting, cinereous bunting, lark-like bunting, cinnamon-breasted bunting, chestnut-eared bunting, little bunting, yellow-throated bunting, golden-breasted bunting, black-headed bunting, red-headed bunting and yellow bunting.

Photo by Bryan Stevens • Although bright blue, a male indigo bunting will often blend with its surroundings.

The male indigo bunting is one of the most colorful birds to visit feeders in the region. This species is also extremely fond of millet seed. I like to have some feeders stocked with millet when the buntings begin to return each spring. They will also feed on thistle and sunflower seeds. Away from our feeders, they also devour plenty of seeds from various noxious weeds. Because of the indigo bunting’s appetite for the seeds of destructive weeds, it is considered a beneficial bird.

Barred owls at home in southern swamps and Appalachian mountains

Photo by Bryan Stevens • A barred owl rests on a perch during an educational raptor program offered at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga.

Tom McNeil, a fellow birder who lives just over the ridge from me in the community of Piney Grove off Simerly Creek Road in Hampton, sent me a Facebook message on May 12.

“Barred owl about 200 yards down the creek from your place,” he wrote. He also posted the time (7:50 a.m.) and made note that he found the owl on the same side of the road as my house.

Unfortunately, I received the message after I’d already left for work in Erwin.

The owl is one I would have liked to have seen. Great horned owls and Eastern screech-owls have long been resident in the woods around my home, but I’ve never seen or heard a barred owl on Simerly Creek Road.

I wrote Tom a message telling him as much and got as a reply, “We have seen one a couple of times at the Fairview turn,” he wrote. “On the wires.”

I’ve always known that the wires over a small field next to the exit to the Fairview community is a great place for broad-winged hawks, but I’d never spotted a barred owl. I’ll have to keep my eyes open.

Although barred owl is missing from my yard list, I have seen plenty of these owls over the years. I saw my first barred owl during a 1997 trip to Black Bayou Refuge, which is a 1,350 acre management area adjacent to Reelfoot Lake in Lake County, Tennessee.

My father and I were driving one of the access road in the management area around 7 a.m. when we came across a barred owl perched on a fencepost that provided the bird an excellent vantage of a canal below. We rolled down the windows and enjoyed a leisurely observation of the owl, which never acknowledged our presence. The vehicle acted as a “blind” that camouflaged us quite effectively. Even when we drove off, the owl continued to scan the canal.

At the time, I thought it strange to find an owl during daylight hours. I eventually learned that the barred owl is not strictly nocturnal. That same trip also yielded observations of yellow-crowned night-herons, which also added to my confusion by being active during the day despite the “night-heron” part of their name. Combined with a visit to Memphis, the visit to Reelfoot Lake produced some fantastic sightings, including dickcissels and my first-ever sighting of a prothonotary warbler.

I would soon learn more about barred owls due to frequent visits to the Low Country of South Carolina. During a visit to Hilton Head, South Carolina, I encountered barred owls in late afternoon producing resonant “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all? calls. These owls resided in a protected area within the remnants of an old rice plantation. I got several good looks at these vocal owls and began to learn that the barred owl is not a “phantom of the night” like many other owls.

Southern forests, particularly wooded swamps, have long been a stronghold for this owl. Closer to home, however, the barred owl is not an uncommon bird among the ridges and hollows of the Southern Appalachians. The mountains of Holston, Roan and Unaka are good places to look for these owls. They are more apt to remain active during the daylight on overcast, cloudy days.

On a trip to Carver’s Gap on Roan Mountain years ago to see a smaller relative of the barred owl known as the Northern saw-whet owl, some friends and I stopped at Twin Springs Recreation Area. The incorrigible Howard Langridge suggested we play a barred owl recording to see if we could add another owl to our tally.

At first, we thought we had failed. No sooner had we ended the recording and stepped back into the car than an irate barred owl whooshed through the darkness and began calling loudly from a hidden perch directly overhead. Howard, who had had extensive experience with these owls, said we were lucky to be back inside the vehicle. We had apparently triggered a territorial response. He said he had experienced some barred owls doing more than whooshing overhead. These owls possess impressive talons that a smart person would rather avoid.

The barred owl was first described by Philadelphia naturalist Benjamin Smith Barton in 1799. That seems a little late considering that Europeans first arrived in the New World in 1492. Of course, for the first couple of centuries, early settlers probably had matters on their minds other than the cataloging of fauna and flora.

Photo by blue gate/Pixabay • A barred owl peers at its surroundings.

The Chattahoochee Nature Center in Roswell, Georgia, list some interested barred owl facts on its website. For instance:

• The barred owl lives an average of eight years in the wild.

• The barred owl has had many different common names including Northern barred owl, swamp owl, striped owl, hoot owl, eight hooter, round-headed owl and Le Chat-huant du Nord (French for “the hooting cat of the north”) and rain owl.

• Barred Owls get their name from the vertical bars on their abdomen and horizontal bars on their chest.

• Barred owls are not finicky eaters. They prey mostly on small mammals, but they are also fond of fish, snakes, frogs and crawfish.

Perhaps it’s their diet that usually means these owls like to make their home near a source of water, whether it’s a creek, swamp, pond, river or lake.

I’ll keep alert for any future visits from a barred owl. In the meantime, my cattail marsh and fish pond continue to attract visitors of the feathered variety. I’ve observed wood ducks on the pond several times in recent weeks. A green heron has also lurked around the edges of the pond. Raptors – red-shouldered hawk and broad-winged hawk – like to perch near the pond, most likely to keep an eye out for frogs, snakes and other potential prey.


78th annual Spring Bird Count for NE Tennessee finds 153 species

Photo by Ray Miller/Pixabay • One of my more exciting finds during the recent Spring Bird Count was a male red-breasted merganser from the TVA Overlook at Watauga Lake. Other count participants managed to locate another four red-breasted mergansers in the count area.

The 78th consecutive Elizabethton Spring Bird Count was held Saturday, May 1, covering Carter County plus parts of the adjacent counties of Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington.

With 40 observers in 13 parties, plus four feeder watchers, coverage of the count areas was extensive. Participants enjoyed a beautiful sunny day, although most areas had temperatures that had dipped into the upper 30s at sunrise. The day gradually warmed and got into the 70s.

Participants tallied 153 species, which is slightly above the recent 30 year average of 150 species. The all-time high on this count was 166 species and was set in 2016.

Some exceptional finds in Unicoi County included a red-headed woodpecker along the section of the linear trail near the McDonald’s. Each of the five counties in the region produced some good birds for this long-running survey.

Count participants included Fred Alsop, Rob Armistead, Betty Bailey, Gary Bailey, Jerry Bevins, Rob Biller, Ron Carrico, Catherine Cummins, Todd Eastin, Glen Eller, Harry Lee Farthing, Bambi Fincher, Dave Gardner, Tammy Griffey, Jean Henson, Neal Henson, Jacki Hinshaw, Lance Jessee, Jennifer Kennedy, David Kirschke, Rick Knight, Roy Knispel, Richard Lewis, Dianna Lynne, Vern Maddux, Frank McCollum, Larry McDaniel, Joe McGuiness, Cathy McNeil, Tom McNeil, Harry Norman, Susan Peters, Brookie Potter, Jean Potter, Sherrie Quillen, Pete Range, Judi Sawyer, Chris Soto, Michele Sparks, Bryan Stevens, Peggy Stevens, Kim Stroud, Charles Warden and Rex Whitfield.

Rick Knight, the long-time compiler for the count, made note of some of the misses, which included pied-billed grebe, common nighthawk, Acadian flycatcher (just the seventh miss in last 50 years), loggerhead shrike, horned lark, summer tanager and bobolink.

He also made some observations about other count finds.

• One species – brown-headed nuthatch – made its official count debut. Another – evening grosbeak – returned to the count after being absent since the spring of 2000.

• The American robin edged out the European starling for most common bird. Counters tallied 801 robins compared to 618 starlings.

• For only the sixth time in the last 18 years, Northern bobwhite made it onto the count. A single ruddy duck became only the second record for this waterfowl on the spring count. Also making only its second appearance on the spring count was willet, a species of shorebird that only migrates through the region.

• Some species appear to have moved into the region for good. Fish crows have been found the last five of the past six years, and Eurasian collared-doves have been found every year for the past 15 years.

• An amazing 29 species of New World warblers were found this year, including prothonotary warbler for only the third time in the last 15 years.

The total follows:

Canada goose, 412; wood duck, 31; mallard, 89; blue-winged teal, 13; bufflehead, 6; hooded merganser, 1; red-breasted merganser, 5; and ruddy duck; 1.

Ruffed grouse, 4; wild turkey, 28; common loon, 2; double-crested cormorant, 48; great blue heron, 69; green heron, 17; black-crowned night-heron, 2; and yellow-crowned night-heron, 5.

Black vulture, 60; turkey vulture, 128; osprey, 10; sharp-shinned hawk, 1; Cooper’s hawk, 6; bald eagle, 11; broad-winged hawk, 11; and red-tailed hawk, 21.

Virginia rail, 2; sora, 2; killdeer, 32; spotted sandpiper, 32; solitary sandpiper, 31; greater yellowlegs, 3; willet, 10; lesser yellowlegs, 2; and Wilson’s snipe, 1.

Bonaparte’s gull, 9; ring-billed gull, 6; rock pigeon, 106; Eurasian collared-dove, 6; mourning dove, 284; and yellow-billed cuckoo, 4.

Eastern screech owl, 13; great horned owl, 1; barred owl, 2; Whip-poor-will, 27; and chuck-will’s-widow, 16.

Chimney swift, 92; ruby-throated hummingbird, 34; belted kingfisher, 14; red-headed woodpecker, 4; red-bellied woodpecker, 125; yellow-bellied sapsucker, 7; downy woodpecker, 44; hairy woodpecker, 9; Northern flicker,41; and pileated woodpecker, 55.

American kestrel, 9; Eastern wood-pewee, 6; least flycatcher, 5; Eastern phoebe 119; great crested flycatcher, 12; and Eastern kingbird, 59.

White-eyed vireo, 15; yellow-throated vireo, 15; blue-headed vireo, 76; warbling vireo, 1; red-eyed vireo, 228; blue jay, 329; American crow, 358; fish crow, 1; and common raven, 20.

Northern rough-winged swallow, 95; purple martin, 71; tree swallow, 235; barn swallow, 218; and cliff swallow, 473.

Carolina chickadee, 139; tufted titmouse, 199; red-breasted nuthatch, 10; white-breasted nuthatch, 43; brown-headed nuthatch, 2; and brown creeper, 5.

House wren, 60; winter wren, 5; marsh wren, 1; Carolina wren, 202; blue-gray gnatcatcher, 75; golden-crowned kinglet, 6; and ruby-crowned kinglet, 4.

Eastern bluebird, 157; veery, 17; hermit thrush, 3; wood thrush, 80; American robin, 801; gray catbird, 80; brown thrasher, 66; Northern mockingbird, 121; European starling, 618; and cedar waxwing, 15.

Photo by Jean Potter • A male hooded warbler flits through the foliage of a rhododendron thicket.

Ovenbird, 157; worm-eating warbler, 35; Louisiana waterthrush, 29; Northern waterthrush, 5; golden-winged warbler, 2; black-and-white warbler, 79; prothonotary warbler, 1; Swainson’s warbler, 7; Nashville warbler, 1; Kentucky Warbler, 2;  common yellowthroat, 20; hooded warbler, 163; American redstart, 11; Cape May warbler, 6; Northern parula, 53; magnolia warbler, 4; bay-breasted warbler, 1; Blackburnian Warbler, 13; yellow warbler, 16;  chestnut-sided warbler, 17; black-throated blue warbler, 77; palm warbler,  5; pine warbler, 15; yellow-rumped warbler, 16; yellow-throated warbler, 25; prairie warbler, 4; black-throated green warbler, 95; Canada warbler, 18; and yellow-breasted chat, 9.

Photo by Bryan Stevens • The male indigo bunting is a resplendent bird.


Eastern towhee, 213; chipping sparrow, 117; field sparrow, 79; Savannah sparrow, 4; grasshopper sparrow, 1; song sparrow, 299; swamp sparrow, 9; white-throated sparrow, 27; white-crowned sparrow, 8; dark-eyed junco, 68; scarlet tanager, 96; Northern cardinal, 359; rose-breasted grosbeak, 36; blue grosbeak, 2; and indigo bunting, 62.

Red-winged blackbird, 550; Eastern meadowlark, 82; common grackle, 324; brown-headed cowbird, 99; orchard oriole, 29; and Baltimore oriole, 18.

House finch, 84; pine siskin, 31; American goldfinch, 283; evening grosbeak, 48; and house sparrow, 70.

Original group of Tuesday birders now down to one

Photo by Mark Edwards/Pixabay • Birds, such as this great horned owl, can stir powerful emotions.

It’s never a good feeling to realize one is the last man standing.

Larry McDaniel made a Facebook post on Saturday, April 10, to share with friends the news of his father-in-law’s death.

“Janet’s dad, Gil, passed away late this afternoon. He had been very ill, and we knew it was coming but it’s still hard,” Larry wrote in his post.

“I had to go home to put up the chickens this evening,” Larry added. “When I got there, there was a beautiful rainbow followed by a beautiful sunset. Then I saw a great horned owl perched in the top of a nearby tree. It dropped and flew right over my truck and toward the barn.

“I thought, ‘see you Gil,’” he wrote at the post’s conclusion.

I know many of Gil’s other birding friends were really touched by Larry’s sweet post.

I got acquainted with Gil Derouen, Larry’s father-in-law, back in the late 1990s. I realize now, trying to think back, that I cannot even remember the origins of a weekly birding group that went out almost every Tuesday afternoon to look for birds.

I do know that the group’s founders consisted of myself, Gil and two other good friends: Howard P. Langridge and Reece Jamerson.

Photo by Bryan Stevens • From left, Gil Derouen, Howard Langridge, David Thometz and Reece Jamerson are pictured while birding Holston Mountain in 2004.

Birders often prefer to get started with field trips in the mornings. The afternoon timing of the weekly excursion was a kind concession to my work schedule that made Tuesday afternoons my one opportunity to bird with Gil and our fellow birders, Howard and Reece.

We visited various hotspots around the area looking for birds every Tuesday. We would visit Rock Creek Park in Erwin; Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park, Holston Mountain and Wilbur Lake in Elizabethton; Winged Deer Park, as well as the fields and shoreline at Austin Springs, in Johnson City near Boone Lake; Musick’s Campground and Osceola Island Recreation Area in Bristol near South Holston Lake; and Shady Valley’s Orchard and Quarry Bogs in Johnson County.

These were only a few favorite places. We saw some fantastic birds over the years. We were like the four musketeers of our birding group.

Howard passed away on Nov. 14, 2004, at age 81, during an already difficult time in my life. The unexpected loss of this great birder with tons of birding tales who also loved to play tennis and crack jokes really affected me deeply.

I remember a birding trip I made with Howard a couple of months before his death to Holston Lake. We timed the trip to coincide with the passage of Hurricane Frances. Sometimes such ventures are rewarded, and this was one of those times. I added a life bird and Howard increased his list of birds seen in Tennessee when the storm blew in a sooty tern, a bird more often found in the Caribbean.

Then as we prepared to depart for home, we discovered Howard’s car had gotten stuck in the mud. With me pushing, we got the car out of the mud. I ruined a pair of jeans in the process. Northeast Tennessee clay does not come out of denim.

Weekly birding trips continued after Howard’s passing, but my work schedule became less flexible as the years progressed and I eventually had to drop out. I did make some sporadic attempts to join some of the weekly rambles, which almost always drew the participation of Gil and Reece.

Reece died at age 83 on Aug. 1, 2017. Again, I had some memories of some wonderful years to reflect on.

One bird-related memory of Reece involved us standing on the bridge that spans Wilbur Lake when an unexpected gust of air blew his fisherman’s hat off his head. I made an unsuccessful grab for the hat, which fluttered down onto the water’s surface and was swiftly carried off by a current that I didn’t even realize existed in what looks deceptively like a placid little mountain lake.

The next week Reece had a new hat and was ready for another birding adventure.

Gilbert Derouen was 90 years old when he passed away last month. I didn’t realize he’d reached that milestone. I do know that he lived a good life and had a great family. He and his wife, Marinel, moved to Northeast Tennessee from Louisiana. Gil often entertained us while we were driving between birding spots with tales of his life in Louisiana.

He surprised me once when during a rambling discussion of television shows he informed us he was a fan of “The Big Bang Theory.” The long-running CBS comedy about a group of highly-educated nerds was one of my favorites. Even with a generation’s difference in our ages, we had that much in common. Gil even laughed while admitting that he, too, liked to follow the antics of Sheldon Cooper and his friends.

Gil and his wife also hosted the annual Christmas party for the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society. They had a wonderful home with a cozy basement perfect for hosting small parties. They were impeccable hosts, and I’ll always cherish the memories of those parties. We always compiled the results of the chapter’s two Christmas Bird Counts after everyone finished snacking and socializing.

At some point, the baton got passed. There’s still a weekly birding excursion every Tuesday afternoon. Another great birder, Roy Knispel, is the organizing force behind this weekly excursion. I’ve joined them on a few occasions, but as I’ve mentioned, my work schedule hasn’t allowed me to do that too often.

I saw Gil last at a meeting of the Herndon Chapter on the campus of East Tennessee State University in Johnson City. I think it was in the fall of 2019. Again, my memory’s a bit hazy.

Now, thanks to Larry’s post, which is such a fantastic tribute to his father-in-law, I’ll think of Gil every time I hear a great horned owl breaking the stillness of a dark night with its loud hoots.

I have great horned owls as well as Eastern screech-owls living in the woodlands around my home. My yard and the surrounding woods are my favorite birding locations, but I still enjoy getting “out in the field” when an opportunity arises. It’s been more than a year since I’ve really traveled anywhere to bird. I hope that changes sooner rather than later.

I’ve become more solitary in my birding, but that’s all right, too. I enjoyed the time I got to spend with Howard, Reece and Gil every Tuesday afternoon while it lasted.

Nothing lasts forever. On the other hand, nothing can take away fun memories.

I’ll focus more on the birds next week.


Ruby-throated hummingbirds return to region

The ruby-throated hummingbirds are back, and I hope everyone joins me in the utmost appreciation of these tiny birds.

Every hummingbird that visits your feeders or sips from flowers in your garden has endured an arduous migratory journey from its tropical wintering grounds to return to spend the summer months, whether in the mountains near Flag Pond or down in the valleys of Unicoi and Erwin.

Photo by Bryan Stevens • A male ruby-throated hummingbird perches attentively. These tiny birds began returning to the region in early April.

According to the website for, a retailer  of bird feeders, ruby-throated hummingbirds spend the winter months in Central America and southern Mexico. When the weather begins to turn warm, they will start to make their northern trip up to the United States. As the website points out, this can be a grueling journey for such a tiny creature, as many of them choose to fly over the Gulf of Mexico. This flight alone, the website points out, can take 18 to 22 hours of non-stop flight before reaching land on the other side of the gulf.

Simply crossing the Gulf of Mexico is only the first stage. Most of the hummingbirds must still travel hundreds of miles to reach locations where they will spend the summer. Males, after some time courting females, will not do much more than sip nectar and duel with other male hummers during the summer.

It’s the female hummingbirds that will work diligently all summer long as she constructs a nest, incubates eggs and feeds hungry young, all without any assistance from her erstwhile mate.

Knowing a little more about this tiny treasure of a bird, I hope you’ll look on them with increased admiration.

Below are the readers who shared with me the dates of their first spring hummingbird sightings for 2021:

Susie Parks in North Cove in McDowell County, North Carolina, had the earliest date of any of the sightings reported to me this year.

“We saw our first hummingbird of the season at 9:30 this morning, April 1,” Susie wrote in an email to me. “I assure you this is not an April Fool’s joke. We are indeed thrilled to have seen this amazing little creature on such a chilly morning.”

Patricia Faye Wagers, Kingsport, posted on Facebook that she saw her first hummingbird of spring on April 6. Her one word comment about how she felt welcoming back hummingbirds: “Happy!”

Amanda Austwick shared on Facebook that she saw her first spring hummingbird at her Flag Pond home on April 6.

Wanda Scalf Daniels reported her first spring hummingbird at her home in Bob White, West Virginia, on April 7. She informed me of her observation via Facebook.

Photo by Bryan Stevens • A male ruby-throated hummingbird perches at a feeder for a sip of sugar water.

Janee Townsend of Dysartsville, North Carolina, notified me by email that she enjoys my column in the McDowell News in Marion, North Carolina. “I saw my first hummingbird on Tuesday, April 8, at noon,” she wrote. “I had put a new feeder out on Monday.  I was glad it was there.”

Pat Stakely Cook wrote in a post to my Facebook page that she saw her first spring hummingbird – a male – on April 9 at her home in Marion, North Carolina. The next day she made an additional post to report that a female arrived. “She fed at our feeder for a long time about 6 p.m.

April Kerns Fain saw her first spring hummingbird at 1 p.m. on  April 11. “We saw our first hummingbird today in Unicoi,” she wrote in a Facebook post on my page. “It was a male.”

Donna Barnes Kilday shared on my Facebook page that she saw her first spring hummer in Erwin on the morning of April 9.

Paula Elam Booher, Bristol, Tennessee, saw her first hummingbird of the season at 5:15 p.m. on April 10. Two days later, she saw her second hummingbird of spring at 11:45 a.m.

Larry McDaniel, Jonesborough, saw his first spring hummingbird on Saturday, April 10. “It visited the feeder briefly before dark,” he wrote. He didn’t see it the following day, but he noted he wasn’t home much that day.

Don Holt and Dianne Draper, Jonesborough, posted on Facebook about seeing their first spring ruby-throated Hummingbird at their feeder on April 10.

Darlene Kerns also shared her first spring sighting on my Facebook page. “Just saw our first hummingbird of the season here in Unicoi,” she wrote. The bird arrived at 8:30 on Sunday, April 11. Darlene said that the first hummingbird also arrived on April 11 in 2020.

Dot and Wayne Ballard, Marion, North Carolina, saw their first spring hummingbirds (yes, they saw two at the same time) on Sunday, April 11, at 2 p.m. The little birds lingered and were also seen feeding early on the morning of Monday, April 12. The Ballards sent me an email about their sighting.

Philip Laws of Limestone Cove used Facebook Messenger to report his first spring sighting took place April 11 about 12:15 p.m. The next day more hummingbird arrived. “Two disputed ownership of a tube feeder,” Philip noted in his message.

Charles and Karen O’Cain emailed me to report their first sighting. “We saw our first humming bird of 2021 on Monday, April 12, at 10 a.m. at our home on top of Coal Pit Mountain in the southern tip of McDowell County,” they wrote. “We have seen a hummingbird every day since.”

Nellene Woodby called to report that she saw her first hummingbird of spring in Limestone Cove on April 12.

Brookie and Jean Potter, who reside at Wilbur Lake near Elizabethton, reported in a phone call that they saw their first hummingbird of the season on April 12.

Karen and Bobby Andis in Kingsport contacted me in Facebook Messenger to report they saw their first ruby-throated hummingbird at 5:56 p.m. on April 13.

Glen Eller emailed me to report that he and his daughter, Lia, had their first ruby-throated hummingbird show up at their home in Fall Branch on April 14. In  followup email, Glen reported another impressive observation. “We had two adult bald eagles show up the next afternoon,” he wrote. “Life is good.”

Anne Rolfe sent me an email to report that thanks to husband Peter’s watchful eyes, she saw the first visit of “our” male ruby-throated hummingbird, Jimmy, on April 14 at about 11 am.  “We are hoping he brings lots of friends,” she added. The Rolfes lives at Lake James in Nebo, North Carolina.

Felicia Mitchell notified me through my Facebook page that the first hummingbird arrived at the feeder at her home in Washington County, Virginia, at 12:24 p.m. on April 14.

Gina Kinney and her mom, Ginger Brackins, both Erwin residents, saw their first hummingbird of spring at 11:25 a.m. on April 14.

Helen Whited posted on my Facebook page that she saw her first hummingbird of 2021 at 1 p.m. on April 15 at her home in Richlands, Virginia.

Judi Sawyer in Roan Mountain also took to Facebook to report that she saw her first hummingbird of spring at about 8 p.m. on April 15.

Carolyn Grubb, Bristol, Virginia, reported on Facebook about the arrival of her first spring hummingbird on April 15.

Pattie Rowland, Erwin, also posted on Facebook about seeing her first hummingbird of 2021 on April 15.

Leslie and Kathie Storie notified me on Facebook that they saw their first hummingbird of 2021 at their home on Heaton Creek in Roan Mountain on April 25.

Peggy Stevens on Simerly Creek in Hampton saw her first spring hummingbird at 9:34 a.m. on April 16.

Photo by Bryan Stevens • Despite a perceived disadvantage of size, ruby-throated hummingbirds are quite capable of thriving in a giant world.

Barbara Jean Boyd, Bristol, Tennessee, saw her first spring hummingbird on April 16. She reported the sighting on Facebook.

Amy Wallin Tipton, Erwin, made a Facebook post about her first spring sighting. “We saw our first hummingbird today (April 16) around 6 p.m.,” she wrote in the post.

Fredna Ollis, Erwin, had a single hummingbird show up Saturday, April 17, around lunch time. “I got pictures when I saw it again around 6,” Fredna shared in an email. “It was back on Sunday afternoon.”

Donna Rea, who is an Erwin resident and a retired Erwin Record employee, reported on Facebook that she saw her first hummingbird on April 17. The following day she got photos of the visiting hummingbird.

John Whinery, Fall Branch, gave notice in an email of the arrival of the first spring ruby-throated hummingbird at his feeder at 7 p.m. on April 17.

Gayle Riddervold and Becky Kinder of Hampton saw their first hummingbird of spring on April 18. Gayle reported the sighting through Facebook Messenger.

Phyllis Moore notified me on my Facebook page that she saw her first hummingbird at her home in Bristol, Virginia, at 10:53 a.m. on April 18.

Karen Lioce, who lives in Harrogate, Tennessee, sent me an email about tree swallows, but also reported a hummer sighting. “You mentioned that you wanted to know when we sight a hummingbird,” she wrote. “I saw my first one today (April 18).”

Julie Lee emailed me to inform me her first spring hummingbird showed up on a very windy day on April 21 at her home at Lake James in North Carolina.


In case you’re wondering, I saw my first ruby-throated hummingbird of spring 2021 at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 22. A somewhat hesitant little male hummingbird flitted to each of my feeders before finally taking a long sip of sugar water. As I watched him on a rather brisk evening, it felt good to welcome him back.

To share sightings, make a comment or ask questions, email me at or call 423-743-4112.

Photo by TheSOARnet / • Male ruby-throated hummingbirds usually migrate ahead of females. These tiny birds must cross the Gulf of Mexico, without stopping, to reach their nesting grounds in the eastern United States. The journey across the Gulf can take them 18 to 22 hours, dependent on weather conditions.