Category Archives: Bob Sargent

Rufous hummingbirds appear after other hummers depart for the winter

Photo by Bryan Stevens • A young rufous hummingbird approaches a feeder for a sip of sugar water. These hummingbirds, which are native to the western United States and Canada, have become regular visitors throughout the eastern United States in late fall and early winter.

Almost every year since beginning to write this column, I have penned articles about the phenomenon of wintering hummingbirds. With the official 2020-21 winter season approaching, I have already gotten word of hummingbirds making themselves at a couple of homes in the region, as well as from such far-flung locales as Ohio and New York.

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/Dave Menke • The rufous hummingbird is increasingly becoming a migrant/winter resident in the eastern United States.

Katherine Noblet, a former resident of Johnson City, Tennessee, is hosting a rufous hummingbird at her home in Mount Vernon, Ohio. The tiny bird was banded and identified on Nov. 16. The verdict? The tiny visitor is a first-year female rufous hummingbird.

Noblet, who also hosted rufous hummingbirds when she lived in Tennessee, has posted on Facebook about her most recent winter hummingbird. She noted that the hummingbird, which she has named Reba, first appeared on Nov. 14. Temperatures have dipped into the 20s during the bird’s stay.

“Why a few of these tiny creatures want to hang around this far north is a mystery, but she looks happy and healthy and cannot be existing on just sugar water,” Noblet noted in a Facebook post on Nov. 24. “I have to trust she knows what she is doing.”

Closer to home, some Roan Mountain residents have reported lingering hummingbirds.

Leslie and Kathie Storie, who reside on Heaton Creek in Roan Mountain, Tennessee, posted to Facebook on Oct. 29 about a visiting hummingbird.

Photo by Bryan Stevens • A rufous hummingbird grasps a briar as a perch for a moment’s rest from its frantic activities.

“We had a hummingbird on Heaton Creek about 6 o’clock today,” they noted in a post on my Facebook page.

Although they had already taken down their feeders, they reported still having pineapple sage and lantana in bloom in their yard. These flowers are favorites of hummingbirds and would no doubt help attract one of these tiny birds.


Judi Sawyer, also a resident of Roan Mountain, has hosted not one but two rufous hummingbirds this fall. She noticed the birds in early October. One of the two birds was banded and documented on Oct. 4. One of the birds evaded the bander’s traps, but the one that was banded was identified as an immature male rufous hummingbird.

I also received an email recently from Susan Jensen, a resident of Carmel, New York, about a lingering hummingbird at her feeders. She had found one of my online articles about wintering hummingbirds and contacted me for more information.

“We have had ruby-throated hummingbirds for many years and I have three feeders for them during the season,” Jensen said. “I always leave one up until I know for sure everyone has passed through to their winter location.”

In October, she reported a feeder visitor that looked like a strange ruby-throated hummingbird. She described the bird as bronze and rusty with a bit of green.

Photo by Bryan Stevens • Rufous hummingbirds have been extensively documented as wintering throughout the southeastern United States. This male rufous hummingbird was documented in Hampton, Tennessee, a couple of years ago.

“For about two weeks I thought it was a ruby-throated hummingbird until I realized it wasn’t,” Susan wrote in her email.

After a quick Google search, I emailed Susan and put her in touch with Robert Yunick of Schenectady, New York. On Friday, Nov. 20, he traveled to Susan’s home. He banded the bird, which he identified as juvenile female rufous hummingbird, confirming Susan’s thoughts on the bird’s identity. Susan shared a video of the banding process at this link:

“It has been here since Oct. 10,” she informed me in an email. She noted that the bird has endured at several freezing nights when the temperature dipped down to 20 degrees.

“I change the feeder every three days and, if it is frozen like it was this morning, I change it again,” she said. “We are now going to bring the feeder in at night and put it out early the next morning.”

A rufous hummingbird hosts in a host’s hand after being banded and documented in Hampton, Tennessee, several years ago.

Susan enjoyed observing the banding process. “The whole process was surprising,” she wrote to me. “I had never witnessed anything like it.”

Susan said the visiting hummingbird got caught in the trap fairly quickly.

“Bob worked very quickly to measure and band her,” Susan added. “It took about 20 minutes and he fed her three times.”

At the conclusion of the process, she got to hold the tiny visitor. “I have held a hummingbird before, but it was still very special,” Susan said.

She also shared what she termed an “extra story” about hummingbirds.

“About three to four years ago, I was sitting on my deck, watching the babies (immature) hummingbirds buzz around later in the evening,” she said. “They chase each other, and do all kinds of acrobatics.”

During that evening’s antics, one of the hummingbirds flew right into the post used to hold Susan’s feeder.

“It knocked itself out, falling on the railing,” Susan explained. “I was stunned. I picked her up and proceeded to do everything wrong until my son came home. He looked up what to do, and we righted all the wrongs.”

They realized that the bird needed to be fed, so they took down the feeder and fed her twice.

“After that, she took off,” Susan noted. “It was amazing.”

Susan shared that she has been feeding the birds at her home in New York’s Hudson Valley for over 30 years.

“My parents got me interested,” she explained. “They took up bird watching when I was in high school and I have been bird watching ever since.”

Watching birds, she noted, is her all-time favorite thing. “Even when my husband and I are hiking we are always looking for something new,” she said. “It never gets old.”

Photo by Daniel Roberts/ • An adult male rufous hummingbird is a dazzling bird. Many of the winter rufous hummingbirds look much less vibrant.

Through the years, I have seen several of these seemingly out-of-place hummingbirds. Some of them remain at their host’s feeders for a brief stay of a few days or a couple of weeks, but some of these hummingbirds have extended their stay for several months, lingering throughout the winter months before eventually departing in February or March.

The big question concerns whether these hummingbirds are truly lost and out of place. The answer, based on everything I have managed to learn, is that these hummingbirds are precisely where they want to be. For still unknown reasons, some of these western hummingbirds make a migration swing through the eastern United States.

Many of the visiting winter hummingbirds turn out to be rufous hummingbirds, which is a species native to the western United States. The birds visiting at the homes of Katherine, Judi, and Susan all turned out to be rufous hummingbirds. It’s likely the visitor reported by the Storeys was also a rufous hummingbird.

In the summer months, the ruby-throated is the expected species of hummingbird in the eastern United States. In the winter months — not so much. However, in regions all across the Eastern United States, as well as along the Gulf Coast, a few ruby-throated hummingbirds are attempting to overwinter.

The rufous hummingbird has basically become an expected winter visitor each year in Southwest Virginia, East Tennessee, and western North Carolina. A few reports are received each winter. I have observed rufous hummingbirds in many different locations throughout East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

Winter hummingbirds, while always a delightful surprise for their hosts, no longer shock long-time birders. We’ve grown to expect them. If any readers are still hosting lingering hummingbirds at their feeders, I’d love to hear their stories. Email me at

Bob Sargent leaves behind legacy of decades of hummingbird research

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                        Bob Sargent works diligently to band a Rufous Hummingbird at the home of Gary and Brenda Wallace in Elizabethton, Tenn.

I was saddened to learn of the recent passing of Bob Sargent. With his wife, Martha, Bob was the co-founder of the The Hummer/Bird Study Group. This non-profit organization founded by the Sargents was based in their hometown of Clay, Alabama, and dedicated to the study and preservation of hummingbirds and other neotropical migrants.

Their research programs with hummingbirds and migrating songbirds got underway back in 1987. The HBSG was formed in 1994. The Sargents have described the HBSG as a child born of the necessity to support their continuing research.

 Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                          A Rufous Hummingbird gets a sip of sugar water midway through the banding process.

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                  A Rufous Hummingbird gets a sip of sugar water midway through the banding process.

It was also a way to reward those who contributed financially to that effort. In the early days the Sargents’ savings account paid the expenses incurred by the HBSG. Many friends and bird conservationists contributed financially to the cause, and the Sargents wanted these donations to be tax-deductible.

The Sargent also became ambassadors in the promotion of hummingbirds. Their specialty became those species of western hummingbirds that have been gradually shifting their migration routes and wintering grounds to include forays into the eastern half of the United States.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                            Martha Sargent takes a photo as her husband, Bob, lets Brenda Wallace hold a Rufous Hummingbird ready to be released after the banding process.

In the late 1990s, the Sargents presented a well-attended program sponsored by the Bristol Bird Club. That was the first occasion I had to meet this energetic and dedicated couple. I wrote about the fascinating program in my bird column and shared with readers Bob’s emphasis on keeping sugar water feeders available during the winter months. It was an eye-opening program that tuned me into the phenomenon of wintering hummingbirds.

Not too long after that column ran, I received a call from Bennette Rowan, an artist and Johnson City resident, in November of 1997. She had one of those western hummingbirds at her feeder. After she got in touch with me, the Sargents were also alerted. The couple arrived in Johnson City on Dec. 3, 1997, to band and identify the bird. To the surprise and delight of everyone present, the bird turned out to be an Allen’s hummingbird — the first of its kind ever found in Northeast Tennessee and only the fourth for the entire state. Bennette, who had orginally named her bird “Rusty,” modified the name to Rusty-Allen. The bird remained at her home until Dec. 16 of that year.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                       From left: Bob Sargent, Brenda Wallace, Martha Sargent and Gary Wallace pose for a photo after the Sargents successfully banded a Rufous Hummingbird at the Elizabethton home of the Wallaces.

A few years later I got to watch the Sargents band another hummingbird at the home of Brenda and Gary Wallace in Elizabethton. On that occasion, I also photographed the couple as they went expertly about the precise job of capturing, documenting, identifying and banding the hummingbird. It turned out to be a female Rufous hummingbird.

As more of these reports arrived every late fall and early winter, the Sargents became overwhelmed and could not respond to each and every case. They began to bring other hummingbird banders under their wing, so to speak. Individuals such as Chris Sloan and Mark Armstrong became principally involved with the documentation and banding of hummingbirds found within the Volunteer State.

I feel extremely fortunate to have known Bob Sargent, who died Sept. 7, 2014, at the age of 77.  An electrician by trade, he leaves a lasting legacy of more than a quarter-century of research into the mysteries of some of our tiniest birds.

Several birders across Tennessee posted tributes to Bob on the TN-Birds list-serve forum.

Cyndi Routledge of Montgomery County described him as a “dear friend and mentor” who “positively impacted my life in infinite ways as he did with endless others. He leaves a legacy of hummingbird banders and hummingbird lovers across the United States and even beyond its borders.”

She also made a suggestion to those reading her post.

“And perhaps at some point today, go outside, sit near your hummingbird feeders, listen for the hums and chirps of those tiny miracles and give thanks for Bob, for his life and for those birds,” she wrote in her post.

Jud Johnston of Waynesboro, Tennessee, commented on Bob’s death. “A great loss for birders and birding in the Southeast,” Jud wrote.

In the years since I saw that program, presented in such educational and entertaining fashion by Bob and Martha Sargent, hardly a year has gone by when a reader hasn’t alerted me to the presence of one of those “brown hummingbirds” that show up at their feeders when the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have already flown south for the winter season.

In the next couple of weeks, the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that have made our spring, summer and fall so delightful will once again disappear. They’ll return in about six to seven months, but our lives will be a bleaker without them.

This is where things can get interesting. Don’t take down your feeders. Keep a supply of sugar water available as “bait” to attract any Rufous Hummingbirds, or even Allen’s or Black-chinned Hummingbirds that might decide to spend late fall and early winter with you.

So, be very attentive to any hummingbird that arrives at your feeders in late October or early November. Most Ruby-throated Hummingbirds depart the region in early October. Many of these winter-visiting hummingbirds show a great amount of brown plumage instead of the usual green. Any of these conditions may indicate you’ve been gifted with a rare visit from one of these exceptional little birds. If you are so fortunate, please send me an email at

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/Dave Menke The Rufous Hummingbird is increasingly becoming a migrant/winter resident  in the eastern United States.

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/Dave Menke
The Rufous Hummingbird is increasingly becoming a migrant/winter resident in the eastern United States.