BR birders on the lookout for wintering hummingbirds

A group of curious birdwatchers stood on Tammy Kazmierczak’s back porch in Baton Rouge Saturday morning, hoping for a glimpse of wintering hummingbirds.

Binoculars in hand, they were on the lookout for the types that can only be spotted this time of the year. Hummingbirds like the rufous, black-chinned, buff-bellied and broad-tailed.

Kazmierczak, an avid birder, has been designing her yard to serve as a sanctuary for passing birds for 22 years and has built an impressive, small ecosystem right in the middle of Baton Rouge.

Her home was among the stops on the Baton Rouge Audubon Society’s annual Winter Hummingbird Tour, an event the society started holding around the city nearly 30 years ago.

“People set up their entire yards to attract the hummingbirds,” Baton Rouge Audubon Society President Jane Patterson said. “They leave feeders out around the yard and often have good cover to offer the birds protection.”

Kazmierczak’s home is situated near the corner of Highland Road and Lee Drive, containing a small pond with plenty of native trees, shrubbery and feeders to keep an army of birds, squirrels and the occasional wood duck happy.

“I have to be outside, and I have to grow things,” she said. “The pond provides the animals water and the trees — like the water oak — are good for the wildlife.”

Hummingbirds normally don’t call Louisiana home during the winter months, which makes spotting the speedsters so unusual. Many of the birds seen this time of year breed in the western United States, historically bypassing the state for Mexico. But a recent trend finds the birds stopping off in the Baton Rouge area for prolonged periods to rest and refuel.

Birders stood patiently on Kazmierczak’s back porch, one of four stops along the tour, to identify the fast-flying hummingbirds whenever they hovered above red feeders. The birds buzzed and darted from bush to bush, often only stopping to offer birders a chance to spot them for a few seconds before taking off again.

Even though a homeowner may provide the two things hummingbirds need to stay during the winter — food and protection — doesn’t mean they will have a yard full of the critters, said Kevin Morgan, Baton Rouge resident and experienced birder.

“You need some luck,” he said. “These hummingbirds are surely not local birds. You have to be lucky enough to attract one before it moves on or finds another spot.”

The houses, in addition to serving as destinations each winter for the birding tour, are also important areas for hummingbird researchers to conduct scientific studies.

Morgan assists renowned hummingbird researcher Nancy Newfield by trapping and banding hummingbirds in many of the homes on the tour. Birds are equipped with bands fitted to their legs, which, according to Morgan, act as a Social Security number for the specific bird. If the bird is trapped again, the researcher can gain information about where the bird has been, its age and physical condition.

“Nancy is only one of a few hundred banders in the country,” Morgan said. “The work and data we collect at these homes is very valuable.”