hummingbird on flower
Anna’s hummingbird

Hummingbird Meaning and Symbolism

Nature enthusiasts everywhere adore these flying jewels—so much so that there’s even a bucket list for hummingbird fans! But even those most devoted among hummingbird fans might wonder: what is the hummingbird’s meaning, and what does it mean if one visits you?

To some, sighting a hummingbird signals that challenging times are over and healing can begin. To others, these tiny fliers are an inspiring sign of hope and good luck. Hummingbirds also can have a spiritual significance and mean the spirit of a loved one is near.

Discover jaw-dropping facts about hummingbirds.

Special Encounters with Hummingbirds

Bnbbyc19 Suzy Downing

Message From Loved Ones

“Twelve years ago a dear neighbor passed away. She loved her rose of Sharon shrub, so before her home was sold, I broke off a twig and rooted it. I didn’t think it would survive, but it has grown and thrived. When it is in full bloom, I think of her! On this particular morning, I was sitting with my camera and watching the garden for hummingbird activity when I looked up and saw this sweet ruby-throated hummingbird (above) taking her time going from flower to flower. It was almost like she was posing for me. I had to smile thinking that Mrs. Berry’s spirit had sent her to me!” Suzy Downing says, describing a time a sighting of a hummingbird held special meaning.

Check out 35 hummingbird photos that you need to see.

hummingbird meaning pandemic

Healing and Hope

“While I photographed many birds with my companion, Sally, during our walks in Central Park and other locations, I never had the opportunity to capture a hummingbird in flight until one spring. They are delightful to watch and we were very grateful for their presence. Hummingbirds helped us cope with the isolation imposed by social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic,” John Rakis says.

Discover the special meaning behind cardinal sightings.

hummingbird meaning loved one

Memories of Mom

“Hummingbirds are dear to my heart. My mother always had a hummingbird feeder outside of our bay window, and she and I would sit and watch them fly up and eat the sugar water. My mom passed away from cancer years ago, and hummingbirds have been something that makes me think of her. I miss her so very much, but I’m thankful for these little flyers that help me feel as if a piece of her is still with me,” Deborah Doss says.

Do monarch butterfly sightings have meaning?

costa's hummingbird

Comfort During Difficult Times

“This is a Costa’s hummingbird (above); I took many pictures of him preening, and he turned around and I got a beautiful view of his purple-colored body. He visited when my husband’s father was sick and he was taking care of him. The bird left when my father-in-law passed away, and it has never returned. The bird’s name is also the same as our last name. What an amazing bird,” Jessica Costa says.

Next, learn how to attract hummingbirds with 10 expert tips.

black capped chickadee vs carolina chickadee
Carolina chickadee perched on the ice-covered branches of a crepe myrtle tree  

One of the most common identification challenges that I run into when working at Wild Birds Unlimited is trying to tell the difference between a black-capped chickadee vs a Carolina chickadee. Many people call all chickadees black-capped by default, even though that is not the chickadee species that occurs in many areas around the country. Part of the confusion with identifying these two birds is there is a large area where their ranges come together. They will actually hybridize, making telling the species apart almost impossible.  Range maps for both types of chickadees are below.

Black-Capped Chickadee Range Map

Birding Basics Chickadee Identification

You can tell in this map from eBird that black-capped chickadees are the more northern of the two chickadee species we are comparing. They range across the eastern and western states.

Learn how to identify and attract a mountain chickadee.

Carolina Chickadee Range Map

Birding Basics Chickadee Identification

In contrast to the previous map, we can see that the Carolina chickadee is the more southern of the two species we are comparing. These birds are mostly found in the eastern half of the United States.

Nuthatch vs chickadee: Here’s how to tell the difference.

Black Capped Chickadee vs Carolina Chickadee Identification

In addition to having different ranges, there are small variations in the plumage of these species. As you can see in the photos below, the black-capped chickadee has a white nape (the back of the neck) and white edges on its secondaries, where the Carolina chickadee shows a much more gray nape and more gray in the secondaries.

black capped chickadee vs carolina chickadee, Chickadee Identification
Black-capped chickadee

You can really see how white the edges of the secondaries are in this photo of a black-capped chickadee. It also helps to get an up-close view!

Birding Basics Chickadee Identification
Carolina chickadee 

I always find it easiest to see the difference in the secondaries. This Carolina chickadee shows almost no white in that area at all!

Next, check out incredibly cute chickadee pictures.

Eastern Screech Owl In Winter Forest
Eastern-screech owl

Many backyard guests—such as monarch butterflies and orioles—make for warmer climates as temperatures drop. The rest hunker down. How they prepare and where they lay their heads sometimes differ even within the same species. But no matter how they overwinter, animals that hibernate do it for the same reason: to conserve energy. How do hummingbirds survive snow and cold weather?

As days shorten, animals take the cue from Mother Nature and add layers of fat while food is more available. “These reserves essentially act as a big bank of energy that animals draw from while they’re in the deep-sleeping state of hibernation,” says Kevin Brunke, natural history biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

To make those reserves last, animals lower their metabolism and body temperature and slow their heart rate and breathing. “They burn fewer calories while they wait for more favorable foraging opportunities to become available,” Kevin says.

Find out how you can help birds during cold winter weather.

Animals That Hibernate: Deep Sleepers

animals that hibernate
Groundhog

Hibernation champs include groundhogs, ground squirrels, meadow jumping mice and some species of bats. These bona fide hibernators remain in a state of inactivity for several days, weeks or months and can sleep through loud noises and other commotion.

Do Groundhogs Hibernate?

Groundhogs hibernate inside burrows below the frost line in wooded or bushy areas for as long as 150 days. During that time, a groundhog’s heart rate slows from 80 beats per minute to an amazing five beats per minute, and its body temperature falls from 99 degrees to as low as 33 degrees.

Do Bats Hibernate?

Little brown bats hibernate even longer. They stay inactive for more than six months in barns, hollow trees and attics, sometimes with other bats for warmth.

Discover 9 features to look for in a bat house.

Animals That Hibernate: Light Nappers

Raccoons leave their dens for food during winter.
Raccoons leave their dens for food during winter.

Opossums, raccoons, skunks and chipmunks enter a sort of mini-hibernation called torpor, in which they conserve energy for a short period, then wake to find food when temperatures rise and weather improves, according to Kevin. “Animals do this because their body’s regular metabolism is so high it would burn up all their energy reserves while they’re sleeping,” he says.

Where do birds sleep at night?

Do Raccoons and Chipmunks Hibernate?

When the animals wake, they carry on as usual. Raccoons leave their dens in hollow trees, barns, sheds and crawl spaces to look for food. Chipmunks occasionally emerge from their underground burrows (or from under decks, sheds and foundations) to retrieve food from hidden caches.

Do Mice Hibernate?

Field mice leave their nests under tree stumps, rocks, decks or porches (or even in houses accessed via cracks in the foundations) to nibble on stored food.

Do Birds Hibernate?

Some backyard birds also go into torpor. Chickadees, doves, hummingbirds, titmice and small owls may become inactive for a few hours or overnight. Favorite roosting spots for many birds include birdhouses, tree cavities and evergreens.

Learn how to create winter shelter for birds.

Animals That Hibernate: Cold-Blooded Creatures

Couypc20 Amanda Hasler 007
Box turtle

Unable to generate their own heat, cold-blooded animals like reptiles and amphibians survive frosty temperatures and scarce resources by slowing down considerably and oftentimes becoming inactive.

Do Frogs and Turtles Hibernate?

Frogs and salamanders can escape freezing temperatures by burrowing in the mud on the bottoms of ponds, and turtles by burying themselves in soft ground below the frost line. “They just need to get down deep enough to where the earth doesn’t freeze solid,” Kevin says. “During warm periods, cold-blooded animals may become active.”

Wood frogs, common box turtles and some salamanders burrow in leaves and actually freeze. Their bodies produce glucose that acts like an antifreeze that protects their cells and, come spring, they thaw out.

Animals That Hibernate: Insects

To survive freezing temps, insects become inactive and stop growing. They go dormant at various life stages. Some lay eggs before they die, so new insects can emerge in spring. Others dig themselves underground as larvae. A few are able to endure winter as adults, producing a natural antifreeze. Psst—check out these easy ways to help bees.

Do Bees Hibernate?

In the case of bumblebees, only the queen survives the coldest months, while the rest of the colony dies. After mating with males and feeding on pollen, the queen leaves the nest to find a place to hibernate. “Usually, it’s a small pocket in the soil or another little cavity where she’ll live off those fat stores,” says Kelly Gill, a senior pollinator conservation specialist for Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

More than 3,000 species of solitary bees in the United States remain awake and somewhat active in winter, occupying hollow plant stems, abandoned beetle burrows, underground tunnels or dead standing trees. But the stage at which they overwinter varies. For example, mason bees will overwinter as adults in their cocoons, while leafcutter bees spend the season as larvae.

Honeybees overwinter as a colony in their hive, clustering around the queen and vibrating their flight muscles to generate heat. “They’re not hibernating,” Kelly says. “They’re active and just kind of waiting out the winter.”

Next, learn how does a butterfly survive winter?

Chestnut-backed chickadee
Chestnut-backed chickadee

Watching chickadees flit through the treetops is like witnessing master acrobats at work. These adorable birds duck and dodge through branches as they hunt down small insects. Not only are these birds super cute, they also have friendly personalities. They are curious and unafraid of humans, and old-time birders call this classic chickadee trait “confiding.” Learn all about the chickadee birds.

Types of Chickadees in North America

There are seven different species of chickadees in the U.S. All of them have snazzy dark caps and black bibs.

  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Mountain chickadee
  • Boreal chickadee
  • Carolina chickadee
  • Gray-headed chickadee
  • Mexican chickadee
  • Chestnut-backed chickadee

Black-Capped Chickadee

chickadee in a tree

Black-capped chickadees are found at feeders throughout much of the continent, from Alaska and Canada to the mountains of New Mexico and Tennessee.

You won’t want to miss these incredibly cute chickadee pictures.

Carolina Chickadee

A Carolina chickadee perched on a berry tree branch.
A Carolina chickadee perches in a berry tree in the southeast part of the U.S.

If folks around you are speaking with a southern drawl, chances are you’re in Carolina chickadee territory, in the Southeast, Deep South and lower Midwest. The Carolina chickadee’s geographic range overlaps the black-capped. Listen and look for differences. Its chick-a-dee-dee call is higher and faster than the black-capped. Also, its white cheek darkens to pale gray toward the nape, while the black-capped’s is completely white, with more white on its wing feathers.

Nuthatch vs chickadee: Here’s how to tell the difference.

Mountain and Chestnut-Backed Chickadees

Mountain chickadee perched on branch.
The mountain chickadee sports a distinct feature—a white eyebrow.

If you notice a chickadee with a white stripe on its head, it’s probably a mountain chickadee. These little birds forage in high coniferous Western forests, from Canada to near the Rio Grande. They nest in dead aspens because the soft wood is easy to excavate. Like all other chickadees, these birds stash food away for winter, caching nuts and seeds. Their call is distinguished by its slight lisp or buzz.

chestnut backed chickadee
Chestnut-backed chickadees call the West Coast and Pacific Northwest their home.

In the Northwest and along the Pacific Coast, you’ll find chestnut-backed chickadees at home in cities and towns as well as dense evergreen forests. The chick-a-dee call of this species is higher and thinner than the others, almost squeaky and with fewer dees.

Learn about western birds and their eastern counterparts.

Boreal, Mexican and Gray-Headed Chickadees

Boreal chickadee sits in pine tree.
Boreal chickadees live almost exclusively in boreal forests of Alaska and Canada.

Black-capped, Carolina, mountain and chestnut-backed are the species you’re most likely to see in the U.S. But there are three others to cross off of your birding bucket list: boreal, Mexican and gray-headed chickadees. The boreal forests of Canada, Alaska and edges of the northeastern states are home to chickadees of the same name, a brown-capped bird with a slow, scratchy chick-a-dee call.

In contrast, you’ll have to head far south to the pine forests of the Chiricahua Mountains in Arizona and the Animas Mountains in New Mexico, which are the only places in the U.S. to see the Mexican chickadee’s big black bib and hear its hoarse chick-a-dee.

The rarest of all seven U.S. species is the gray-headed chickadee. Unless there’s a polar bear reading over your shoulder, you’re probably not in this bird’s territory. It lives in such an inaccessible part of the Arctic Circle in Alaska that ornithologists still don’t know much about it. These birds roam stunted balsam poplars and spruces and sings shick-a-day, its own version of the usual song.

Chickadee Song

All types of chickadees call a version of their own name. The call varies in pitch, speed and clarity depending on the species, but the easiest version to learn to recognize is that of the black-capped chickadee with its chick-a-dee-dee-dee call.

Most chickadees, the black-capped included, are talkative, with a whole repertoire of high, wheezy notes in addition to the trademark call. In spring, black-cappeds sing a loud two- to three-note fee-bee mating call. A super high-pitched seeee is a warning that there is a predator around. All chickadees within hearing distance freezes upon hearing it. That watchfulness may contribute to the chickadee’s surprisingly long life span—about 10 years!

Bird songs provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

What Do Chickadees Eat?

chickadee with seed in beak
Chickadee eating bird seed

Chickadees are always on the move, picking off insects of any stage—eggs, larvae, pupae, adults—from leaves and branches. Pairs remain together year-round. From fall through early spring, the birds form small roaming flocks with titmice, nuthatches, warblers, brown creepers, kinglets and the occasional woodpecker.

All species can be seen within their respective range throughout the year. Although they visit backyard bird feeders less often in spring and summer, when insects are at their peak. However, chickadees lay as many as 10 eggs per year, and that’s a lot of mouths to feed. If a chickadee has a hungry spring brood nearby, it will become a regular at your seed feeder.

At the feeder, chickadees will eat sunflower seeds, but peanuts and other chopped nuts are truly irresistible. High-fat suet and peanut butter are also popular. Grab-and-go is their typical dining style, but they’ll soon be back for more.

Where Do Chickadees Nest?

Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) With Nesting Material
Carolina chickadee with nesting material 

To attract the chickadee birds of your area to your backyard, set up a nest box. These endearing birds usually nest surprisingly low, like in old stumps or holes 4 to 15 feet off the ground. Mount the nest box on a tree trunk about 6 feet high for a clear view of the activity. Welcome your new neighbors with soft nesting material they can use to construct a deep nest.

Learn how to attract nesting birds with birdhouses.

Mountain chickadee on branch

Mountain Chickadee Sounds

Chickadees are very verbose birds. They sing fee-bee when amorous. They scold chick-a-dee, adding more dees the higher their anxiety. And when the risk is acute, such as a soaring hawk overhead, they shriek. “That shriek means ‘freeze’ to the flock,” says Arch McCallum, a retired biology professor and the lead expert on the mountain chickadee for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Birds of The World.

A mountain chickadee’s buzzy call is distinguished from the black-capped by its harsher tone.

Learn how to identify and attract a Carolina chickadee.

Where Does a Mountain Chickadee Look Like?

mountain chickadee
Mountain chickadee

If you live in the Mountain West, a vocal black, white and gray bird might be a black-capped chickadee or its closest cousin, a mountain chickadee. The two are similar in size, about 4 inches long, with large heads, long tails and small bills. Both have a prominent black cap, white cheeks, light gray to buff sides, and a black throat patch, but only mountain chickadees have a white streak above their eyes.

Meet all the members of the chickadee family.

Mountain Chickadee Range and Habitat

While black-capped chickadees live in deciduous forests, mountain chickadees prefer to congregate in conifers in western forests from Canada to Texas.

Mountain Chickadee Nest, Eggs and Baby Birds

Mountain chickadees lay eggs in woodpecker holes and other cavities that they line with moss and scavenged fur. They use small nest boxes, too. If you hear a hiss coming from a birdhouse, it might be a mountain chickadee mimicking the sound of a snake to deter an intruder.

The eggs are dull white with red spots. It takes more than three weeks for chicks to hatch and fledge. If the adults need to fetch food during that time, they cover the eggs or hatchlings with a fur “blanket” to hide them.

“Mountain chickadees live in impregnable places behind a lot of wood where the young hang out as long as possible because it’s safe,” Arch says. “When they fly out, it’s full-bore. They’re really ready!”

A flock of mountain chickadees, called a banditry, is typically up to three mated pairs plus several juveniles. Interestingly, the young birds are usually not the offspring of the pairs in the banditry.

Do Mountain Chickadees Migrate?

Chickadees are nonmigratory, staying within their ranges all year. The only time mountain chickadees migrate is when they leave their mom and dad to find another flock, though they’ll move temporarily downslope during a harsh winter.

Don’t miss 20 incredibly cute chickadee pictures.

What Do Mountain Chickadees Eat?

mountain chickadee in snow
Mountain Chickadee eating snow

Mountain chickadee flocks readily come to feeders for sunflower seeds. They approach one at a time, grabbing a seed and carrying it to a nearby branch. Holding the seed with its feet, the bird pokes decisively at the seam until it breaks apart; the bird then eats the nutritious nugget inside or stashes it for a future meal.

“Mountain chickadees cache their finds in the bark and needles of trees and on the ground,” Arch says. “I’ve seen them fly straight to a place under a tree and pull out a seed. They have special memory for where they’ve put seeds. Their survival depends on it.”

These little sprites are full of life and fun to watch. They will make you smile as they frolic around a feeder and then fly off together.

Next, learn how to tell the difference between a nuthatch vs a chickadee.

Eastern towhee, female (L) and male (R)

How to Identify Male and Female Eastern Towhees

Scientific Name: Pipilo erythrophthalmus.
Family: Sparrow
Length: 8 inches.
Wingspan: 10-1/2 inches
Distinctive Markings: Male has a black head, back and tail with white belly, orange-red sides and red or white eyes. The female’s coloring has a browner cast.

Meet the towhees: the birds scratching up a storm in your backyard.

Nest and Eggs

female eastern towhee
Female eastern towhee

The female builds a nest of plant materials and cardboard near or on the ground. She lays two to six gray eggs speckled with brown.

Learn how to identify a spotted towhee.

What Do Eastern Towhees Eat?

eastern towhee

This bird’s diet consists of insects, spiders, seeds, berries; plus sometimes small salamanders or snakes. In the backyard, they may eat oats or flaxseed scattered on the ground, as well as suet.

Check out the top 10 trees and shrubs with berries for birds.

Eastern Towhee Call

eastern towhee

Listen to the eastern towhee’s song. Their voice is musical with a slow song, “drink your teeeeee.”

Bird songs provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

What does a Baltimore oriole song sound like?

Eastern Towhee Range and Habitat

Look for these birds in old pastures, woodland edges and brushy backyards.

Eastern Towhee Bird Species

Range maps provided by Kaufman Field Guides, the official field guide of Birds & Blooms.

Learn about western birds and their eastern counterparts.

Feed Birds on Christmas Day

Bnbbyc18 Martina Nordstrand
Male black rosy-finch 

I have always found it very interesting to learn about other cultures and traditions, and when those intersect with my passion for birds and birding, it’s even better.

One of my favorite bird related traditions is from the Scandinavian countries in northern Europe. They believe that if you feed the birds on Christmas Day, you will have good luck in the New Year.

Christmas tree for the birds
A Christmas feast for backyard birds

So, be sure to spread some seed on your doorstep on Christmas morning (try sunflower seed to attract the most species), and enjoy good tidings in the coming year! This is a fun and easy holiday tradition that the whole family can enjoy.

Learn how to help birds in cold winter weather.

I love when Red-breasted Nuthatches arrive at my feeders. I'm hoping that this is a year filed with them!
I love when red-breasted nuthatches arrive at my feeders. I’m hoping for a year filled with them!

Maybe your luck will start early and a red-breasted nuthatch will find the seed you put out!

Next, join the Christmas bird count and start another new holiday tradition.

Whether it’s hot or cold, raining or snowing, birds have to adapt and survive the weather conditions. Here are a few things you can do on cold days to help birds in winter.

Where do birds go during a storm?

Put Food Out Early to Help Winter Birds

Bnbbyc19 Jerrty Taylor
Grey crowned rosy finches on a platform feeder

On cold winter days, birds need to eat immediately in the morning as they have used energy reserves to stay warm overnight. It’s helpful to provide easy access to food in the morning.

Check out the top tips for feeding birds in winter.

Provide Fresh Water

robin on heated bird bath
American robin on a heated bird bath

Once lakes and rivers freeze over, birds have a difficult time finding water. A heated bird bath just might be the most important item you can put out in extremely cold weather. By offering a heated bird bath for your birds to drink from, you will not only help them survive but will also attract many more birds than you would with feeders alone.

Check out the best bird baths and fountains for attracting birds.

Offer Birds Shelter from Wind

how to help birds in winter
Tufted titmouse

Give birds a way to escape the cold wind in winter. You can do anything from building a simple stick pile in the corner of your yard to putting up roosting boxes for birds to use.

Leave your bird houses up. There are several species that will use bird houses as roosting sites during the winter. Bluebirds do this most commonly. Be sure to clean out the old nesting material and block any of the ventilation holes so they can retain their warmth. If you can, flip the orientation of the front of the house so that the hole is on the bottom.

Long term, you should plant native trees and evergreen trees for cover and shrubs with berries for a food source.

Here’s more ways to create winter shelter for birds.

Serve High Energy Foods

pine siskin in snow
Pine siskin eating bird seed in the snow

The more energy birds can gather quickly, the more likely they are to thrive in winter. Peanuts, sunflower chips, and suet are all great options. Not only are they high energy foods, they are also quick and easy for the birds to eat allowing them to feed more efficiently on cold days.

Suet is a great source of protein for the birds. This will help them stay warm and survive those extremely cold nights. Remember that the larger woodpeckers much prefer a suet feeder with a tail prop!

Peanuts, like suet, are another good source of protein for your birds. Woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees are just a few of the many species that will frequent a peanut feeder.

Check out the 10 types of bird feeders you need in your backyard.

Refill Feeders Late in the Day

how to store bird seed
Red bellied woodpecker on an icy tube feeder

Keep feeders filled with birdseed to help birds in winter. Giving your birds access to full feeders just before sunset will provide them with an extra energy boost.

Psst—these are the 4 foods you should feed birds in winter.

Use a Ground Feeder

How to Help Bird Species During Extremely Cold Weather
Dark-eyed juncos like to feed on the ground

There are quite a few species that are not comfortable coming to traditional bird feeders. Most of our native sparrows such as song, white-throated, and white-crowned, prefer to feed on the ground. By offering seed using a ground feeder, you will ensure that these species have easy access to food even when the ground is covered with snow.

Psst—learn about winter bird myths and facts.

tree swallows on backyard wind spinner
A pair of tree swallows

Tree Swallow Facts

Scientific Name: Tachycineta bicolor
Family: Swallow
Length: 5-3/4 inches
Wingspan: 14-1/2 inches
Distinctive Markings: Males are iridescent greenish-blue above and white below. Female may be duller.

Cliff swallow vs barn swallow: spot the differences.

Nest and Eggs

Nestlings in a tree cavity

The female builds nest in a cavity using grass, needles and feathers, and lays up to eight white eggs. Nest boxes designed for bluebirds also attract this swallow.

Learn about swallows’ nests and nesting habits.

What Does a Tree Swallow Eat?

The hardiest swallow, it arrives early in spring and even winters over in some localities. When insects are unavailable, the tree swallow feeds mostly on bayberries; some wintering birds have also been seen picking seeds from pond ice. To attract them, grow native plants to attract bugs.

Learn how to identify 8 types of swallow birds.

tree swallow
A tree swallow singing as loud as he could about the beautiful summer day.

Tree Swallow Song

Listen to the tree swallow’s song. Typically an early-morning singer, the song is a pleasant gurgling chatter when in flight.

Bird songs provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Meet the top songbirds in America.

Range Map and Habitat

Look for these birds in open areas with scattered trees and water.

Tree Swallow Bird Species

Range maps provided by Kaufman Field Guides, the official field guide of Birds & Blooms.