As is I earlier said, it's good this hummer isn't Tundra Swan-sized or it probably would have dealt severely with Allen. While he was setting the trap, it waited impatiently nearby. Then it went through a brief, very brief, curiosity phase. I would too. After all, the normally unadorned feeder is now encaged in a large contraption built of wires. This sends up a red flag to the bird, and it flies briefly about, investigating the trap. Here, it cocks a tiny eye at the setup. Seconds later, we had it.Allen is reaching through the trap door and gently extracting the now caught hummingbird. The trap's a pretty cool device. Although intrusive in appearance, it seldom dissuades the hummingbirds for long. They are so fixated on the feeder that they'll fly right over, and buzz around the bars looking for a way in. Soon, they come to the open door and shoot right in to happily lap up sugar-water. Allen, watchfully waiting in the wings, triggers a James Bond-like remote control that causes the door to fall shut. And we've got it. And now is where experience kicks in. Becoming licensed to band these tiniest of birds is not easy, and requires gaining lots of experience and apprenticeships with other banders. Allen had this bird out of the trap and in the bag in seconds - not an easy feat!Ann, the homeowner, was very interested in her bird and very gracious towards us. She allowed Allen to set up a temporary hummingbird lab in the study, so we could work with the bird out of the cold. For its benefit, not ours. In addition to placing a tiny band on its leg, data such as wing length, body fat, molt and coloration patterns, bill corrugations, etc. are carefully gathered and recorded. And weight. Here's the weigh-in. Our champ is nestled in that soft little sack for safekeeping. This whopper tipped the scales at a robust 3.73 grams. That's about the same as a shiny new penny.
Of course, in the back of all of our birding-fanatic minds, we were hoping that it just might turn out to be an Allen's Hummingbird. Nothing like a new state record to get the blood going. No such luck, and these tail feathers tell the story. Note that there are ten, and each are numbered from the inside out. So, the outermost tail feathers (known as a rectrix) are number fives. In Rufous, the outer tail feathers are quite broad in comparison to an Allen's, which has very narrow ones in comparison. So, because of that feature as well as other characters we knew this bird was an adult female Rufous Hummingbird, Selasphorus rufus. And we were scarcely disappointed that it wasn't the hoped for Allen's. It's always a treat to see any hummingbird, especially a rare Rufous in mid-December in snow-covered Mansfield, Ohio.
One wonders what is going on in that Lilliputian mind, as she watches us with those inscrutable little eyes. Rufous Hummingbirds handle well, and remind me a bit of working with Northern Saw-whet Owls. They are unflappable, and seemingly not too put out by all of the gymnastics we put it through during the banding. Some of the most beautiful feathers in the bird world are the central throat, or gorget, feathers of hummingbirds. When the light hits just so, they gleam irridescently.
When the time came to let Ms. Rufous go, Allen let homeowner Ann do the honors. It sat in her hand ever so briefly, then shot off like a rocket emitting high-pitched chitters. Hummingbird expletives, probably. It got over any hard feelings quickly enough, and had returned to the same feeder we caught it at within 25 minutes. This same bird or one much like it was here last year about the same time. It will be interesting to see if it returns again next year. Now that it's been marked, we'll be able to tell. Thanks to Ann for letting us invade and work with her special visitor, and to Allen Chartier for lending his time and expertise.