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Calliope Hummingbird in central Ohio!

A hatch-year male Calliope Hummingbird strikes a pose. Small but tough, the hummingbird was feeding actively yesterday in 39 F temperatures. It frequents feeders and gardens at a home in Delaware County, Ohio, about a half-hour north of Columbus.

Fortunately, the wayward hummer appeared at the home of Tania and Corey Perry. Tania is a birder, and knew right away that the hummingbird was something special. For a while, the identification was up in the air, which isn't surprising. The Calliope Hummingbird used to be placed in its own genus, Stellula, but has recently been submerged into the genus Selasphorus, which includes Allen's, Broad-tailed, and Rufous hummingbirds. The latter two, especially, are quite similar to the Calliope in subadult plumage. Rufous is the default "vagrant" hummingbird here, with dozens of records and birds turning up annually. There is but one Ohio record of Allen's Hummingbird, from late fall/early winter 2009. Ditto the Calliope Hummingbird - only one record, from Chillicothe from October 28 - November 1, 2002. So in a case like this, the Rufous Hummingbird would be the go-to suspect.

As I understand it, birder Bryan Sharp, who is familiar with Calliope Hummingbird from time spent out west, saw photos and pegged the identification, thus triggering many cases of rarity fever. I was traveling and out and about, but returned yesterday to various messages informing me of the find, and as it's only about 25 minutes away, shot up late in the afternoon. It was a treat to clap eyes on a Calliope Hummingbird again. The little sprite is the smallest bird found north of the Mexican border, weighing less than a ping-pong ball.

Fortunately Tania kept up the feeder late into fall, and her supply of sugar-water forms the nucleus of the bird's turf. It is amazingly tame and perches for extended periods on a wire by the feeder, or in an adjacent lilac bush. The bird has been present for the better part of a week.

I also want to make note of the Perrys' generosity. A rarity of this magnitude generates an avalanche of interest, and is sure to attract lots of visitors. Tania and Corey have briefed the neighbors, organized parking, and delineated a convenient viewing area which will offer wonderful views of the hummingbird. Would only all backyard rarities appear at the homes of such gracious hosts.

The little fellow offers another interesting pose. It's hard to grasp just how small these elfin puffballs are until one is seen in person. As a point of comparison, in terms of weight it would take 31 Calliope Hummingbirds to equal a Blue Jay. Or 2,444 of them to match a Tundra Swan. The Calliope Hummingbird averages about 15% smaller than our familiar Ruby-throated Hummingbird. That's dinky.

I spent much time watching the wee beast like a hawk through my camera, awaiting telling postures. Such diligence allowed me to capture this pose, which shows the tail well. I knew that Allen Chartier, a hummingbird bander and expert, would likely be able to definitively age and sex the bird from shots like this, so I sent some along to him. Allen's prognosis: hatch-year male, based on the shape and coloration of the retrices (tail feathers).

As I write this, at 1:20 pm on Wednesday, November 1st, the bird is present and being observed. Presently it is rainy and about 42 F. The weather is supposed to be rainy/overcast for a few days, but with temperatures warming into the 60's F over the next few days. Small they may be, but Calliope Hummingbirds are tough as nails, breeding in western montane regions where evening temperatures regularly plunge to freezing or below.

This range map shows just how errant our little hummingbird is. But it is part of a well-established pattern of western hummingbirds appearing far to the east of their normal ranges. There have been a number of Calliope Hummingbird records east of the Mississippi River, and I'm kind of surprised it took 15 years to generate another Ohio sighting following the inaugural 2002 record.

An excellent place to keep apprised of this hummingbird's status is the Facebook Ohio Chase Birds site.


Lisa Greenbow said…
Amazing bird for the Midwest and amazing photos.
Rob Protz said…
Great tail shots, Jim.

Glad you advised Allen C.

Still waiting for another CAHU here in PA after our misadventure with the misIDed RTHU in central PA recently.
Auralee said…
Thanks for posting the info about Treasure Chest of Sounds--it was a very interesting talk, and the museum curator and a student also demonstrated the old reel-to-reel equipment that the old Borror tapes are played on when they digitize them! The student said that she had been up to see the hummer.
James said…
I have had these little hummingbirds in my Brecksville, Ohio backyard for several summers at our feeder. I love these little birds. I hope to see them again before they migrate south for the winter.

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