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Nature: Calliope hummingbird excites birdwatchers in central Ohio

A calliope hummingbird in Delaware County/Jim McCormac

December 3, 2017

NATURE
Jim McCormac

The most famous bird in Ohio right now is a tiny puffball that weighs little more than a penny. Nearly 650 visitors from at least nine states have fawned over the wayward visitor. The tiny bird even has its own Facebook page (with hundreds of “likes”).
This avian notable is a calliope hummingbird, and it is only the second one to appear in Ohio. The first was in 2002, in Chillicothe, and both birds are among very few records east of the Mississippi River.
A calliope hummingbird in Ohio is decidedly off-track. The species breeds in mountainous regions from British Columbia to Washington, Oregon, Idaho and nearby states. These sprites undertake an incredible migration proportionate to their size. Most of the population winters in southwestern Mexico. Some birds probably migrate nearly 6,000 miles annually.
Only the familiar ruby-throated hummingbird regularly shows up and breeds in Ohio. Most ruby-throats have left for tropical climes by mid-October. Any hummingbird seen after that warrants scrutiny.
Thus, when Delaware County homeowner and birder Tania Perry spotted a hummingbird in her yard in late October, she knew it might be something unusual. Identification of immature or female hummingbirds is often not straightforward, but it didn’t take long to secure excellent documentary photographs.
From the images, hummingbird expert Allen Chartier was able to confirm the bird as a hatch-year male calliope hummingbird.
Tania and her husband, Corey, knew the birder interest would be enormous if the bird’s presence was made public. Scores of people would want to see a major rarity such as this.
After consultation with some longtime birders, the Perrys made the decision to allow all comers. As noted above, come they did. I’ve seen many backyard rarities over the years, but few situations that drew as many people, or were as well-managed.
The Perrys braced their neighbors for an onslaught of unfamiliar visitors. They flagged appropriate parking areas and established visiting hours. Straw was cast on areas of foot traffic to protect the lawn. A viewing gallery was established, and feeders were placed in sites offering the best views.
Finally, a log book of visitors tracked the names, locations and comments of the hummingbird’s legions of fans. Imagine having nearly 700 visitors to your house over a span of two weeks. Yet the circus was managed with minimum disruption to the quiet rural neighborhood on a dead-end road. After a two-week viewing window, visitation was ended, but by then nearly everyone who wanted to had seen the bird.
Despite being the smallest breeding bird in North America, calliope hummingbirds are tough. As I write this, last Sunday, the bird is still present. It has endured nighttime temperatures into the 20s on a number of occasions.
While the sugar-water feeders provide a major source of energy for the hummingbird, it also catches lots of tiny insects, from which it gets necessary protein. Probably, once conditions get too cold for consistent insect activity, the bird will move on.
In 1985, the first vagrant hummingbird was detected in Ohio. The rufous hummingbird, a western species, has become annual, with dozens of records to date. Including the calliope, four other species have appeared — three of them westerners and one tropical. This pattern of increasing vagrancy holds true throughout eastern North America.
No one knows exactly what causes the spike in wayward hummers, but the reasons are undoubtedly multifaceted. Warming mean temperatures, a proliferation of feeders, increases in ornamental flowers and large-scale habitat changes probably all play a role.
Incredible aeronauts that they are, hummingbirds can rapidly exploit new opportunities.
Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at www.jimmccormac.blogspot.com.

Comments

Lisa Greenbow said…
I always wonder too if one of the reasons there are more sightings is that there are more interested people. Then the communications systems we have now days. They word gets out.
Wow it would be amazing to have so many visitors. I would love to read through the guest book to read all the comments and to see who all came to see the bird, where they were from etc.

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