Saturday, November 15, 2008

Rufous Hummingbird - Caught!

Those of you who follow the Ohio Birds listserv know that an unidentified Selasphorus hummingbird has been frequenting a feeder in Bexley, Ohio. For those of you unfamiliar with birder-speak, Selasphorus refers to a genus of western hummingbirds which are rare vagrants in the east. If not adult males, two of the species in this genus - Rufous Hummingbird and Allen's Hummingbird - are nearly impossible to tell apart unless in the hand. Well, the bird is now identified and here's the story.

Our goal was to safely put this hummingbird in hand, and that was ably accomplished with the help of an expert yesterday.
This hardy little hummer has been frequenting this feeder since October 17th. The homeowner, JoAnn LaMuth, was totally on the ball with this one. While working in her garden, she heard the distinctive high-pitched buzzsaw sound of hummingbird wings, rushed inside and got a hummingbird feeder and slapped it up. The hummer has been there since, and JoAnn has been very gracious in allowing birders to come visit.

A task like this calls for "hummer-busters", and it isn't hard to tell when Michigan hummingbird expert and licensed bander Allen Chartier has arrived on the scene. Allen is one of few people in this region licensed to capture and band hummingbirds, and he's nabbed thousands. Allen is especially interested in studying vagrant hummingbirds and has made many a trip down to Ohio and other states to work with them.

The trap is set. Hmmm... You'd think a contraption like this wouldn't fool a sharp-witted, quick on their wings hummingbird. It does. Or more likely, they just don't care about the wire mesh cage and are so fixated on reaching the tasty nectar within that all thoughts of suspicious traplike objects are pushed aside. After a 3+ hour wait with no sign of the bird, we were finally getting ready to throw in the towel, when zipppp! In it came. The little bird buzzed curiously about the cage for a few seconds, quickly saw the opening in the cage, and shot inside. The wily Chartier has rigged the trap with a remote-controlled trap door, and when he hit the trigger the bird was ours.

Within a minute, Allen had the bird in hand. Cute little birds. I've been around hummingbird banding operations a number of times now, and will never tire of watching the process. An added bonus is watching newbies that are present - people who have never seen one of these Lilliputian dynamos up close and personal. Quite the little charmers, they are.

In this short video, Allen Chartier explains the primary difference between non-adult or female Rufous and Allen's Hummingbirds. This bird proved to be an adult female Rufous, about the 40th Ohio record. Our first wasn't until 1985. Since 2002, we've added three other species of hummingbird to the state list: Calliope Hummingbird in 2002; and both Green Violetear and Anna's Hummingbird in 2005. Every time one of these female/subadult Selasphorus hummingbird shows up, everyone gets their hopes up that it might prove to be an Allen's Hummingbird. That's possible, but MUCH more unlikely than a Rufous. Of course, our old faithful remains the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, the only breeding species east of the Mississippi and common throughout Ohio. Ruby-throats, however, are not particularly hardy and any hummingbird after mid-October is probably going to be something else.

It should be noted that Allen is not catching this bird or the others to determine which species it is, in order to satisfy the birders. Of course, we'll learn that during the process, but just as importantly data on the bird will be collected, and it will be banded so that if caught again, we can indisputably identify the individual. Banding has led to many fascinating returns and shed light on vagrant hummers' wanderings, longevity, and site fidelity.

Hummingbird band. Impossibly tiny, they don't faze these strong-flying albeit miniscule birds. Takes some dexterity to wrangle one onto a leg not much bigger around than a toothpick, though.

This little girl may be the most famous Rufous Hummingbird there is, as of right now. The Columbus Dispatch was on hand for this banding in the form of a reporter and photographer. I'm glad they stuck out the three hour wait, because they got a great story and some fantastic photos. The story will probably run in the November 25 edition, in the science pages.

In the shot above, she is laying in JoAnn's hand, having just been placed there by Allen. Normally they instantly dart off, but not this one. She probably was wondering who the giant aliens are that abducted her.

A tiny puff of air from behind, and off she shot, no doubt calling us every name in the book, none of them flattering. I got this shot at the moment of takeoff. The bird was soon back at the feeder, and is there as of today. They apparently forget these experiences quickly.

Thanks to JoAnn for working with us and taking such an interest in this tiny wanderer, and to Allen Chartier for once again lending his expertise.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations to Allen, JoAnn, and everyone else involved in documenting this little jewel! Way too many Selasphorus and Rufous/Allen's hummingbirds are assumed to be Rufous, but as the Calliope, Anna's, and Green Violetear records show almost anything is possible. I hope this encourages others to report and document their out-of-season hummingbirds.

Dawn Fine said...

How exciting...thanks for the post

nina at Nature Remains. said...

So very wonderful/.

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