A black-chinned hummingbird that made an appearance earlier this month, is a first for Ohio/Jim McCormac
Nature: Black-chinned hummingbird seen for first time in Ohio
November 29, 2020
It isn’t every day that one finds a bird new to Ohio. I’m sure that was the last thing on Dr. Cheryl Bater’s mind when she glanced at her hummingbird feeder at 7:27 Saturday morning on Nov. 14.
The veterinarian, who has a practice in Dublin, is by her own admission a casual birder. But she knew a hummingbird in mid-November was highly unusual.
This hummingbird was a young male or female, confounding an easy identification. Though adult male hummingbirds are distinctive, females and immatures can be far trickier to name.
The only hummingbird species that occurs regularly in Ohio is the ruby-throated hummingbird. But ruby-throateds should be long gone by this time, and the odds were greater that Bater’s bird was something else.
Bater posted photos on the Facebook Ohio Wildlife and Nature group, which quickly drew Jen Allen’s attention. Allen, an avid birder and photographer, made a visit, and sent photos to hummingbird expert and licensed bander Allen Chartier.
Chartier, of Inkster, Michigan, near Detroit, had a good idea of the bird’s identity, and the following Monday he made the 3½-hour drive down to try to capture the bird.
Catching a hummingbird can be easy if you know what you’re doing. Chartier places a cage around the feeder, with a remotely tripped door. Once the bird enters the cage to get to the sugar water, Chartier drops the door.
With the bird in hand, Chartier quickly determined its identity: a hatch-year male black-chinned hummingbird. Young black-chinneds greatly resemble young/female ruby-throateds, differing in subtleties of bill and primary flight feathers. The sprite weighed a smidge under 4 grams — about the same as a nickel.
Black-chinned hummingbirds breed across much of western North America, from southern British Columbia to northern Mexico. Most of them winter in Mexico, but small numbers regularly wander far to the east, usually turning up in Gulf Coast states.
Midwestern U.S. records are nearly unknown, and everyone involved knew that this “mega” would spur considerable interest in the birding community.
Bater opened the floodgates shortly after Chartier banded the bird. By the time of my visit on Wednesday, dozens of birders from all over the state had visited.
Rare birds draw the big guns. I saw Dr. Bernie Master of Worthington, and Cleveland birders Rob and Sandy Harlan. This hummingbird was number 386 for all of their Ohio lists — a phenomenal total and about 90% of all species ever seen in Ohio.
The black-chinned hummingbird is the seventh hummingbird species recorded in Ohio. Other than the common breeding ruby-throated hummingbird, all but one are western North American species. The other is the Mexican violetear of Mexico and Central America, which appeared in 2005 in Holmes County.
Why do these birds wander east? No one knows for sure, but the proliferation of hummingbird feeders is surely a factor. As is long-blooming, nectar-producing ornamental flowers that persist into early winter. Hummingbirds are powerful flyers and quick to capitalize on new resources.
Bird distributions do not remain static. Many species seem to have “scouts” hardwired into the population. These “vagrants” as they are often called, might be thought of as casing out potential new turf. Over the long haul, this is one way in which species can expand into newly favorable territory.
Lest you worry about the black-chinned hummingbird’s welfare as the weather gets cold, fear not. These are hardy birds — as long as they can get adequate food, they can endure surprisingly cold temperatures. It will leave when the time is right, although where it ends up will be a mystery.
Thanks to Bater for hosting legions of birders. Such an unexpected invasion requires big adjustments in one’s schedule, and occasionally can test one’s tolerance.
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.