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Perhaps the best way to attract vagrant hummingbirds in the eastern U.S. in late fall and early winter is to plant plenty of late-blooming Salvia. Barbara Barkley of Rock Hill, South Carolina, has had a rufous in her yard for a couple of weeks. It had been dining on nectar from a big blue sage, but when two recent nights of hard freezes knocked off the blossoms, the bird simply shifted its attention to fresh sugar water supplied by Barbara in a couple of backyard hummingbird feeders.
We heard about Barbara's bird almost by accident when we called The Herald in Rock Hill. A reporter for that newspaper had inquired about Hilton Pond Center's recent grant that will allow us to help install Schoolyard Hummingbird Habitats in the area. When we reached the newsroom by phone we got Barbara instead, and she was elated to let us know that she had a winter hummer in her garden.
This was good news for two reasons. For one, it mean that most participants in the annual York/Rock Hill Christmas Bird Count on 22 December got to cruise past Barbara's place and get good spotting scope views of the hummingbird, which became the 105th species seen in the 11 years of the count. And it was also good news because someone from Hilton Pond Center was able to return in an attempt to identify, trap, and band the bird.
We arrived at Barbara's city backyard at 7:30 am on Christmas Eve morning, erected our pull-string trap, and were able to catch the bird in about five minutes. (It's always great when these birds cooperate!) Everyone on the Christmas Bird Count had agreed it was a Selasphorus hummer, and our measurements quickly confirmed it was a female Rufous Hummingbird, S. rufus. (The other similar-looking female or young male Selasphorus in North America is Allen's Hummingbird, S. sasin, for which there are no South Carolina records.) Lack of bill corrugations and overall plumage indicated Barbara's bird was hatched out prior to 2001.
Measurements included: weight 3.9g; wing chord 44.0mm; tail length 26.5mm; tail notch 5mm; culmen (bill) length 19mm. Band number: Y14792.
Thanks to Barbara Barkley for inviting us to observe and band her Rock Hill Rufous Hummingbird, the second York County record for the winter of 2001-2002. Merry Christmas, Barbara, from Hilton Pond Center!
From October 15 to March 15
your sightings of all
Vagrant & Winter Hummingbirds
east of the Mississippi
For much more information about hummingbirds, visit
Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project
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Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Bill Hilton Jr., aka The Piedmont Naturalist, it is the parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Contents of this website--including articles and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with the express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To obtain permission for use or for further assistance on accessing this Web site, contact the Webmaster.