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(12 January 2002)

Rufous Hummingbird, Selasphorus rufus, adult female

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

We spent the chilly morning of 12 January 2002 just standing still for nearly three hours, trying to trap an adult male Rufous Hummingbird that never showed up at a feeder it had frequented and been photographed at in North Augusta, South Carolina. Adult male Rufous Hummingbirds-- which have iridescent orange gorgets and rusty backs and heads--have been far more scarce than females this winter in the eastern U.S., so this bird would have been a good catch.

Rufous Hummingbird, Selasphorus rufus, adult femaleNonetheless, to meet another appointment we reluctantly folded shop in North Augusta at 11 a.m. and drove to Pomaria in Newberry County, about 75 miles southwest of Hilton Pond Center. We arrived at the home of Gurnie and Nora Stuck at 12:30 p.m. and learned that a winter hummingbird they had seen since 2 January had zipped through ten minutes earlier. We quickly took down the Stuck's feeder, erected a portable trap stand--complete with our own replacement hummingbird feeder as bait--and unspooled 15 yards of nylon fishing line back to the Center's parked van.

Rufous Hummingbird, Selasphorus rufus, adult female

Using the vehicle as a blind, we scoped out the yard and waited for the Stuck's winter hummer to return. (To be honest, we were glad to be able to sit down after a fruitless morning, even though our hostess had provided some excellent country ham biscuits during our earlier wait.)

At 12:45 p.m.--just as we finally were getting relaxed--the Pomaria hummingbird materialized from nowhere and hovered for several seconds at the precise location where the Stuck's feeder had been hanging.Rufous Hummingbird, Selasphorus rufus, adult female Perhaps confused, it flew to a nearby Flowering Dogwood and perched, preening in the sun for a minute or two. Then the bird was back to search for the missing feeder, off to perch on another dogwood branch, and back to hover again at the non-existent feeder. It searched in vain for sugar water before finally diving down about three feet to the level of the recently-erected trap and enclosed feeder. After circling the mechanism twice, the bird found its way through the front door, which closed behind it quickly as we jerked the string.

Rufous Hummingbird, Selasphorus rufus, adult femaleA close-up view of the bird in the trap confirmed what we had suspected while viewing it through binoculars: it was a Selasphorus hummingbird, likely S. rufus, otherwise known as a Rufous Hummingbird. The bird had several metallic throat feathers (top photo), lots of rust at the base of the tail (above right), and intense buffiness on the flanks-- giving it the general "feel" of an adult female. In addition, the beak was unmarked by the tiny etchings that would have indicated it was a "young" bird hatched in 2001.

All these characteristics--plus a series of measurements-- provided conclusive evidence that it was indeed an adult female Rufous Hummingbird that hatched sometime prior to 2001. She was apparently healthy and bringing in new plumage, as shown by a wing feather that was partly ensheathed (above left). Measurements included: weight 3.3g; wing chord 43.8mm; tail length 24mm; tail notch 5.5mm; culmen (bill) length 18mm. Band number: Y14784.

Rufous Hummingbird, Selasphorus rufus, adult female

Thanks to Gurnie Stuck (below) for contacting Hilton Pond Center about his winter vagrant hummingbird, and to his wife, Nora, for a hot bowl of her incredible homemade soup. (We didn't know until today that a potential side benefit of banding winter hummingbirds is sampling the wares of some really good cooks!)

Rufous Hummingbird, Selasphorus rufus, adult female
All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

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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.