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(3 November 2002)

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

A few summers back, Jon and Sharon Peterson of Charlotte NC attended one of our "Hummingbird Mornings" presentations at RibbonWalk: Charlotte's Botanical Forest. They've been enthusiastic hummingbird fans in the years since and are members of "Hummingbird Hobnob," a Yahoo! discussion group established for teachers, students, and adults in conjunction with Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project. Needless to say, the Petersons were ecstatic when Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that departed in September were replaced the last week in October by another hummer that didn't look quite like a their summer guests. As soon as Jon posted a note to "Hummingbird Hobnob" about this sighting of a possible "winter vagrant," we scheduled a visit with the goal of capturing, identifying, and banding the bird.

Charlotte is less than an hour from Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History, so we got to the Peterson's by 7 a.m. on 3 November without rising too early. When we arrived, Sharon mentioned that--as often seems the case--the hummingbird had visited the feeder just before we drove in, so we quickly set up our portable trap on a railing on the back deck. After placing the Peterson's feeder inside the trap, we set the sliding trapdoor release mechanism and stepped inside the house. Prior to this particular trapping expedition, all our winter vagrant hummingbirds away from the Center had been caught with swing-door pull-string traps. This method works beautifully but requires a length of monofilament and an open house door or window to operate. Our new trap uses an automobile door lock mechanism and a wireless remote--the ingenious "TrapTripper" designed by John Owens of Covington LA--which provides a much more convenient way to catch hummers.

It may have taken you longer to read this description so far than it did for us to catch the Peterson's hummingbird, which first visited the trap within three minutes following set-up and actually entered and was caught within a minute after that. This less-than-four-minute capture time broke our previous record of five minutes for an off-site hummer. (Not that trapping speed matters, but it's still fun to talk about!)

As we approached the trap, the bird hovered inside and fanned its tail, revealing feathers with rust-colored bases and immediately ruling out this individual as a late Ruby-throated Hummingbird. The quick-and-dirty ID was female Rufous Hummingbird, Selasphorus rufus, but because young males can resemble females in this species--and also those of the closely related Allen's Hummingbird, S. sasin--we had to take some measurements before making our final diagnosis.

In the end, the combination of wing chord and tail measurements pointed conclusively toward female Rufous Hummingbird, and tiny white tips on the next-to-central tail feathers (left) indicated it was a young bird hatched out in 2002. The hummer was in excellent shape, with good plumage that included eight tiny green or metallic red-orange throat feathers.

When measurements and ageing/sexing were completed, the hummer was banded, photographed, given some sugar water to drink, and adroitly released by Sharon Peterson. One unusual attribute of this particular bird was that it never opened its eyes during the entire banding process, something we'd never seen before while banding any hummingbird species.

Thanks to Jon and Sharon Peterson for the opportunity to band their Rufous Hummingbird and for participating in "Hummingbird Hobnob." For information on subscribing to the group, see the "Hummingbird Hobnob" Home page on Yahoo! Also be sure to visit our award-winning Web site for Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project. On it you'll find almost anything you want to know about hummingbirds, including more information about Hummingbird Banding.

Vital Statistics for Rufous Hummingbird #Y14814

Age/Sex--Hatch year female
Wing Chord--44.6mm
Tail Length--26mm, with 4mm notch
Culmen (upper bill)--17mm

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

From October 15 to March 15
Please report
your sightings of all
Vagrant & Winter Hummingbirds
east of the Rockies

Hatch-year male Rufous Hummingbird

If you're interested in sharing your hummingbird observations and learning from other enthusiasts, you may wish to subscribe to Hummingbird Hobnob, our Yahoo!-based discussion group. Also be sure to visit our award-winning Web site for Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project; on it you'll find almost anything you want to know about hummingbirds, including more information about Hummingbird Banding.

Students at GLOBE-certified schools may submit winter hummingbird observations as part of Operation RubyThroat and GLOBE. Students can also correlate hummingbird observations with data on abiotic factors, including atmosphere, climate, hydrology, soils, land cover, and phenology. See the "Protocols" section of the GLOBE Web site for details about this exciting collaboration.

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.