John Batson, a subscriber to the CarolinaBirds listserv, has been reading our postings about vagrant winter hummingbirds, so when he heard the out-of-season buzz of a hummer's wings he was quick to send us an E-mail. John suspected for several days that a vagrant hummingbird was around his house near Dacusville SC because the level of sugar water in a solitary feeder had been dropping, but his first actual sighting was on 11 November.
Upon learning that John lives in Pickens County--not far west of the Furman University campus where he teaches psychology--we planned a hummingbird- trapping excursion for Sunday, 16 November. Since we happened to be in nearby Powdersville on Saturday night, our usual attempt to be on the scene before first light was a bit easier than having to drive from Hilton Pond Center in York.
Early Sunday morning just beyond Dacusville, we turned onto an old dirt road and wound our way through the wooded 50-plus acres of former farmland that John Batson now calls home. Unlike many winter hummingbird sites that are open and easily seen from a distance, John's locale was well-obscured by a mix of good-sized hardwoods and pines. (We also didn't see any of that late-blooming Pineapple Sage that has been growing at nearly all sites at which we've banded vagrant hummers this fall.) After being greeted by John at about 6:15 a.m., we took down the feeder being used by the hummingbird, placed it in our portable trap, re-hung the device from a lean-to roof on John's guest house, and sat back to chat with our host about some of his interesting birding adventures.
At about 6:50 a.m., just after daylight began to break, John heard a familiar hummingbird wing buzz, but the bird didn't show itself. Ten minutes later the hummer zipped into view, entered the trap without hesitation, and became a soon-to-be-recipient of our next available hummingbird band. Just as we got ready to begin the procedure, we were joined by two other Furman faculty whom John had invited; we're pleased that Jim Edwards (philosophy) and Jane Chew (German) also got to witness their first hummingbird banding.
John mentioned in an e-mail to us that he thought he could see rusty color on the hummer's back as it fed from the feeder, and John was right. In the hand, there was no doubt this winter visitor was a young male Rufous Hummingbird, Selasphorus rufus, that had hatched sometime in 2003--likely in southern Alaska, western Canada, or the contiguous northwestern U.S. states. In Allen's Hummingbird, S. sasin--the other rust-colored North American hummer that sometimes shows up in winter--the male has a green back, while females of both Selasphorus species have white bellies, green backs, and rust at the bases of their tail feathers. John Batson's bird also bore heavy green streaking on the throat, complemented by seven large metallic orange-red gorget feathers--including one just below the right ear. This time next year his bird will have a full metallic gorget and nearly all of its body will be covered by rust-colored feathers.
Measurements made of the Dacusville bird's wing, bill, and tail were standard for a young male Rufous, but we were a bit surprised that the bill bore none of the tiny etchings (corrugations) that we'd expect in a first year bird. These marks smooth out over the bird's first 6-8 months and eventually disappear, so their absence--in conjunction with the bird's already-rusty back--indicate he probably hatched out fairly early in the 2003 breeding season.
Thanks to John Batson (bottom photo) for inviting us to band his winter hummingbird, and to Jane Chew and Jim Edwards for sharing in the excitement of our encounter with another vagrant hummer.
Rufous Hummingbird #Y14853
Culmen (upper bill)--16.0mm
Bill Corrugations--Etchings essentially absent from bill
Gorget--Seven orange-red metallic feathers
Molt--Mix of rusty and green back feathers
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
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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.