(5 February 2004)

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

After banding an adult female Rufous Hummingbird at Pickens early on the morning of 5 February, we headed due east toward Berea, South Carolina, a community in the northwest section of Greenville (Greenville County). In Berea, Homer and Betty Hall had been hosting a hummingbird "ever since the ruby-throats left" at the end of summer of 2003. Like the hummingbird host in Pickens, Homer also had seen an article in a local newspaper about a winter hummingbird we had banded at nearby Dacusville and took the initiative to call us to report his bird. Originally we had hoped to trap the Pickens and Berea birds one day during the last week in January, but a serious ice storm immobilized the Carolina Piedmont and made postponement prudent. Eventually, we worked out a new plan that called for us to go to Pickens for a bird that was active very early in the morning and then to drive the 17 miles or so to Berea for bird #2. We being successful at Pickens, we suspected we'd be able to lure the Berea bird into our trap even at mid-morning because the weather was cool, damp, and windy.

We got to Homer Hall's house at about 8:35 a.m. on 5 February and immediately took down his feeder, which we placed inside our portable hummingbird trap. With some effort, we climbed a 6-foot stepladder and managed to hang the trap and feeder contraption outside Homer's kitchen window. By 8:50 a.m. we were back inside the kitchen, warming ourselves and awaiting the arrival of Homer's hummer. Homer asked some great questions as we talked about how he liked to bring his feeder in at night to keep it from freezing, always being careful to put it back out again the next morning.

After a 25-minute wait, a hummingbird appeared at the window. Even though the wind was gently buffeting the trap, the hummer quickly went inside and perched for a morning drink. We quickly flipped the lever that sends a radio signal to the trap and causes a sliding door to close, so suddenly we had another winter hummingbird to band.

Unlike the Pickens bird that we had trapped less than two hours earlier, Homer's hummer seemed quite plain, and a closer view over the kitchen table revealed that much of the bird's plumage was worn. The general appearance of the bird--whose bright new feathers contrasted sharply with older, drabber ones--indicated it was a second-year bird, i.e., one that hatched out sometime in the summer of 2003. In many bird species the feathers that young birds acquire while in the nest are indeed plain and not as well-formed as those of full adults, as is illustrated by comparing the head shots of the Berea bird (top of page) with the older bird from Pickens.

The Berea bird had rusty coloration at the base of its tail (above right), indicating it almost certainly was a Selasphorus hummingbird--most likely a Rufous (S. rufus) rather than the somewhat smaller and much rarer Allen's (S. sasin). As in Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, young male Selasphorus hummers resemble females, but a series of measurements showed the bird was to big to be either an Allen's or a young male Rufous. Thus, the final verdict was that Homer's winter visitor was indeed a female Rufous that hatched last summer on the species' breeding grounds in southern Alaska, western Canada, or the northwestern U.S.

Homer's hummer was of particular interest to us because we don't often catch winter hummingbirds undergoing obvious wing feather molt. This particular bird still had three of its original ten primaries--the long, outer flight feathers in the photo of the bird's right wing (above). In addition, a right side view of the Berea bird (below) reveals she had not yet replaced some of her secondaries--the flight feathers closer to the body and on the wing's trailing edge. Again, there is a marked difference between the bright new feathers and the drab ones that grew in while it was a nestling.

After examining the bird carefully and making the usual measurements (see below), we handed Homer's hummer off to him. The bird sat passively in Homer's hand for a minute or two before almost exploding out of his palm and heading for the nearest tall pine tree. With that, we packed up our banding gear and headed back to Hilton Pond Center after what turned out to be a "two-bird day" in the South Carolina Upstate.

Vital Statistics for
Rufous Hummingbird #Y14865

Age/Sex--Second year female
Wing Chord--43.6mm
Tail Length--25.5mm
Tail Fork--7.0mm
Culmen (upper bill)--18.0
Bill Corrugations--none
Gorget--5 orange-red metallic feathers
Molt--Old primary wing feathers #8-10, some old secondaries

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:

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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.