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15-21 December 2001

A Teeny Tiny Hummingbird

There may be a few curmudgeons among our readership who don't like hummingbirds and are tired of hearing about these tiny balls of fluff. Please don't read any further if you're one of those folks, because something hummingbirdy happened this week near Hilton Pond Center that needs to be entered into the record.

All photos & text © Hilton Pond Center

You'll recollect, perhaps, that back in November Santa granted an early wish by sending us a Rufous Hummingbird to band at Hilton Pond Center. We were feeling pretty good about that occurrence, but something even bigger occurred a couple of weeks later when we were summoned to Lexington, South Carolina, to identify, capture, and band the very first Buff-bellied Hummingbird ever reported for the Palmetto State. With that experience, we figured we had received our share of hummingbird encounters--until we got an e-mail this week from Baine Carruthers that mentioned a hummingbird coming to a patch of Pineapple Sage and to a feeder at his house in Bethany SC, just a dozen miles north of the Center.

We made arrangements to visit Baine's place on the morning of 21 December --which turned out to be the first day of winter according to the calendar AND our thermometer, which registered in the mid-20s at daybreak. We arrived at the Carruthers residence at 7:40 a.m., took about five minutes to set up the pull-string trap with a hummer feeder inside, and settled down for what could have been a long, cold wait. Even with our incurable optimism, we were amazed in just three minutes to see a smallish hummingbird zip through the yard and disappear from view. A minute after that, the bird zipped back, circled the trap and entered it with no hesitation. A quick pull on the trigger string and the hummer was safely captured.

As we walked toward the trap, a closer view validated our initial observation that the bird seemed a bit small. This was no big lunker of a Buff-bellied Hummingbird, which is about a third larger than a Ruby-throated or a Rufous. No, it was the teeniest, tiniest hummingbird we had ever seen, complete with short bill and tail, and and a head and body nearly 25% smaller than that of a ruby-throat. There wasn't much question from the start that we had just caught a Calliope Hummingbird, Stellula calliope.

Now Calliope Hummingbirds aren't QUITE as rare as Buff-bellied Hummingbirds in South Carolina, but they are close, since only one or two other Calliopes have been reported from the state. And, since Calliopes breed along the U.S. West Coast into British Columbia and normally overwinter south to the Baja Peninsula and vicinity, our newest capture was even further from home than the Buff-bellied, which typically spends winter along the Gulf Coast of Mexico.

Based on measurements (bill 14mm, wing chord 40.9mm, tail 20mm), a hint of rusty color at the base of the tail, the amount of white at the tip of the tail feathers, and the presence of 8-10 iridescent feathers on the throat, we determined that the Carruthers bird was a young male Calliope that in the next few months will begin to acquire his full gorget of metallic violet. Even though it weighed a healthy 3.2 grams--about the same as a Ruby-throated--this was truly a tiny bird, so small that we had to trim the band a millimeter or so shorter than what we normally use for Ruby-throats.

During the banding process, Baine and his wife, Amy, and their three sons watched intently and asked some great questions, which we were more than happy to answer in exchange for this opportunity to handle and band our first Calliope Hummingbird. In a diplomatic move, the family voted to let Mom release the bird, which she did after we completed our measurements and fed the bird one last time from the feeder.

So even if you happen not to like hummingbirds, we'll bet you still you share our wonderment at the varieties of western vagrants that have invaded South Carolina this year; after all, in the past three months we've gotten to handle four species of hummingbirds. Any guesses as to what will be next for Hilton Pond Center's hummer banding program?

All photos & text © Hilton Pond Center

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15-21 December 2001

House Finch--36

(with original banding dates)

All photos & text © Hilton Pond Center

This Week at Hilton Pond
is part of the

1 species
36 individuals

79 species
1,421 individuals

(since 28 June 1982)
123 species
39,704 individuals

Calliope Hummingbird banded on 21 Dec at Bethany NC (see story above)

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In 2001, informative and entertaining hummingbird banding presentations were held at four Carolinas locations for more than 500 participants. For more info, and especially if your group would like to host "Hummingbird Mornings" in 2002, click on the hummingbird drawing at left.

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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.