For the Birds Radio Program: November Hummingbird!
On October first, when a young Ruby-throated Hummingbird turned up at my feeder, I was amazed and delighted—this was by far the latest I’d ever seen any hummingbird in my yard. The little bird was apparently migrating through because after it fed, it moved on.
That alone would have made 2004 my best hummingbird year ever, but being the optimist I am, I couldn’t help but leave out my feeder a little while longer, just in case another hummingbird showed up. I figured I could bring it in when temperatures dropped enough to freeze the sugar water. A lot of the time, our optimistic efforts don’t pan out, but on November 16, what do my wondering eyes should appear but a miniature bird, hovering and zipping about. Only this wasn’t a a Ruby-throat—even the very last baby Ruby-throats have cleared out by now. This was a wanderer from the west—one of the hummingbirds with a lot of rufous feathers. There are three species that belong to the genus Selasphorus and this was clearly one of them. The trick was figuring out which.
The Broad-tailed Hummingbird of the Rocky Mountains was the least likely, because this bird’s tail was really narrow. Rufous seemed far more probable to me for several reasons—there are many records of Rufous Hummingbirds throughout the eastern half of the continent, especially this time of year, and this is a wider-spread species than Allen’s, though there are a smattering of records of Allen’s, too. But probabilities don’t count for a lot when you need conclusive information for inclusion in the official St. Louis County list—no Selasphorus hummingbird had ever before been seen in the county. Looking carefully at the bird, and at the dozens of photos I took of it, and comparing them to the photos in the best hummingbird guides, I was hopeful that this was an immature male Rufous Hummingbird, but afraid the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union Records Committee would have to go with Selasphorus sp. unless we got better looks. Unfortunately, my little bird moved on in mid-afternoon, so I’m not sure he’s going to come back and allow more photographic opportunities.
So last night I posted the photos on my website and sent out a request for a few hummingbird banders I know, who have handled all the possibilities and know them intimately. So far I’ve heard from Mike Patterson, who is certain the bird is a Rufous Hummingbird, and fairly certain it’s an immature male. I put his reasons, along with the photos, on my webpage at www.lauraerickson.com. It would have been much simpler had the bird brought his wallet.
But however old old whichever sex and species the bird happens to be, it was a cute little guy. Selasphorus hummingbirds have large, intelligent eyes and are as tiny as Ruby-throats. In a family known for feistiness, Rufous Hummingbirds are famous for being feistiest of all. People who have one Rufous Hummingbird at their feeding station need to keep out several feeders, some on other sides of their house, if they want any other hummingbirds at all, since Rufous Hummingbirds chase any and everything away from their food resources. This probably helps them in their wanderings—the Rufous Hummingbird nests farther north than any other hummingbird species, all the way up into Alaska. It’s quite likely that the Rufous Hummingbird is the very first species of hummingbird ever seen by a human being, if the first native Americans arrived her over the land bridge in the Bering Strait. So I’m hoping that my little guy—the first non-Ruby-throated Hummingbird I’ve ever seen in my own backyard—proves to be one. But even if it remains a mystery to the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union Records Committee, my tiny little Rufie brought a sunny big smile into an otherwise gray day.