For the Birds Radio Program: Green Violetear in La Crosse

Original Air Date: Nov. 10, 1998

A Green Violetear turned up at a feeder in La Crosse in October. It was suffering from hypothermia, so was sent to Marge Gibson.

Duration: 3′53″


The last week of October, some birders in La Crosse, Wisconsin, learned of a hummingbird that was still coming to a feeder. The couple who had been feeding it, the Larsons, were concerned because it was so late in the year. They told Fred Lesher, a well-known La Crosse birder, that it looked different from normal hummers, but with all the hummingbird-like moths turning up in many places this year, he didn’t think much about it until he went to their house and discovered, to his amazement, that this really wasn’t a normal hummingbird—it was a Green Violetear.

Green Violetears are gorgeous, oversized hummingbirds that live in the mountains of Central and South America, from Central Mexico through Bolivia. Normally they don’t migrate more than up and down mountainsides, so how this one got to Wisconsin is anyone’s guess. One theory is that it escaped from a zoo or aviary—that species is one that is occasionally raised in captivity. Another theory is that drought, forest fires, and deforestation in its native habitat set it moving, and it didn’t stop until it reached the Larson’s place.

Whatever the reason, birders were delighted—even thrilled—to be able to see such a tropical treat. Over the next few days, informed via telephone and internet hotlines, hundreds of birders from throughout the US appeared on the Larsons’ doorsteps. The kind couple let all these strangers into their backyard via their breezeway. No one had to wait more than a few minutes before the hummer showed up.

As the week drew to a close and the temperature started dropping into the 30s at night, people started feeding more and more uneasy about the little bird. It was fluffed out more and more, indicating that it was starting to suffer from hypothermia. The birders had plenty of warmth in their hearts, but the hummer needed a more tangible source of heat. Sunday morning it didn’t appear for a long while ater the time it usually came out, and everyone started fearing the worst. A few people started searching through the underbrush for a carcass, but suddenly the little thing darted out and tried to make it to the feeder. It dropped to the ground once, but finally made it. After a few minutes of drinking the sugar water, one of the birders, Tom Schultz, who illustrated the Peterson Guide to Warblers, walked over and simply picked it up in his hands. The poor little thing just sat there, soaking up Tom’s warmth, and then after it had eaten indoors for a while, they sent it to Marge Gibson. Marge is an internationally known rehabber who lives in Antigo, Wisconsin, and had already worked through all the bureaucratic hassles of getting permits to transport the bird to a more hospitable climate, and had already talked to several hummingbird authorities to make sure she had the background and skills she might need to deal with this unfamiliar little creature.

The hummer is hanging on, though Marge suspects that late Saturday or early Sunday a cat grabbed at it—it’s missing its central tail feathers and a few breast feathers, though when I saw it Saturday afternoon, and when it was photographed through Saturday, those feathers were present. It is also showing signs of the kinds of infection that appear with cat bites. So Marge is monitoring its health and bracing herself in case it doesn’t make it. It would be ironic indeed if a brave little hummer made it all the way to Wisconsin from Bolivia only to succumb to a loose kitty. If you have a cat, PLEASE keep it indoors during daylight hours.