Date: 1/7/21 9:10 am From: Susan Campbell <susan...> Subject: Hummingbirds (what else?)
I did some more banding the Piedmont (of NC) yesterday. But before filling you in, let me say that is not too late to attract a hummingbird this season. Not only have folks along the coast just reported thier first winter hummers, but we have had reports inland since Christmas as well. January can be the time that species other than Rufous appear. The wintry weather predicted for this weekend just may have more birds showing up at sugar water, so keep an eye out-- and let me know if one shows up. We have regular House Finches, Carolina Chickadees and Brown-headed Nuthatches at our Perky Pet--- but no hummingbirds-- yet!!
All three hummingbirds I was fortunate enough to meet yesterday really required in-hand scrutiny for definitive identification. And, even with cool conditions, trapping was not quick. But my persistence paid off.
My first stop was for a female Selasphorus in Cary. She has been around awhile and has become more colorful in the last couple weeks. A likely immature bird, she still does not have distinct adult rectrices. Body measurements along with the width of her outer tail feather put her squarely in the Rufous category however. My initial impression of a short tail was probably due to the fact that she has worn rectrices and is missing her central two feathers at the moment. Not surprising: by January, most Rufous have begun to lose feathers. All will need to be replaced in the weeks ahead, before the breeding season starts in early Spring.
Stop number two was in Durham where I waited over 40 minutes for a young male Selasphorus to appear. He has not been very regular in the hostess's yard (missed the day of the local CBC), and given the quality of the habitat there, I can see why! It is wet and there are many evergreen trees/plantings so plenty of wonderful bug hunting opportunities nearby. Once I did get this tiny fella in hand, I was glad to see that, although he, too, still had all of his juvenile tail feathers, his r2 did have a distinct notch. Furthermore, he was showing a scattering of rufous feathers on his back. He was also was on the large size so a Rufous for sure. And well fed, tipping the scale at over three and a quarter grams. Not long into processing, he surprised me by going into torpor. Before he headed off, he drank from the feeder and took another nap in my hand, giving the homeowner wonderful views of him in a most unusual condition!
We truly know very little still about these hardy little animals at this time of the year. It is possible that they not only use torpor at night to conserve energy, but also during the day between meals. Being birds of the north, they clearly have evolved strategies to live under cold conditions. Even armed with the knowledge I have gained over my years of working with these tiny winders, I never cease to be amazed by how well Rufous tolerate winter conditions across North Carolina.
Stop 3 was west of Winston-Salem in Lewisville, at the familiar yard of the Beauchamps. They hosted a female Rufous back in 2002 so it was a bit of a home coming for me. Connie recently announced that she had what might be a young male Ruby-throated using her feeder. I could not be sure from photos. The bird had what seemed to be some Black-chinned traits. There was only one way to know for sure. So I set up the trap but, unbeknownced to me, the neighbor was offering him sugar water as well. The little guy, upon seeing that I had reconfigured his feeder, got suspicious and moved over there. Once that feeder came down, he was back in the Beauchamp's yard. And, before too much longer, in the trap. Quick inspection revealed four small red feathers in his gorget: a Ruby-throated indeed. A very rare find! Quick processing and with a few photos taken, I wished him well--and he was on his way. Hopefully he is tougher than the average Ruby; our current winter weather will not be easy for him-- even with ready access to feeders. Although, as I reminded folks there yesterday, we have had some young males survive the winter inland in past years, so it is not impossible.
I still have more hummingbirds to check out in the weeks ahead. The season here is far from over. Wonderful to have so many of these special birds around after a number of years of relative quiet...