"This male was wiggling and chirping. Helps to think he's cussing the bander instead of crying out from fright." Sketchbook note, 7-11-09, Vickie Henderson.It is easy to make this leap. Even Bob Sargent, a man who has dedicated his life to studying the tiniest of birds, refers to them as mean. In fact, he says, don't bother to space your feeders far apart to keep them from fighting. You can't stop them. Despite this characteristic, hummingbirds are among the most popular and beloved of birds.
Banding gives researchers many clues into the lives of these little birds. When the bird is captured the bander measures the wing, tail and beak and checks for beak grooving, molt, gorget feathers and fat. All these measures help determine the age and sex of the bird. Females, no matter what age, have a longer wing and beak. Young birds have some buffy edging to the feathering on the head and back and have grooving along the top of the beak that disappears as the bird ages. Young males usually have a couple of gorget feathers and some heavy throat streaking but not always. The most reliable characteristic is their shorter wing and beak. All this data gives researchers valuable information about the individual, as well as, the health and behavior of the species population, including where they nest and winter. The bulk of Ruby-throated hummingbirds have usually vacated the United States by November 1, but a few are seen as late as November 15 and some winter along the Gulf coast. But keep your nectar feeders up in the winter. While you are unlikely to get a Ruby-throated since they are not cold hardy, other species are. Anna's hummingbirds, typically found in Arizona and Texas have been recorded in Alabama and Tennessee during the winter; Broad-billed hummers native to Arizona has been banded in Alabama; the even more rare Buff-billed hummer has been found in Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina and North Carolina; and the Magnificent hummer has been recorded in Georgia and Alabama. In all, fourteen species have been documented in the eastern United states: Ruby-throated, Black-chinned, Rufous, Allen's, Broad-tailed, Anna's, Costa's, Calliope, Buff-bellied, White-eared, Green Violet-ear, Magnificent, Broad-billed and Green-breasted Mango.
If you see a hummer at your feeder after November 15th, it will likely be one of these unexpected species. In all states, you may call or email Bob and Martha Sargent:
Rubythroat(at)aol(dot)com or 205-681-2888. They will either come to your location to band and document the bird or send someone from your area. Find more information on hummingbirds and banding activities at Hummer Bird Study Group.
A special thanks to Mark Armstrong, Master Bird Bander and president of the Knoxville Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society for the aging information provided in this post.
For the Love of It...
...the sage sees heaven reflected in Nature as in a mirror, and he pursues this Art, not for the sake of gold or silver, but for the love of the knowledge which it reveals.