Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pretty Rufous Hummingbird Female Banded in Erwin, Tennessee

Wintering Rufous hummingbirds are being reported throughout east and middle Tennessee, and have been arriving since August, keeping Mark Armstrong, the Master Hummingbird Bander in the eastern part of the state, very busy.  
I had the pleasure of accompanying Mark and his wife and assistant, Jane, as they traveled the two hours to northeast Tennessee on November 24th to band wintering hummingbirds.  Our first stop was Erwin, TN, to visit with Candy Casey (below) who is a new birder and was excited about her first opportunity to see a hummingbird upclose.  
In the image above, Mark is opening the mesh bag that holds the hummingbird briefly after its capture.
Mark first checks for a band on the bird's leg and if no band is present, he affixes a tiny numerically engraved band on the right leg.  The band number with information about the hummingbird is then reported to the Bird Banding Lab in Patuxent, Maryland, the central location for U.S.bird banding data.  These bands are invaluable to scientists who are studying the migration patterns, survivalship and health of bird populations.

The hummer is held in a stocking while it is banded to help keep it calm.  You can see how tiny the band is in the image above.
Female Rufous Hummingbirds often have a cluster of gorget feathers on their throat, unlike the Ruby-throat female which has a clear throat.  Each feather cluster is distinct and the number of orange-red feathers that appear vary considerably among individuals.  The light is striking the feathers in the image above just right to show the beautiful orange-red irridescence of the feathers.

Below, Mark is measuring the hummingbird's beak with a digital measuring instrument. Each of the measurements he takes helps to identify the sex, age and species of the bird.   
It was through telling a friend about the hummingbird that Candy learned about Bob Sargent's Hummer Study Group website and contacted Bob to report the hummingbird. Bob, in turn, encouraged her to contact Mark.  The Hummer Study Group has provided a central location for reporting the presence of western hummingbirds in the east, the most common of which, is the Rufous species.

Another view below of the throat gorget feathers.  The light striking the feather determines its color. Sometimes the feathers appear green or gray. `
Below, Mark is examining the beak with magnifying lens and a hand magnifying loop. He looks for grooving in the beak to determine the age of the bird.  Grooving indicates the beak is still maturing and the bird is in its first year after hatching.  A beak that has no grooving indicates that the bird is more mature.  This female is a mature bird with no grooving in her beak.
The gorget feathers are counted, below, and recorded, also, as a general characteristic of this individual.
Below, mark is blowing through a straw to part the feathers on the belly.  He is looking for indications of fat. Fat in the belly area indicates that the bird is feeding well, and is healthy.  He explains that most of the Rufous Hummingbirds he has banded in Tennessee have a healthy amount of body fat and are clearly finding the nutrition they need in Tennessee's winter habitat.
The recognition that a possible race of the Rufous Hummingbird species may be genetically programed to migrate to the southeastern United States is beginning to change our notion of hummingbirds and their winter hardiness.  Sargent believes, and his studies indicate, that successive generations of these Rufous hummingbirds are migrating and wintering in the eastern U.S. and that reports of their presence will increase with each season.
Presently, wintering areas seem to be in clusters of favored habitat and birders who report these wintering hummers seem to have successive winter arrivals of birds, both immature and adult. It is not certain what habitat qualities are attracting and sustaining them through the winter in Tennessee, but it is certain habitat selection is closely related to food sources.  Sap wells and insects attracted to sap wells are one known source of nutrients during cold months.  Additionally, as more and more birds are located and banded, we will begin to have a better understanding of the wintering habits of this species.
Female Rufous Hummingbirds are difficult to distinguish from the Allen's species that also have green backs and rufous in their tail feathers. Banders examine the tail feathers for the distinguishing shape and width of the feathers to confirm the identification.
Mark gives the hummer access to nectar before releasing it and she eagerly laps.  
Candy holds the bird for release.  Above and below, the hummer rests in Candy's hand until it recognizes that it is free to fly.  When it does fly, a few seconds later, it leaves with a loud chirp and wing buzzing.
We stayed to witness the hummer returning to the deck feeder for another drink. Candy has a clear view of the nectar feeder from her windows and will enjoy seeing this hummer visit her feeder as long as it remains in Tennessee.  By recording the date of the bird's arrival and the last time she sees it this winter, she will have an idea of when to begin watching for this Rufous female's return next fall.  Rufous Hummingbirds tend to return to the same wintering area year after year, as long as the habitat offers good food sources.

Next:  Another female Rufous in Johnson City, TN

Links and Resources:

Nov 11, 2013 report on Western Hummingbirds Wintering in Tennessee
In recent years, fourteen species of hummingbirds have been documented in the east during fall and winter months.  In east Tennessee, report sightings to Mark Armstrong at Woodthrush@bellsouth.net or 865-748-2224.  For a list of contact information for other eastern areas, visit winter reporting on the Hummingbird Study Group website or report sightings to Bob and Martha Sargent, Rubythroat@aol.com or 205-681-2888.
Other blog posts on Wintering hummingbirds in Tennessee
Visit Bob Sargent's information on wintering hummingbirds
Bob Sargent describes the Rufous Hummingbird as very cold-hardy.
Sargent on wintering Calliopes and the Allen's Hummingbird
Hummingbird banding
Hummingbirds in watercolor
Hummingbird art on Vickie's Sketchbook blog

1 comment:

  1. It still amazes me Vicky, that those tiny little hummers can actually live here during a Tennessee winter! Although the bird was probably frightened at first she probably enjoyed being held by a warm hand in a warm house! I hope she does well!


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