Four Hummingbird Day…In January!

By Hank Davis, Delaware Nature Society Board Member and Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

In Delaware, after the summer-time Ruby-throated Hummingbird has high-tailed it to the tropics, other species of hummingbirds move in…from western North America!  This fall and winter has been a banner year for western hummingbird species in our area.  Once thought to be an anomaly of migration, more and more western hummingbirds seem to show up in the mid-Atlantic every year in late fall and early winter.  In order to study this migration phenomenon, licensed bird banders attempt to band as many of them as they can.  Through banding, it has been found that some individual western hummingbirds travel east to the mid-Atlantic, then head south to the Gulf Coast, then back to their western breeding grounds in the spring.  Some repeat this cycle for years.

This year, the number of late-season, western hummingbirds in our area has been amazing. In nearby Pennsylvania and Delaware, dozens of Anna’s, Calliope, Rufous, and Allen’s Hummingbirds have made appearances at backyard sugar water feeders since November.  The most common of these has been the Rufous.  Check out the map of Rufous Hummingbird sightings in our area courtesy of www.ebird.org.

Hank Davis, a Delaware Nature Society Board Member and professional wildlife photographer, has been seeking out these birds and taking photos recently. Last Thursday, he made up his mind to see as many as he could in a day.  Here is his story:

It was Wednesday night when I got the idea to go see all the Hummingbirds that I was aware of in Delaware, shortly after I had seen the report of the newly banded hatch-year male Rufous Hummingbird in Chadds Ford, PA.  I checked the weather for Thursday and it was supposed to be fine. I was fortunate enough to know of two birds that are in private yards which are not accessible to the public. My goal was to see the Anna’s Hummingbird in Newark, a hatch-year female Rufous Hummingbird in Prices Corner, and another Rufous Hummingbird and possibly a Calliope Hummingbird that were at the same yard in Wilmington. If time allowed, I would check on the Rufous Hummingbird in Chadds Ford, PA as well.

This Rufous Hummingbird has been in a back yard in Prices Corner.
This Rufous Hummingbird has been in a back yard in Prices Corner.

I set out at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday with a short drive to Prices Corner. Within seconds of locating the feeder in its new location, I saw the Rufous Hummingbird leave the protected box which the homeowner made to keep the nectar from freezing. I stayed for about 45 minutes, seeing the bird multiple times. Now on to Newark to try for the Anna’s Hummingbird that had put on quite a show in 2012, a first Delaware record, which has been seen by many birders. Upon walking to the back yard, I heard the bird in the evergreens. I headed up to the deck where I waited for about 20 minutes. This hatch-year female came to the feeder and her favorite perch in the rose bushes above the arbor. While there, Armas Hill stopped by. Waiting for the Hummingbird to come back; we talked about many aspects and people of the birding world. It was quite fun. The Anna’s cooperated nicely by coming back a few more times. Two down, and two or three to go.

Many birders have been able to see and enjoy this Anna's Hummingbird near Newark.  It is Delaware's first and only record of this species, normally found out west.
Many birders have been able to see and enjoy this Anna’s Hummingbird near Newark. It is Delaware’s first and only record of this species, normally found out west.

Now off to Wilmington, the site of the Rufous and Calliope Hummingbirds. These birds were found in November of 2012, and until recently, it was undetermined which species the Rufous might be.  Unless it is an adult male, the Rufous and Allen’s Hummingbird can be extremely difficult to tell apart.  Usually, the species is determined by banding the bird and measuring tail feathers.  Recently, Bruce Peterjohn, director of the U.S. Geological Survey Bird Banding Lab was able to determine that this bird was indeed a Rufous Hummingbird by examining good photographs. While I was talking with the homeowner, the Rufous came in for a good look. I thought this was a good omen. The Calliope never showed up, so I left after two and a half hours. Still with plenty of sunlight left, I headed to Chadds Ford to see the recently banded Rufous. After about 15 minutes the bird came in to the feeder. That was my fourth hummingbird of the day. I felt like I had been to the tropics and back!

My second Rufous Hummingbird, out of 3 for the day, has been coming to a feeder at a home in Wilmington.
My second Rufous Hummingbird, out of 3 for the day, has been coming to a feeder at a home in Wilmington.

I took pictures of all the birds which are included here. A number of folks were responsible for identifying these birds. They are in no particular order: Michael Moore, Andy Ednie, Maurice Barnhill, Tyler Bell, Andy Urquhart, Derek Stoner, Bruce Peterjohn and Sheri Williamson. Through photos and banding, most were identified to species. Bruce Peterjohn banded the Anna’s in Newark and the Rufous in Prices Corner. He tried for the Rufous and Calliope in Wilmington with no success. The Calliope was heard but not seen on the day Bruce tried to band them, December 2nd. He plans to try to band it again soon.  Nick Pulcinella banded the Rufous Hummingbird in Chadds Ford on Wednesday, January 2nd.

This has been a crazy season for these western birds. I am thankful to have been a part of these birds’ lives and to spread the photos around so others can see these special birds. Special thanks to all the homeowners for allowing me to have access to see and photograph them.

1 thought on “Four Hummingbird Day…In January!”

  1. O Hank ! What a surprise to see this today. The Hummingbird experience is truly the highlight of my fall and winter. Thank you SO much for guiding the host and for all of your teachings. What a pleasure. I hope we can get her banded and follow her throughout her time to help you in your excellent work.

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