I have spent the Thanksgiving week with a very rare visitor to Western Massachusetts! Nancy Dibiaso Willoughby was kind enough to let me sit on her deck and spend time with her very rare Rufous Hummingbird! Nancy had posted her hummer to Facebook and generously offered a seat for viewing. I was the only taker. At first, we both assumed it was our local hummingbird, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird migrating through. This would be quite rare in November. When I saw it, the coloring and beak were not a Ruby-throated, so I got pretty excited at that point. I had been to LA in September and seen lots of new hummingbirds. This tiny bird resembled the Rufous Hummingbirds I saw there. A Rufous would be rare in Hampden, Massachusetts during the summer, let alone at Thanksgiving! So, of course, me, being a crazy bird lady, totally sat on her deck for hours. Nancy was great. She helped me set up a spot to take videos and photos from for 2 days. I wondered why this beautiful little bird was still here. I had so many questions as I was sitting there watching it chat away at the feeder every fifteen minutes or so. How was it surviving the cold nights? Would it still be able to migrate this late in the year?
I posted the bird to my Cornell’s eBird checklists and expected to get flagged due to the rare sighting. Sometimes, I get flagged more than the NE Patriots do as I AM still an amateur! Larry Therrien is our local eBird reviewer in charge of reports submitted for the 3 Connecticut River Valley Counties in Massachusetts. Larry also has 2 birding blogs that I will share the links to on my Resources page. I really expected him to tell me that I was wrong, but he was pretty excited too when he saw the photos and asked about getting the bird banded. I also reached out to a contact in the Harvard University Ornithology Department to see how we could help the bird. He said that these birds are pretty resilient and smart about what they need to do. I was surprised to learn that some of the western hummingbirds have some very cold environments in their normal range!
Nancy was also contacted about having the bird tagged as this was such a rare sighting. Tagging a bird allows scientists to monitor the bird for conservation purposes and general information. Anthony Hill is a Master Bander and Co-Chair of the Hummingbird Working Group. He came to Nancy’s house on November 22nd to tag our tiny little visitor. I was so grateful to be included in the process! He set up a cage with a feeder in it and our little bird flew into the cage within 5 minutes! Anthony was able to capture the bird, weigh it and measure it, take some photos and band it within 15 minutes or so. It was amazing to watch him work. I was also humbled by his knowledge of this beautiful bird. I mean I was impressed that I had identified the species correctly LOL, but he taught us so much more about our feathered friend!
Anthony explained that the bird was a female because she lacked the dramatic colors of the male, as is common in bird species. He was able to say that she was a mature bird due to texture of her bill and the fact that she was growing new feathers. He showed us her “fat pocket” which develops when it is time for the bird to migrate. The hummingbird uses these fat reserves for energy during her long journey. He was not able to say why she hadn’t left yet, or whether she even would. He said that the Rufous was the “toughest” of the hummingbirds and they even nested with snow on the ground out west! When he was done banding and recording the bird, Nancy was able to hold her before she took off. Yes, I was a bit …well a lot…jealous LOL.
I am amazed by all the different types of birders that were interested in documenting this little bird! From Nancy, the bird-lover, to me the crazy bird-lady blogger/photographer, to Larry, to Jeremiah and Anthony. I have to say that I am ambivalent about the banding. I feel like the chances of someone ever seeing this tiny band on this same tiny bird would be unlikely. But Anthony was careful to watch for any signs of stress from the bird during the whole process and assured us that the bird wasn’t bothered by the tiny band on her leg. I know my hummingbirds return to my yard yearly, so maybe this Rufous will travel through our area again next year. Anthony said that he has tagged about 30 Rufous Hummingbirds in Massachusetts since 2004. He also said that an even rarer Allen’s Hummingbird was banded last week. I have had many birds staying later than usual in my yard this fall. I am certain that climate change is impacting not only the numbers of our birds, but their migrating timelines. But that story is for another day. You can check out my site and other related resources by using the hashtag #BringBirdsBack if you are interested in helping our diminishing bird populations.
For now, I will be grateful for my close encounter with this rare bird. I know Nancy is so happy that the bird has chosen her yard to hang out in. I asked Nancy to tell me her thoughts about this experience. “It was an amazing feeling to hold such a tiny bird. She was so lightweight that I could only feel her warmth.” I just saw a beautiful video Nancy posted and her little bird is still here, fat pocket and all and it is December 6th! Amazing! She is putting nectar out and monitoring that it doesn’t freeze. You can see my social media sights for some of the video footage from this amazing experience. Check my Facebook page to see Nancy releasing the bird! Some of the photos I captured are below for you to enjoy! I will post Anthony working with the bird also! For now, this crazy bird-lady needs to go bribe her new friend Nancy with more pictures so I can visit with her precious bird again! I most definitely plan on leaving my hummingbird feeders up much later next year too! Take care, Robin 😊