Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Joe Neal shares report of NW Arkansas winter-stray hummingbird

I asked Sara Bartlett to share something about her Anna's Hummingbird, including her husband Coy. She sent me this essay with a note that the hummer is still present today. If you have comments for Sara, please write back to her at: caresupport@hughes.net

"Coy is sitting in a darkened room staring out the front window. It’s 7 a.m., time for a farmer to get out to the barn and feed horses and make sure the day starts out right. But coffee cup in hand, he’s waiting.

Our morning routine has been the same since November. It’s now January 18th. “He’s here!” Coy has been sitting quietly for several minutes, it’s late this morning to see our Anna’s hummingbird and every day that we watch, we expect and hope that he will have flown away to start his migration path to join other Anna’s hummingbirds.

How do we have an Anna’s hummingbird feeding at our Fayetteville, Arkansas farm in winter? This bird should be on the west coast, and no hummer should be feeding here in our cold winter weather. We have fed the Ruby- throated hummingbird on our farm for many years, always expecting the birds by April 10 and feeding them through the last straggler around October 10. This year we were traveling in late October and didn’t take two remaining feeders down. There was no hurry and no thought that a stray and off track foreigner would stop in and stay.

I was working in the garden on November 11th. It was late afternoon and I looked up to see a hummingbird feeding on a tiny feeder that still hung above a garden outside our back door. It was thin so I took it for a straggling Ruby-throat needing to find feed. I watched him, worried that he was drinking in old nectar that could make him sick! I ran inside and mixed and boiled 1 cup of nectar, cooling it down immediately by sitting the glass mixing cup in ice water. In 15 minutes I had new, fresh and cooled nectar in that feeder for him. He continued to come in to feed every 10 minutes or so until dusk. That evening I took down that feeder and one that we had on the front porch, cleaned them thoroughly and replaced them with fresh nectar. He was at the back feeder again at dawn November 12th.

I’m newly semi-retired and a little obsessive, so I took notes. We still thought we had a Ruby-throated hummer who needed help getting South. My notes for November 25: “I installed a heat lamp on the hummer’s feeder, it was 32 degrees at 3 p.m. At first he came in to feed for a few seconds then left, feeding every 13-15 minutes. He’s not feeding often enough for this cold, but has gone from a slim bird to a rounded belly so he is gaining weight. At 4:19 bird fed and sat on the perch getting used to the light and heat…”

I had sent an e-mail to Dr. Doug James, ornithologist at the university. He answered on December 2nd and said he would send Joe Neal out to look at the hummer to determine exactly what we had. When Joe came out to photograph our visitor on December 6th, he knew it was NOT a Ruby-throat. We looked at the bird books and it didn’t look like a Rufous hummingbird, the most common hummer seen in Arkansas in the winter. So Joe sent his digital pictures to Bob Sargent, Hummer/Bird Study Group, near Birmingham, Alabama. Joe called later that evening saying, “You’ve got the whopper of all birds there, that is an Anna’s hummingbird, only one of a few sightings in Arkansas – and never in the Ozarks!”

Oh my! That was the beginning of a very interesting winter on the Bartlett farm. Bob and Martha Sargent drove all the way from Alabama on December 10th to trap and band the bird. What a wealth of information Bob has been. It was Bob who reassured me that the Anna’s is different than other hummingbird species and they can withstand cold temperatures down to 0 degrees. And our bird is fat! When banded and weighed, Bob said he should weigh over 3 grams. Our Anna’s weighed 4.88 grams - obviously with daily feeding he has enough fat to survive through our cold winter nights. We have had many guests who have come out to our farm to watch and photograph this beautiful little bird. We even have chairs now placed out in the front yard for our bird watching guests to sit in while they wait for him to feed.

Bob Sargent tells me that if we leave a hummingbird feeder out next Fall it is likely that this same little hummer will make our farm his winter home. As a juvenile male born last Spring in the Northwest (perhaps born in British Columbia or Washington), he got his first migration pattern mixed up and he is likely to think every winter that this is where he belongs. We’ll have to think about this.

With all the interest and excitement from having this rare bird winter with us on our farm, we both are now more interested in bird watching. My Christmas present was a new pair of strong binoculars. Coy is buying more bird seed at the grain store so that we never run out. He is enjoying learning about the woodpeckers, wrens, and waxwings. It’s probable that we’ll leave a hummingbird feeder up again next Fall…

Sara Bartlett
5612 Wheeler Road, Fayetteville, Arkansas (479) 521-3125

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