OK, I admit it. I’m the one who wrote the title of Suzanne Kimball’s feature story in our October 2013 issue. I called it My Once-in-a-Lifetime Hummingbird.
In the story, Kimball describes a remarkable juvenile male Rufous Hummingbird that showed up in her yard outside Philadelphia on October 21, 2012, and stayed until January 18, 2013. Neither below-freezing temperatures nor Hurricane Sandy could budge it.
Rufous Hummingbirds breed in western North America, from southern Alaska to California. As bander Kate McLaughlin explained in an earlier article, they nest farther north than any other hummingbird.
Most spend the winter in Mexico, but not all of them. Like other western hummingbirds, some fly east as well as south and then winter in Florida or along the Gulf coast of the United States, rather than in Mexico.
Among the western hummingbirds that make these extraordinary migrations, Rufous is the species most likely to stray into eastern North America. Some, as Kimball described in her memorable article, migrate to Pennsylvania.
Since I didn’t think there was much chance that Kimball’s once-in-a-lifetime event would happen more than once, I congratulated myself on coming up with a good title, but I should have thought twice.
That’s because another Selasphorus hummingbird arrived in Kimball’s yard on Tuesday, November 12.
This year’s bird is not the same individual that visited last year. What Kimball had then was an immature male Rufous, amply photographed. This year’s wanderer is female. But it’s still amazing, and really interesting. According to Scott Weidensaul, it may even be a sign of the new normal.
In addition to being a naturalist and well-known author, Weidensaul is also a federally licensed hummingbird bander. He says that 23 western hummingbirds have been recorded so far this year in Pennsylvania, of which 19 have been banded or (in three cases) recaptured and their existing bands read.
Weidensaul tells us that this year’s eastward push isn’t quite as strong as the one that delivered Kimball’s first western hummingbird, but it’s still well ahead of normal.
He wrote in an article in Pennsylvania Birds recently that the number of western hummingbirds reported in Pennsylvania exploded last winter. Between August 2012 and March 2013, some 90 western hummingbirds were recorded in 24 counties, and 49 were banded. In contrast, 14 hummingbirds were banded in 2011-12, and only 6 in 2010-11.
Referring to last year’s explosion, Weidensaul writes: “The question, of course, is whether this was a singular anomaly, or a new normal as the Eastern/Southeastern wintering population of western hummingbirds continues its rapid expansion. No one knows, but the answer may be clear in a year or two.” — Chuck Hagner, Editor